Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Suburban Bloggers

Suburban Bloggers
Blogging with EFL Students at Elementary Level.

This is how the blogging project was born.

We are online now.

The students decided to call our group blog Suburban. It is actually a metaphor, meaning we are still not city dweller in the use of the English language. We want to approach the neighbourhood by the suburbs.

The bloggers
This is a small group of beginners in English. they started their first level in March. They have had approximately 60hs of instruction. They are all 18+ years old. I advised them to use their first names only while online. It will be up to them to publish their own picture.

H0w I introduced them to the concept of blogging
While in class at the lab, I asked my students to point their browsers to my Playground Tumblr blog -a kind of sandbox.
I encouraged them to read how I was playing and discovering with the tool together with other teachers in my network.

Technical aspects
While they read, I created the group account and asked them to confirm their membership via email. One of my students had never had an email account before. So we opened one.

They posted a couple of trials, which they decided to delete. Then , they discovered they could edit on and on.

I briefly explained to them how to tag. We use tags a name signatures of our posts.

First Steps and Outcomes

Writing our first posts at the lab, there were moments of writer's block, moments of sudden enthusiasm. They had lots of questions on how to express exactly what they meant. They asked me to proofread before posting.

Reading our posts

This was the peak of excitement and surprise. They laughed a lot. They were amazed.

Here our first production:

A welcome post inviting to write fiction, not homework.

A description of what the day looked like from our window.

The student who first came up with the idea of writing fiction is sharing a suburban boy's s life story. A boy who belongs to a family struggling to make ends meet. A gem.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

When Blogging is Born

When Blogging is Born


It was Jhon in my second year senior class who triggered off the idea. He shared with us that after finishing level 1 in English he wanted to express himself more freely -to write outside the required format of the exam.

How did this happen?
He jotted down some fiction inspired by a book in Spanish, early one morning while he was reading on the bus to work. Took out a copybook and started a paragraph in English. I saw the draft, full of corrections, but neat. He made us laugh when he shared that people looked at him funnily on an early Argentinean bus. He did not let that discourage him and wrote on.

The moment I heard this
I thought: blogging project.

Jhon's description of the creative moment had all the
elements of a blogger's passionate writing. All but the blog. So I asked the class if they would like to read Jhon's fiction, if they would like to comment on it or perhaps share some anecdote of their own. Their eyes flashed yes.

Then I mentioned blogs and the comment feature. I told them that when they are not inspired to write, commenting on their classmates could be the start of another post. They got it. They just need to see it. We'll launch this at the lab next week.

So here we are ready to write in a new format:
expressing ourselves with our limited knowledge of the English language. That's our challenge.

Preparation stage
After playing Tumblr with gsellart and budtheteacher back in June, I decided that Tumblr is the blog engine we need for beginners. Ideal for the short postings to be expected by beginners in English language. Ideal for people new to blog reading and writing because the tool itself prompts you to clip and share.

Bud also pointed me to the work of Paul Allison on Youth Voices, which I had bookmarked long ago.

My project role
Set up the environment.
Show it at work at the lab.

Students Role
Be as inspired as possible when writing.
Shaping the topics.
Carrying on conversing.

Still needs thinking...
Will I be posting with them? Shall I remain a lurker?
This poses a totally different outlook on my role in front of my students in the classroom. I could well become a community member and find a blogging voice in there.

Language mistakes
I explicitely told them I will not be correcting their language on the blog or the comments. That will be done in class as part of a conversation on the structures and vocabulary they need to express themselves. We do not aim at producing grammatically correct sentences. Mistakes will be judged according to the extent to which they impede self expression and communication.

blogging snario: Tumblr
The idea is to give the students a single space, a chance to have a go at blogging. A place where students can try ideas that could eventually be the seed of a blog of their own. For now, everyone will use the same account and tag their posts with their name.

Tumblr does not include comments. We will use Disqus to enable them. I still have to explore Tumblr's tagging feature.

Project Timing
I'm enthusiastic about this project because of the way it is being born. I never invited the students to blog, but I was alert to identify a blogger when I saw one. I believe I am basically giving him a car to go where he wants. It is ideal that the students have just finished a first level and just beginning a new one. There is time for the project to go from fledgling stage to become a stage for all the class to play. This blog will be with us throughout the course.

Learning in a networked world has a lot of synchronicity and serendipity. I came back home to write this post and I find this in tweet from Paul Allison:

Writing and Reading Class Blogs on Teachers Teaching Teachers tonight (9 PM Eastern / 6 PM Pacific)

Join us tonight as we discuss the progress we are making on Youth Voices… WITH a special guest, new to our show, Sarah Hurlburt, Assistant Professor, Department of Foreign Languages and Literature, Whitman college, Walla, Walla, WA, USA.

In June 2008 Sarah published an article in the Journal of Online learning and Teaching, “Defining Tools for a New Learning Space: Writing and Reading Class Blogs.”

That's in a few minutes. Just in time.

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