Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Teresa Almeida dEca's class Blog

Teresa Almeida dEca's class Blog:

Teresa's experience of using a web log with her students is definitely worth looking at closely. She wrote to me to say that she started after reading Aaron Campbell's paper:

"I felt that a teacher-student blog had the interactivity, type of content and Web presence that I'd been looking for, so I decided to give it a try. It's been mostly a result of instinct and some luck in the choice of layout, I think, because it has certainly appealed to the students from the beginning. In spite of one or two frustrating moments along the way, it has been a very stimulating and challenging experience that I hope to keep up next year with the same students."

Let's look at Teresa's weblog carefully :

A. GENERAL: Her blog is a class blog. The idea is that students can participate out-of-class, with the idea of extra reading and writing practice in a fun way that is very personal to them and allows them freedom to express whatever they are interested in. Teresa alos posts extra activities for the students who are interested in them. This way, she can guide them to web sites, etc that are appropriate in content and level.

B. APPEARANCE: White background with animated GIFs and kid's drawing at the top. It's a good choice for a YL weblog as it's fun and non-threatening in appearance. My only criticism is that the blog is too wide - it's not possible to read everything without scrolling right and left, which is a little uncomfortable.

C. TITLE BAR AND DESCRIPTION: Let's Blog! is the title and below this there are two clear, simple definitions:
1. What is a blog? Answer: A blog is an online diary or log. ... and
2. What is Let's Blog? Answer: a)It is a two-way communication tool: from me to you and from you to me. b) It is our way of talking in English outside of class. c) It is a fun way for you to practice English away from school.

I now think that it is important to give a definition of a weblog at the beginning of a site for students. At the beginning, I found introducing students to the concept was very difficult, and even after they had seen a few weblogs and started their own, I had one student ask What is a Blog? after two blogging sessions! I like the idea of defining the weblog as a an online diary, as a diary is an easy concept to get to grips with.

D: INTRODUCTION You will see that Teresa lays down some ground rules for messages: She wants the students to begin courteously and always include their name and class. The students do not directly enter text into the blog, but e-mail her and then she adds their contributions later. This is good in the sense that Teresa retains control over the publication, and can edit or exclude entries which are confusing or do not match her ground rules. With older YLs it is feasible to conceive a weblog getting out of hand, with some students writing comments which are offensive to others (I had experience of this during my summer 2003 weblog experiment: refer to the first entries in this blog for more details).

By keeping strong editorial control, she certainly avoids this happening. The downside to this is that a certain level of spontaneity is lost as students cannot experience the thrill of posting directly to a weblog and then seeing their comments there on the Web for all the world to see.

E. LINKS: Teresa includes three types of links:
1) Educational sites such as an online dictionary and help on pronunciation and grammar. There is so much content out there on the Web that students (and their parents if appropriate) really need guidance, and this is a perfect way of guiding students to the pages that are appropriate to their level and interests.
2) Student work: By including students' work here, Teresa provides a real reason for producing writing work (for publication), and other classes, and parents can also read what they have done.
3. Homework: It seems like Teresa uses this last link to remind students of homework assignments - another good idea.

F. CONTENT: It is easy to see that students have written to Teresa about all manner of different things that are of interest to them. Teresa has said that some students have not written as much as she would have liked them to, but my guess is that even if students haven't written, then they have benefitted from reading what others have.

One important thing to notice here, I think, is the importance of feedback in process writing approaches (Sorry, I couldn't resist the plug!), and this is a great example of responding to what students have written. Look at the care and attention with which she has replied to every student's entry. I am sure that her students are far more receptive to writing in class than the average group.

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