BC TEAL Conference: Using blogs to teach writing

A theme that emerged from Day One of the BC TEAL conference was the innovation occurring in EAL classrooms to meet the needs of a changing student body and the expectation that teachers will incorporate Web 2.0 tools in the classroom.

A great example of this is NorQuest College instructor Bonnie Nicholas’ use of blogging to teach writing in her blended LINC class. Bonnie kicked off Day One with her session on student blogging.

She creates a class blog, which all students contribute to. They introduce themselves, share cultural information, ask questions, etc. She doesn’t edit this blog for errors because her focus is on fluency. This blog is private: only the instructor and students have access to it. It is owned by the instructor. She uses Blogger, but also mentioned other options such as WordPress, weebly and tumblr.

She also guides her students through setting up their own individual blog, which they own.  She includes writing prompts, including a weekly learning diary/reflection; descriptions; opinions (do you agree or disagree…); summaries; assignments; letters/messages; reviews; etc. The students receive feedback on these (more about that coming up). The focus here is accuracy.

Why Blog?

Bonnie explained that blogging can be a great tool for language learning, specifically writing, because it is interactive, collaborative and allows for peer review, editing, self-reflection, discussion and feedback. It’s not hard to see how this can lead to greater learner autonomy. In a blended class, blogs are an ideal asynchronous tool of communication. She added that blogs provide students with pride in authorship and help them develop their own voice in the L2. Blogging leads to greater writing output as well as greater complexity in  writing and improved pragmatics. And not insignificantly, it leads to improved digital literacy, a skill most students will need for success in the Canadian workforce.


Feedback via Screencasting

To give feedback on the individual student blogs, Bonnie uses screencasts, a digital recording of computer screen output. This has proven to be an effective, faster way to give feedback on student writing. She introduced us to three screencast options: Jing, Screencast-o-matic and Screenr. She evaluated these three based on cost, ease of use, storage space, privacy and security, and accessibility.  (See below). While acknowledging that not everyone loves Jing (“Real friends don’t let friends use Jing”), she uses it and likes it. I think I’ll look into Screencast-o-matic because it’s affordable and offers some tools that Jing doesn’t.

This is Bonnie’s comparison of the options:

Screen Shot 2014-05-25 at 6.09.41 PM


My Class

I’m convinced! Blogs can be a great tool to use in EAL classes. However, I’m uncertain as to how I can use them in my class because my school has weekly intake. (I’ll save my rant on weekly intake for another post, but it severely hinders long-term, ongoing language learning strategies). With students entering and leaving my class on a weekly basis, I feel a great amount of trepidation in setting up individual blogs. It would take some time for the benefits of ongoing blogging to become apparent. Nevertheless, I’ll try to see how I can adapt blogging into my class in some way.  If anyone has any suggestions of how to use blogging in classes with high turnover and constant addition of new students, I’d love to hear from you.




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