If reflection is indeed the key to successful learning for teachers, then blogging is one of the most valuable tools available to us.
Ten years of blogging
Last year I celebrated my tenth anniversary of my blog and I started blogging there more regularly after a few years of writing very little (due to the Twitter/Facebook effect). I first discovered blogging back in 2003 during a summer course. Back then, I had two classes of teenagers writing to blogs and commenting on the posts written by the other class. I saw then that making public the students’ writing (i.e. publishing) had an effect on the quality of what they wrote and I knew that this was something I wanted to pursue. I’ve always been interested in process writing and blogging seemed to lend itself well to this. It makes it easier to encourage students to correct and revise their work because of the audience factor. Knowing that what they write is going to be read by other people (not just the teacher) makes a big difference to most students, and so blogging is a very useful activity to do in (or outside of) class.
Since those early days, I have run many blogging projects with students, and even wrote an article for TeachingEnglish about blogging for ELT. But what about blogging as a teacher?
The reflective teacher
Thinking about what you do as a teacher, why you do it and what works/doesn’t work is a very useful exercise if you want to become a better teacher, and much has been written about the importance that keeping a Teacher Diary has in this process. What I have found is that sharing these reflections rather than keeping them to yourself is even better. For one, you often receive comments from other teachers that can inform changes to your practice. You are also able to give ideas to other teachers by sharing your practice in this way. Finally, there are benefits to be gained by becoming part of the global staffroom.
Personal Learning Networks
Beginning blogging is the perfect way to start building a Personal Learning Network (PLN), which, simply stated, is a group of people you choose to connect with and learn from/with. These days, most people’s PLNs are based on the connections they make through social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Linked In. Many teachers choose to reflect by writing posts on these sites, knowing that they will obtain a quick response from the people they are connected to, but this doesn’t mean that having a blog is no longer valuable.
Reflection needs time and space
Blogging as a teacher allows you to expand on topics in ways that are not possible on social networking sites because of a lack of space. Twitter limits users to 140 characters, and although Facebook posts are not limited, few people would dream of posting long pieces of text. Blogs, however, are spaces where you are free to publish short or long posts. Social networking also demands quick responses and when you are engaging with people there is not much time to think. When you are blogging, you can either write a post in the heat of the moment, or spend several days (or longer) writing it, saving what you write as a draft before actually publishing the piece.
Looking back on what you write
Blogging also differs from social networking because it is easier to look back on what you write. I can jump easily through my archive to July 2003, for example and read my reflections on starting blogging with my students. Doing this on a social networking site would be very difficult if not impossible.
Advice for reflecting on practice
If you decide to start blogging to reflect on what you do in the classroom, then I recommend the following:
- Write a draft post of your reflections as close to the end of the class as is possible. This way you can capture how you felt about particular activities and reflect upon the students’ reactions much better than if you wait a while. At this stage it doesn’t have to be a polished blog post and you need not want to publish it. If you don’t have access to a computer to write your draft, then write notes on paper (a notebook is best) and rewrite it later.
- When you come to revising the blog post, don’t wait too long, but give yourself enough time to be able to look back on the class with an objective eye. When this is depends on you – it could be the same evening or the morning after.
- Be honest and ask questions, even if they are rhetorical questions. Don’t be afraid to use the blog as your own personal space (although it can be read by anyone) and this may mean that you return to posts and write your own comments in order to answer some of the questions you asked originally. The beauty of setting up your own blog is that you can decide how to use it and what it is used for. To this extent, don’t let anyone dictate to you what a blog post should be (i.e. how many words, what to write or not to write about, etc)
- Encourage comments by sharing. Ask your PLN for advice and to this extent do not be afraid of making it public (on social networking sites) that you have written a post and would like help/advice (if this is the case). Do what you can to encourage participation – nobody will think any less of you for this.
So, that’s my advice. Good look with your own reflective blogging project and with I hope it makes you become a better teacher.
Graham Stanley works as a project manager for the British Council on the Plan Ceibal English project in Montevideo Uruguay. He holds a Master's in Educational Technology & ELT (University of Manchester, UK), and is also online events coordinator for the IATEFL Young Learners & Teenagers Special Interest Group.
He is author of the Handbook for teachers Language Learning with Technology (CUP, 2013), winner of the English Speaking Union's 2013 HRH Duke of Edinburgh English Language Book Award, and co-author of Digital Play: Computer games and language aims (Delta Publishing, 2011), which won the ELT Innovation award (ELTon) for teacher resources 2012.