Archive for March 12th, 2006

So What’s Up in San Francisco?

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It looks like the Dowbrigade won’t be making his big
presentation next week to the 40th annual National
Teachers of English as a Second Language conference
in St. Petersburg (Florida not Russia).
We
wanted
to take Norma Yvonne as a well-earned reward for putting up with our
cantankerous whining during our recent illness.

Deterred by the slow pace of recovery from major surgery,
we refrained from buying tickets until it was too late.  Norma,
noting that the tickets were now almost as expensive as tickets to Ecuador,
declared she’d rather go there, later. Even though our part of the trip
was on the office dime, we didn’t want to travel alone. Bad things happened
the last time we tried to travel alone.

But since we spent all that time on our presentation,
and now won’t be there to present it, we figure we should at least milk
it for a Sunday Morning blog posting. The title is "Four Levels of Involvement:
Using Blogs in the Language Classroom."

The motivation behind the project was to share the wisdom
we have accrued, such as it is, during the past three years, 10 semesters,
18 groups of students while trying to apply our avocation and passion,
blogging, to our day job vocation, refining the English of foreign college
students. What works. What doesn’t. What to watch out for. What to take
advantage of.

The basic idea is that there are four levels of involvement
or interaction that teachers and implement if they want to introduce
blogging in class:

  • The first level just involves exposing students to blogs.  Take
    them on a tour of the Blogosphere.  Discuss what are the distinguishing
    characteristics of blogs? What are the common elements? What are
    the factors that distinguish one from the other? Help them create a
    list of criteria by which to evaluate them. Show them how to find blogs
    or
    blog postings on specific topics, or from a specific area. Then have
    them select one blog to read every day for a week or two, and give
    a report back to the class, describing and evaluating that blog. Or
    write
    an essay. Or fill in a worksheet.

  • At the second level, you do all of the above, but then
    you get the students to interact with the blog.  Of course, interactivity
    is built into the ‘sphere.  Have them comment on a certain number
    of posting each week.  Have them join some long comments trails
    which really constitute an on-line discussion. Show them that some
    blogs have provisions for emailing the author. Have them write
    to bloggers, for example Americans blogging from their home countries,
    and encourage
    dialog.

  • The third level is when the teacher creates a class
    blog, and each student is expected to post something on a regular
    basis. After some experience with the first two levels, the students
    discuss
    and decide what their blog should be called, what it should look
    like, and whether it should be public or private. The class is responsible
    for the design and contents of the blog, and can
    add pictures,
    music
    or even
    video.

  • The fourth level involves helping each student to start
    his or her own blog. After a review of many different blogs,
    a few oral or written reports, and a brainstorming session on finding
    one’s
    individual voice, each student will get their own blog on an institutional
    server or one of the free blogging services. The teacher must work
    individually with the students in an on-line multimedia lab and mentor
    them through the
    technical and aesthetic decisions involved in creating a blog.

The bottom line, and the punch line in our presentation,
is that the point of diminishing returns, the point where the technology
starts getting in the way of the language instruction instead of facilitating
it, is somewhere between level 2 and level 3.

Trying to turn your students into bloggers is questionable
from many points of view: teaching methodology, time management, the
aforementioned aesthetics. Not everyone is meant to be a blogger. The
students are there to perfect their English, not find a path to self-expression.

Our experience is that at level 3, about one-third of
the kids really get into it, one third muddle through, and the rest are
lost. In a field where the Watchword is "No Paying Student Left Behind"
these are not good odds. At level 4 you are lucky to find one or two
in each class with the inclination and ability to become bloggers. As
satisfying as those few cases may be to the instructor, they cannot
justify the disservice to majority who are there for other reasons.

The first two levels work great, though.  All of
the students manage to find interesting and often bizarre blogs, and
the combination of following the site over time, worksheets and oral
reports with questions requires that students use all of their language
skills; listening, speaking, reading and writing.

Anyway, we think we shall start looking around for another
conference somewhere else where we could present the thing, later in
the year. As far as we know the bucks are still on the table. Maybe Thai
TESOL, we’ve
presented
there
before. Wonder if Afghanistan has a TESOL affiliate up and running yet….

Meanwhile, as a kind of consolation prize, the Dowbrigade
Mother has contracted our services to drive her around the San Francisco
Bay area for a week, in two weeks.  We have only been there as a
grading slave for Educational Testing Services, locked in a hotel ballroom
an hour from downtown with 70,000 TOEFL essays from around the world,
so for all practical purposes we have never been to SF.

Perhaps some readers could suggest restaurants, museums,
free wi-fi hotspots, cool things to do, etc. What’s up in San Francisco?