Education - Languages
By: - at July 15, 2013

Blogging as a Pedagogical Tool in ESL/EFL Writing Classes

Finding better ways to help students learn a second or foreign language is what teachers are on the lookout for. One area that has continued to inspire teachers is the use of advanced technology to support communication. The Internet and other forms of modern technology have been shown to create impressive results in teaching compositions to native speakers of English. The rapid developments in technology have not only shrunk the world but have introduced many applications that enabled people to communicate across the continents through their mobile phones. The availability of word processors, email, chats or discussion boards have been used to support communication practice for many learners of English as a second or foreign language (ESL/EFL). Additionally, it has expanded the choices of pedagogy for writing classes.

modern technology as a tool

The teaching approach which focuses more on the processes involved in writing rather than the finished product became widely acceptable. This might be rooted on the research done by Flower and Hayes in 1981 and supported by Elbows in 1990. This, however, was designed for L1 writing. They called this the process approach. It involves a collaborative effort rather than getting ideas solely from one’s private or solitary view. Furthermore, it was deemed suitable for social, cooperative or constructivist concepts of learning.

Second language (L2) writing pedagogies were patterned after first language (L1) writing conventions. In fact, many ESL/EFL teachers were attracted to using technology for their writing classes. With this trend, professional organizations like Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) recognized the role played by Computer Aided Language Learning (CALL) as a teaching practice. It has proven the claim that technology is not about computers as machines alone, but as facilitators for communication among learners and their teachers. Over the past decade, technology has been used to carry out instructional practices.

What is Blogging?
blank sample blogIntroduced in 1998, “Weblog” or “blog” is a technological tool that continues to emerge as a valuable writing tool. The name was derived from the fact that anyone can log on to the web at any time. Stauffer, in 2002 has defined blogging as the act of adding articles or updates to a site at regular time intervals. Quite different from websites that are static, blogs are designed to be dynamic with the use of computer-mediated-communication. Usually, it includes topics based on the author or blogger’s personal experiences. It serves as an online-based diary opened for the worldwide audience to see. Consequently, the blogger might receive comments from readers. Because it is done with the public as an audience in mind, reactions can be solicited from sources outside the circle of class members.

Advantages of Blogging
For the past 20 years, virtual spaces and digital file sharing for communication have grown a lot. Blogs became a medium for communication through the Internet. In fact, they have inspired countless research on communication, composition and rhetoric implications. Additionally, educators have adapted the use of weblogs in their classes as a discussion board for free communication. For many, blogs offer a wide variety of advantages for second language learning and writing as it emphasizes content, gives opportunity for quick feedback, combines words and images for better understanding and makes linking from one page to another possible. The following are the perceived advantages of blogging for ESL/EFL writing classes:

1)  Promotes and encourages participation in discussions
girl studying on laptopDiscussions inside the classroom should be made as lively and as engaging as possible to keep the ideas flowing. In many ESL/EFL classes, however, this isn’t the case. In a survey done on the willingness to participate in class among students in these settings, it has been found that many non-native speakers have a hard time taking part in exchanges of ideas. This is connected with the students’ inability to keep up with processing of meanings for what they heard, and constructing ideas from L1 to L2 before speaking. For them, consuming too much time on this is like wasting their classmates’ time and opportunities to learn more which do not happen in discussions online. Additionally, it provides them the chance to learn collaboratively from each other as they share perspectives. About 80% of ESL/EFL students believe that it is easier to share ideas or comments online than in the class where everyone gets to look back at you. Moreover, class members can join discussions at their own pace while giving them the chance to understand the contents of the class better. Blogging is helpful as it gives leeway for students to create coherent thoughts, and revise their sentences before letting others know what they think. It is well-planned and organized.

2)  Combines reading and writing
studying writing typing reading on laptopTo be able to join class members’ conversation in a blog, students should understand the over-all flow of thoughts and exchange of ideas. This will only be possible when the students get to read the chronology of comments about an issue or topic. This will challenge their comprehension of what other class members have to say. To be able to provide accurate feedback, they must read first. As they go along the lines their classmates have contributed to the discussion, they discover new vocabulary and expressions that will help sharpen their reading skills. For many ESL/EFL students, the prescribed time to read and comprehend texts in the classroom may be too short to get the gist of the concepts taught. This results to low degree of participation. Blogs, however, enable students to get involved in literacy activities with less anxiety as it provides class members with the opportunity to compose, edit and publish their writing for the audience. With the writing practice they received as prerequisite for sound commenting on peers’ ideas, they get to discover their writing styles or adapt them for the type of audience they have. Blogging then enhances the students’ ability to comprehend and communicate effectively.

3)  Serves as source of information and provides access to previous discussions
Because blog posts are made available even after discussions of a certain topic is done, ideas contributed by both the teacher and the students can be preserved and accessed at any time. Since ESL students may need time to digests the ideas, blog entries provide them with the chance to get into the exchange of thoughts without feeling helpless or being a distraction in the classroom. Additionally, when they do not understand a word, they feel comfortable looking up meanings in the dictionary. Likewise, with the ease in sharing information with students online, teachers may even provide them with possible links to topics that elaborate examples and widen their schema. Jumping from one article to another not only helps students gain insights but it assists them in judging whether information is helpful for their queries or not. Automatic archiving of posts in blogs in chronological order enables educators and their students to locate messages and ideas easily. If they continue to read, they will have a rich background on the concepts, making it easier for them to compose essays or any other type of compositions required in writing classes.

4)  Supplements teachers’ lessons and discussions
student working on laptop in libraryClassroom lectures cannot cover every possible topic as time frames for lessons may hinder elaboration on certain details. With this, blogs become useful supplementary aids for teachers. With technological advancement, educators can create, edit, and upload handouts for additional notes. Similarly, they can provide clarifications on writing assignments in real time. With modern-day students being hooked on the screen at almost any time of the day, taking advantage of technology will not only lessen pressure on teachers but also cater to students’ preferences for communication. Additionally, the teacher’s writing style can serve as model for students to express ideas, ask questions or clarify concerns. There is a need for fresh portals to teach in the 21st century and teachers must be able to keep up with this change. With their effort and time invested, they are rest assured students will have a comfortable way to learn. Teachers writing their personal blog can be a powerful source of information as they are likely to respond to comments or ideas on their students’ level of understanding. With the personalized touch of the articles or notes posted, teachers and students are likely to develop teaching and learning styles together.

5)  Enables students to write with confidence
foreign language dictionariesExperts in the field of teaching claim that frequent writing improves the quality of the writing. Others also say that writing for an audience develops writing skills. However, this may not always be true in the ESL/EFL settings. For many students writing compositions in their L2, frequency of writing does not guarantee improvement. Rather, writing habitually coupled with the proper use of terms from a dictionary or online sources will help them express ideas clearly. It should be noted that with the interference between L1 and L2, many ESL students may exhibit influence of L1 in their English compositions. Alternately, they may have a good foundation for vocabulary but would still present thoughts as they are conveyed in the first language. Because their compositions are published online and shared with class members, it opens up doors to peer editing. Teachers can also comment on their writing and, thus, help give their writing style a new direction. The good thing about blogging is that it provides the students with the sense of ownership. As they are aware their work will be made public, they tend to write more carefully and eventually develop as writers, getting more analytical and critical about their work.

The expanding demands to learn a second or foreign language pushes teachers into learning and adapting new strategies to teach writing. Second language pedagogies, especially those that are designed for writing classes, range from diary writing to journaling and blogging. With professional organizations recognizing the role and importance of technology in teaching, educators have found a new way to engage students without sacrificing the perceived curriculum outcomes. It should be remembered, however, that technology is not meant to be used as a substitute for teachers, but rather as a medium for communicating lessons and to spark discussions not possible in the traditional classrooms.

First proven effective in teaching writing to students in their L1, many ESL/EFL practitioners are now adapting the use of the Internet to foster students’ understanding of topics needed for writing. The changing learning preferences may also be a contributing factor to this innovation. Instead of making the students feel inferior in the classroom, blogs paved way to a more organized response that not only require students to write grammatically correct sentences but also gives them more chances to edit and perfect their responses. Lastly, blogging can be an answer to the increasing trend on adapting pedagogy to fit the social and constructivists’ concepts of learning.





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