English language learners’ blog project

Pages

There are 5 sub-pages that are a part of this project:

Introduction

This is a proposal for a pilot project for classes of English Language Learners (ELLs) of mixed nationalities on residential or home-stay summer schools learning English as a Foreign Language (EFL). It includes a combination of in-class, online and possibly out of class activities where groups of ELLs collaborate to compose blog articles focusing on their respective cultures and daily lives, experiences at the summer school, and experiences in the country or region where they are studying. With this combination of classroom, online and out of class activities, the hope is to provide a framework for ELLs to develop their proficiency and competencies in English, improving their linguistic fluency and complexity while ensuring that their immediate language learning needs are met and that the subject matter and linguistic forms studied are meaningful and relevant to them.

At the very least, if ELLs regularly produce articles containing text, images, audio and video, they will be providing evidence of their linguistic abilities over a period of time. This will help learners, teachers and curriculum developers to review and assess their participation, progress and efficacy of the learning programmes that they are engaged in.

The proposed project is a radical departure from traditional Present-Practice-Produce (PPP), Structural-Oral-Situational (SOS), Teach-Test-Teach/Test-Teach-Test (TTT), Audio-Lingual method and other teacher-led learning and teaching approaches. It also rejects the notion of a Focus on FormS structural syllabus, and attempting to prescribe a linear curriculum according to the Order of Acquisition hypothesis. Instead, it will focus on linguistic competencies, task-based, meaning focused, learner centred approaches where the ELLs are given control over their class blogs, their learning environment, and responsibility for their learning.

Prabhu N. S. (1987) Second Language Pedagogy

The project requires the use of a software platform, based on WordPress, which allows administrators, teachers, senior teachers, directors of studies, academic managers and/or course or school directors to create and manage a network of blog sites for classes of ELLs. This site is an example of  such a blog network software platform and you will find examples of fictional ELLs’ blogs here.

Key concepts for this framework are:

  • Task-based language learning (TBLL)
  • Collaborative learning and working in groups
  • Co-construction of dialogues and knowledge
  • Incidental focus on form from Focus on Form Episodes (FFEs)
  • Developing learners’ fluency, complexity and accuracy in English
  • Self- and peer-assessment
  • Reflective Practice – Personal reflection and awareness
  • Meta-cognitive awareness and skills development
  • Learner autonomy and responsibility
  • Teacher roles as guide, mediator, mentor, facilitator

Resources

A web server: to host the WordPress blog network platform. It is impossible to run such a network on a free service, e.g. WordPress.com. The server requirements are minimal and the software can easily run on a shared hosting server, on which the costs are minimal. Setting up the network takes less than half a day and there’s ample documentation and tutorials available on the web for admins and teachers to learn how to use it once it’s set up.

Internet access in the classrooms: Classrooms equipped with WiFi connectivity so that learners can connect their own devices would be preferable. Failing that, having local area network connections (LAN) or a number of computer terminals available in each classroom would be sufficient. WiFi access elsewhere on the campus and in residences would be an advantage. I suspect that only booking time in a shared ICT computer lab would be inadequate.

Reference materials: Learners will need access to example based dictionaries and grammar references. These can be physical books and/or internet sites/services. English Language course books which contain inductive learning and language awareness exercises would also be advantageous for self- and peer-teaching.

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD): Learners should be encouraged to bring their own internet enabled laptops and mobile devices, e.g. tablets, netbooks, smartbooks and smartphones, as well as cameras and audio and video recording devices. Most mobile phones and MP3 players can record audio and some can record high quality video. Some learners may be highly skilled at recording, creating and editing multimedia.

YouTube or  Vimeo account (optional): If uploading and hosting large video files (more than 10 minutes long) is necessary, it’s possible to set up a YouTube or Vimeo user account. Uploaded videos can be easily embedded into blog articles from YouTube or Vimeo. Additionally, YouTube allows you to omit videos from Google and YouTube search results and listings so that only the account holder and those who know the specific video links can find and view them, i.e. they’ll play from learners’ blog posts but won’t appear on YouTube.

Other materials:

Learners

14-17 year olds on residential English language and activities courses. CEFR B1 and above. 15 hours or more of classes per week (3 hours per day), afternoon sports and leisure activities, excursions to popular tourist destinations, and evening social activities. Class time can be divided between more traditional classes and blog projects, or the blog projects can provide opportunities for learners to address language issues as they emerge, also known as an “emergent curriculum”.

Class blog

Each class is given one blog. They have editorial control over it and can personalise it to suit their needs, personalities and give them a sense of ownership and control. Learners work collaboratively in small groups of between 2 and 5 learners to publish blog articles regularly, every day if possible. They will have daily opportunities to share and reflect on their experiences during their stay at the summer school, and will publish blog articles about it. Formats can be text, images, audio, animation and/or video – whatever they are capable of producing. Genres can be diaries, reviews, news articles, reportage, magazine articles, dramatic performances, interviews, radio or TV shows, etc.

Simmons A. M., Page, M. (2010) Motivating Students through Power and Choice

Learner organisation

Researchers report that, regardless of the subject matter, students working in small groups tend to learn more and demonstrate better retention than students taught in other instructional formats. Students who work in groups also appear more satisfied with their classes, and group work provides a sense of shared purpose that can increase morale and motivation. In addition, group work introduces students to the insights, values, and world views of their peers, and it prepares students for life after school, when many will be working in teams. – Barbara Gross Davis, Tools for teaching (2009)

Learners are organised into groups of between 2 and 5. They work on projects that they negotiate and define for themselves. Learners may request and/or negotiate changes to their groups with the teacher but the teacher must ensure that nobody gets preferential treatment or is marginalised. It would be desirable to have a heterogeneous mix of skills in each group and it may also be advisable to reorganise groups at the start of each week so that learners have the opportunity to work with a wider variety of their classmates, and to allow for arriving and departing learners, in the case of courses that have rolling enrolment.

However, putting learners together in groups and giving them tasks or telling them to define their own tasks doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll automatically form a coherent collaborative group. In many cases, learners’ exposure to self-directed, learner-centred learning and teaching approaches is likely to be minimal and they are unlikely to have sufficiently developed social, cognitive and metacognitive skills to collaborate as effectively as they should. Teachers should act as moderators, mediators, and facilitators to help learners develop these skills (Instructional scaffolding) as they participate in their respective groups. There are a variety of techniques and methods for developing these skills, encouraging engagement, and developing learner independence.

Gross Davis B. (1993) Tools for Teaching – Link is to extract of first edition. Book – 2nd Edition (2009)

Initial project(s)

Learners tend to benefit from modelling of examples initially which reduces cognitive load while they develop the necessary analytical, critical and problem solving skills (Schmidt, 1993). Learners review and assess people’s “about me” texts and discuss whether they think they’re good, why and how they’d do them differently. Individually, learners write their own about me pages on the blog. Question cues will be provided to assist/Learners can collaborate to construct some helpful questions to aid writing, e.g. Why have you come here? What do you expect to happen while you’re here? What are you (not) looking forward to?

It could also be advantageous to provide some pre-organised project tasks so that learners who may be hesitant or reticent at first can have a more structured introduction to working on self-organised, self-directed collaborative tasks.

Schmidt H. G. (1993) Foundations of problem-based learning: some explanatory notes

Reflective practice

Learners keep a learning journal and after each completed article, complete a reflective task in their journals, making note of what they learned and how, and developing strategies to help them learn more while producing the next blog article. Learners may also co-author a critical reflection of their article and post it as a comment under it on the blog.

Learners periodically refer back to their CEFR Can do statements and register any improvements in those language competencies. It should be done fairly regularly so that learners become more familiar with their personal learning objectives.

Please see page on Reflective Practice

Language instruction

Language related episodes may cause learners to focus on form, for example a mis-communication (breakdown in pragmatic meaning) may force learners to negotiate meaning, or learners may feel dissatisfied with what they perceive to be inaccurate or inadequate use of language (epistemic curiosity). In the course of creating their articles, language issues will emerge. Learners switch their attention from focus on meaning (the task) to focus on form and keep a note of the more involved and challenging, or frequent errors with language issues in their reflective journals. They can address such issues immediately or later. A Focus on Form Episode (FFE) may be addressed by the learner him or herself, by peers and/or mediated by the teacher. Learners will have dictionaries, grammar references, course books and internet resources available as well as the teacher who can mentor and guide the learners to formulate their inquiries and find the answers they need. From previous experience of collaborative learning in groups, I anticipate a great deal of peer-teaching and collaborative problem solving in respect to language issues.

Learners should consider:

  • Was it a performance issue, e.g. a slip, a pause, or an incidental confusion? (Self-correct and carry on)
  • Was it a frequent error, e.g. conjugating 3rd person singular, definite and indefinite articles, word order, etc.? (Make a note of it and carry on. If you repeat the mistake, make a note of how many times)
  • Was it a mis-communication? i.e. The listener didn’t understand you or asked for clarification? (Negotiate meaning, make a note of the original utterance and/or correct expression, then carry on)
  • Was it a “gap” in your language? e.g. You don’t know the appropriate expression to convey the idea in your head (Make a note of it, maybe in L1, try to convey the idea with the language you have, and carry on)

Focus on form sessions: Learners review their learning journals and identify linguistic items, patterns, and/or structures. They research the language, try to find examples, collaborate with peers, who have similar issues or may already have a firm grasp of it (peer teaching), and/or ask their teacher for assistance. Additionally, learners can bring up particular linguistic items, patterns or structures that they want to investigate, whether they have arisen in the activities or not. Leafing through course books, especially contents pages, may help with this. Some of this could be considered a problem-based learning approach, i.e. Identifying problems and collaborating to co-construct solutions.

Loewen S. (2004) Incidental focus on form and second language learning

Long M. H. (1997) Focus on form in Task-Based Language Teaching