I started blogging in 2010 when I was introduced to the idea through the MA course I was studying at the time. Since then, it has become a major part of my personal professional development –indeed, I even based my MA dissertation on the topic of how language teachers use their blogs to engage in reflection – and that is what I wish to summarise in this post (granted, condensing almost 20,000 words of research into less than 1,000 will be tough but I can be succinct :)
For the study, I conducted a survey answered by more than 50 active bloggers and then examined 3 more blogs in detail, also interviewing the teachers behind them. The main findings were as follows:
- Blogs provide a platform for reflection
When I first started teaching, I used to spend hours preparing for class – making materials, writing lesson plans, anticipating difficulties and so on – but over the years I have come to value post-lesson reflection more. Taking the time to think about what happened during class, what worked and what didn’t, and (most importantly of all) why the lesson went the way it did all help us improve as teachers. We can identify weak spots in our teaching style and think about how to improve them; we can note what worked well and keep a record of it for future reference; we can give a voice to our post-lesson feelings and revisit it later for further insights.
- Blogs provide a platform for interaction and dialogue
‘But,’ you may ask, ‘surely all of that can be done through a private journal or discussions with colleagues – why take the step of writing about our teaching on a blog?’ Well, the answer is simple – blogging provides a way to connect with a much larger audience than writing a traditional journal or staff room chat ever could. ‘But why expose what we do in class so publicly?’ you may ask again. My research showed that, despite the assumption that teachers may shy away from sharing classroom successes and failures openly, most language teachers highly valued this opportunity to interact. After all, teaching can be a lonely job. We are alone in the classroom most of the time but blogging offers a way to invite teachers into our lessons (virtually rather than literally of course!)
The comments themselves can prompt further reflection as other teachers can offer advice or share their own personal experiences. Even though my research showed that such ‘reflective dialogues’ were not very frequent, they were rated as highly valuable by the bloggers who participated. But reflective dialogue is not the only value bloggers gain from the comments their readers leave. Sometimes, simply receiving supportive comments or praise is enough to encourage teacher-bloggers to return to the class with renewed motivation. As one participant in my study put it: ‘sometimes a “nice post” comment is just as inspiring and uplifting as a long detailed one’
- Blogs form part of a Personal Learning Network (PLN)
ELT is by its own nature a global sector of education so blogging offers a great way to connect with like-minded teachers wherever they are. We can share ideas and engage in dialogue with English teachers the world over from Brazil to Japan and from Canada to Australia, all thanks to blogging.
Just look at the line-up of Teaching English associates and you will see a variety of teachers working in different locations around the world and in different teaching contexts but all with valuable experiences to share.
‘But why blog,’ you might think, ‘when Twitter, Facebook and websites like Teaching English, allow us to connect?’ While that is true, other forms of social media only allow us a limited chance to connect and engage in dialogue. A blog is truly personal, allowing the individual to address issues of their own choice on their own terms. Dialogue can then be invited by sharing the post via social media networks (the Teaching English Facebook page is a great place to share if you want to attract a large number of readers).
And, of course, blogging is not just about what one teacher writes. It’s also about what other teachers write. Other teachers’ blogs are a constant source of inspiration for me and the vast majority of participants in my research. Reading posts written by others offers the chance to reflect on our own teaching by taking into account different experiences, approaches and points of view.
- Blogs make us more aware of what we do
Perhaps the biggest value to be found in blogging for a language teacher is simply the fact of having a blog. Rather than leaving class after a good or bad lesson and quickly forgetting about it, it encourages us to think about, analyse, reflect on and develop ourselves as educators. Once you have started blogging and developed the ‘blogging bug’, you will find you don’t even have to write a post for those processes to take place. As one participant in my study said:
“This has actually been one of the most interesting/beneficial things of having a blog...the thought that comes with it. The ‘that could be an interesting blog post’ part of my brain that didn’t exist before. [It] gives me something to think about on the train or in the shower or whenever. I feel like having a blog is a new sense of awareness on teaching/learning.”
We don’t always have access to sustained relevant professional development in our teaching lives. Blogging provides a great way to ensure we can engage in reflection when we want to and in a way that suits us and that is what helps make us better teachers.
David Dodgson has worked with young learners in Ankara, Turkey for over ten years and recently completed an MA in Educational Technology and TESOL with the University of Manchester. He is also very active in online circles. He runs two blogs, www.davedodgson.com and http://eltsandbox.weebly.com/. He tweets regularly (@DaveDodgson) and presents to global audiences at online conferences. His professional interests include dogme ELT, learner autonomy, effective use of technology in the classroom and self-development for language teachers. Dave has given two previous webinars on TeachingEnglish: Classroom management with YLs and Using games to engage, motivate and educate language learners