Thursday, January 13, 2011

I post, therefore I am: Ways to use weblogs

Student weblogging for fluency, skills, and integration

The following was written in preparation for TESOL 2007 in Seattle: Student weblogging for fluency, skills, and integration. Demonstration, Writing IS, CC 3B, Sat. Mar. 24, 10:30-11:15.
It appeared at until 2010 and was restored here in 2011. The homepage for this presentation now is here.

I post, therefore I am: Ways to use weblogs

This presentation focuses on weblogging itself as a specific writing genre, and will define that specifically, below, but other kinds of writing may be put on weblogs also, to great benefit. In our program students have put a number of things on weblogs, including many of these:

1. Entire research papers, with references linked to sources, formatted in weblog style, with block paragraphs and spaces between paragraphs and references;

2. Summary-response essays, linked to sources; these are often combined to make portfolios of a term's writing work, all in a single weblog (see Weblog portfolios);

3. Contributions to a community newsletter, including poetry or articles that deal with the community itself and what happens within it;

4. Small paragraphs, perhaps introducing fellow students, that provide in effect the first steps of communication in a new language. This is a class newsletter in its simplest, one-dimensional form: students write for each other as primary audience, but others are welcome to read it.

5. Group projects that are centered on a single subject can occupy a single weblog, which then becomes focused on a given issue, as opposed to a weblog which collects a single person's work and thus focuses on that person.

Other ways have also been noted:

6. Teachers can actually edit weblog entries and turn each one into an active online editing-correcting situation;

7. Weblogs can be used as private journals, with only the teacher, or only teacher and friends, given access, besides the writer.

There are, in addition, a number of ways a teacher can use them: as a class bulletin board; as a starting point for class activities; as a gateway to other technologies, such as webconferences, podcasts, class videos, etc.; or, giving or choosing not to give students access, as a place to do and discuss research; as a place to develop thoughts and actions related to teaching.

Though there are no doubt more (see Campbell 2006, below*), this presentation hopes to focus on a single one, weblogging itself. Weblogging as its own genre For the purposes of this presentation weblogging is defined as the following:

A student writes a weblog entry which, in the first paragraph, links to another site on the web and describes it as carefully as possible - I specify 5-7 sentences. Then, in a separate paragraph, the writer gives an opinion about the site- or about the content of it, or even about the class with respect to the site, and explains why he/she feels the way he/she does. This I also specify as 5-7 sentences.

The assignment, in my class at least, is combined with speaking; they write the paragraphs, bring them in and essentially read them to each other; then, through a series of editing steps, they put each entry on their own weblog (which I have often helped them make and establish); and, finally, they read, enjoy and comment on each other's entries, as part of another assignment.

I'd like to make it clear that I don't especially consider myself an inventor or a maverick with a new idea. I have adapted this assignment in many ways to what I see as the specific needs of a group of students that I now teach regularly (called AE2, or intermediate, in our program); these students have basic problems with fluency, reading, talking and writing about what they've read, and integrating themselves into the English-speaking electronic environment, and this assignment is made as it is specifically for them. Thus I would expect any other teacher to adjust it to his or her class situation.

A specific lesson plan can be found in Leverett, 2006b; this gives some idea of a set of lessons I have been doing with my students for many terms now. This presentation is based specifically on the benefits of this kind of general, fluency-based writing.

I have always tried to keep these assignments informal, but I've told students also that this is the essence of weblogging, and that they are, in doing this, joining a large community of bloggers who do the same thing daily. The separation of the two paragraphs is perhaps our own identifying feature; by keeping description of the site short, and separate from opinion, we make weblog entries easy to identify on a site, even if they are not marked (often they are entitled, "Weblog Assignment #2 - but more often they are easily identified merely by their length, which usually appears to be roughly the same no matter which template they've chosen).

I try to distinguish weblogging from formal writing by insisting that it is primarily for fluency, and is for active conversation with others who are interested in the topic; I remind them that I do not grade on the basis of organizational factors such as topic sentences, thesis statements, etc. This is partly because my class is not specifically charged with teaching these, but has more of a receptive & fluency orientation. Nevertheless, there is some confusion about this, as students tend to take all writing seriously, and are doubly concerned when the writing they do must show mastery of something they have read.

The process I use is fairly simple and is reproduced here from my TESOL 2007 handout. Getting started
A. Make your own- to do this,
1.go to Blogger (
2.scroll down to the orange arrow; set up Google account
3. choose template; keep track of password, url
4. be conscious of settings:
a. do you want to be notified of comments?
b. is it ok for it to be on the carousel?
c. who can comment?
5. be sure to post something (or your blog still doesn't exist)
6. be aware of function: will this mostly be for students?
B. For students to post on a class blog or common blog:
1. slow typers, put it in a word document first
2. edit/make grammatical corrections
3. log on to blogger, use class logon, password
4. from dashboard, click on blog name, create post
5. copy from document, paste into box
a. blog loses all indentation: space between paragraphs
b. can't copy title and post at the same time
c. sign it if appropriate
6. To make a link (on macs): use code:
I went to CESL
C. For students to make & use their own blogs:
1. Prepare handout that tells them what it is, gives background
2. Warn them to write password, url; give them steps above>
3. Link to students' blogs from central place
4. Teach the following systematically:
a. make it grammatical before putting it up
b. check links to make sure they're working
c. spaces between paragraphs; links where appropriate
d. comment when logged on; blogger links to yours
e. link to friends/whoever on template
f. identify as class blog, class assignments
g. picture etiquette: use free photos, or get permission, give credit
D. For weblogging itself:
1. Your success depends on their interest: Make sure the course itself touches on interesting subjects, current controversies.
2. Find sites where those subjects/controversies are represented on the web. Look for sites that are offbeat, unusual, or clearly situated on one side of a controversy. Give them a wide choice.
3. Be aware of how much your students will have to read before being comfortable talking about a site; they may choose on that basis.
4. Possible directions: 5-7 sentence paragraph talking about the site (and linking to it); 5-7 sentence paragraph giving your opinion & why. Bring paper to class; s's use it in speaking exercise. Make grammatical corrections; advise if inappropriate.
5. take class to lab to upload entries onto weblogs; check grammar & appearance; check links.
6. to print out one entry at a time, click on permalink stamp at bottom left; print only the top.
7. Require comments; have them read each other's weblogs and comment appropriately.

*"There is another issue teachers ought to consider, though, and that is the question: Why use weblogs for homework submission? A discussion forum or Learning Management System (LMS) would be more appropriate, for such applications maintain privacy, centralize control, and are better designed for the structured activities of a well-defined group, like a classroom of students.

Weblogs, on the other hand, are better suited toward public, dispersed conversation. They are designed with personal publication in mind. They emphasize individuals and their relation to a community, which is a unique construct for each individual. In a sense, weblogs give learners freedom to express themselves and to create their own personal communities centered around topics of their interest..."
-Aaron Campbell


Campbell, A. (2006, Sept. 21). Blogging for homework. Accessed 2-07.

Davis, A. (2006, May). Blogs and Pedagogy. EduBlog Insights. Accessed 3-07.

Leverett, T. (2006a, Aug.). This is your class on weblogs. Teaching English with Technology 6, 3. IATEFL Poland Computer SIG Publication. Accessed 3-07.

Leverett, T. (2006b, Aug.). Three ways to integrate weblogging into your writing classes. Teaching English with Technology 6, 3. IATEFL Poland Computer SIG Publication.

Leverett, T. (2006c). Daring to enter the blogosphere. Prog. Admin. IS, Paper, TESOL Convention, Tampa, FL, Mar.

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