Useful things if you blog with learners (and you should!)

Over on Edublogs ("Easy Blogging For Education"), where they reckon they've helped build 3,378,490 blogs since 2005, they're carrying out their annual survey of blogs in education. If you blog, they'd like just 5 minutes of your time.

I'm a big believer in getting feedback from people and listening to what they have to say. With students, Google Drive forms are so brilliant for that, and as a teacher you should complete such things, apart from anything else because it forces you to reflect for a few minutes on what you're doing.

"Is there anything else we didn't cover that you would like to share?" they ask at the end of the survey.

You mean apart from the fact that I love blogging with learners?

Well yes:

I always recommend a single blog per class with all students "authors" on it but generally working in 3s or 4s to collaborate to write posts (so we get 5 posts on one topic on one blog, not 25 on 25 different blogs) and with the fewest possible number of posts by the teacher, the highest possible number of posts and comments by the learners.

Facebook and so on have come along and, sadly, displaced blogs as the popular platform. I used to run a blogging in language teaching course but it got dumped as "old" but, because you can make a blog so water-tight on privacy, they're in fact still my first choice as a shared digital space for use with learners, particularly if what you want to have is somewhere for your learners to "publish" their project work.

Edublogs uses WordPress as the platform for blogs you create with it. I use WordPress for this and other blogs but in fact recommend Blogger to teachers as experience suggests that they find it slightly easier to learn to use.

Nevertheless, Edublogs have some great things on their website and on their blog (these 50 ideas for student blogging, for example, and see also these resources), useful whichever blogging tool you decide to use. They also produce one of the few email newsletters that I actually read and haven't unsubscribed from (as I have with virtually every other email newsletter being pumped at me). On Twitter, you also have @edublogs.

Previous reports on the state of educational blogging are to be found there.

3 reasons why you want to use social media with your learners

Social media

In a previous post, I argued that as teachers we should be "on" social media; now, I'd like to suggest that we should be there with our learners, too, taking full advantage of the opportunities it provides…

First things first: for any teacher wanting to use social media with learners, privacy ought to be a big concern, and an excellent reason for picking the fabulous Edmodo as the social media platform to use for any class — and for not choosing Facebook for it.

Particularly with young learners, as well as considering any school or local education authority requirements, you want parental permission, preferably written, before you and your learners start posting anything online or using social media (or mobile phones) — and it's far more likely to be forthcoming if you provide information on exactly what you're going to be using it for and how you're going to ensure privacy (by using Edmodo; or with a private "authors/readers only" blog — for example with Blogger; or with a private G+ Community…).

With a group of adults, again do check school policy, and you want everyone to be willing to give social media a go, even if they're not currently big social media users. For that reason, Edmodo is again a good choice, because it doesn't involve anyone sharing their private life with others), though again a private G+ Community would also be a great choice — and do make it private when you set it up.

TIP Next after ensuring privacy would be ensuring your learners' willingness to be "on" social media with yourself and their classmates. There are still a surprising (?) number of people that don't want to be — and so I expressly avoid using the term "social media" when suggesting we create a space to use. Instead, I suggest we're going to use a "tool" or a "group" or a "Community". The term "social media" seems to set alarm bells ringing — and you want willingness to be there.

What is the point of being on social media?
Why, as a language teacher, would you want to be on social media with your learners? For three reasons:

  1. Because first of all it's social — and learning should be first and foremost a social experience (and not a technological one)
  2. Because, as a result, it generates good group dynamics, which washback into your face-to-face classroom — because your learners create and share and comment on things together, and therefore belong
  3. Because it creates further opportunities for interaction — outside the classroom — and for use of language, and therefore language learning, which is your primary reason for being in your classroom in the first place

If you teach a lot of different classes, you probably don't want to be "on" social media with all of them — you don't want to be managing half a dozen or more very active Edmodo groups for example.

But try it with one group or, better still, get one of your learners in one of your classes to set up the shared digital space you are going to be using, take charge of running it, and invite you to join…

Possible alternatives to Blogger, Edmodo and G+ Communities: a WhatsApp group or Twitter, which you can also use privately.

If it takes off, it will change learning

See also
Why teachers need to be on social media
Top 10 tips for starting with Edmodo

Going mobile? You should be!

There's another excellent book just out in DELTA Publishing's excellent teacher development series.

Like the others in the series, Going Mobile — by Nicky Hockly and Gavin Dudeney — is short (120 pages), user-friendly and well-organized, and full of practical ideas that the teacher can take into class and try out, with good sections on some of the challenges and issues that are likely to arise.

If you are a language teacher who has never had your learners take out their smartphones and use them for a classroom activity, the book is conveniently organised from "simple to more demanding tasks".

I'd always suggest starting with easy tasks if you're never made much use of technology in a classroom — in fact I never do anything complicated: you want language-rich tasks, not technologically-complex ones.

To give one example from the book,"Talking trash" has the learners "take a photo of rubbish and record the story of how it got there" — to be done in pairs, thus ensuring that the interaction, the negotiation and the other language practice opportunities are as important as the technology.

Getting learners to photograph and share things via a WhatsApp group works so well (apart from anything else as it's so motivating) and if you — they! — start to look, it is amazing what people throw away. An example:

If there are privacy issues (and there are!), an alternative to WhatsApp would be to have learners use their phones to take the photographs, but share via another excellent app, Tackk.

All language teachers should surely by now — 15 years into the 21st century! — be taking advantage of the technology learners are carrying around with them in their pockets. Apps like WhatsApp and tasks like podcasting (for which I'd recommend Spreaker) afford so many opportunites for language practice and learning!

In my talk at the IH Barcelona ELT Conference (February 6-7), I'll be arguing that, in language teaching, we've got lost: we've ignored the signs of the times and blithely carried on making photocopies while our learners are making SnapChats. You want — and need — your learners to "go mobile", and this book will help you into that process.

Find out more about the book (contents, sample activities, videos, etc) on the publisher's site.

Also highly recommended, in same series: Teaching Online, which Nicky wrote with Lindsay Clandfield.

Also of interest

Why teachers need to be on social media

G Plus CommunityFor our 1,500-member post-CELTA support group, which has been using a private Yahoo Group since it was first set up in August 2004, we're gradually moving on to private G+ communities (logo, right), which has generated a number of concerns about privacy.

A G+ Community (very like a Facebook group if you aren't familiar with G+) can be either public or private, a choice you have to make on set-up and cannot then change. Privacy issues ought to be among the first concern of teachers considering using technology and, with a private Community, what is posted there stays there, and is shared only with members of the community — so that "Private" is the choice I've made for all the Communities I run, no matter who the community has been for, teachers or for language learners.

For anyone reluctant to join our new group (open only to people who take their CELTA course at IH Barcelona) — or concerned about using social media in general, for that matter — I've put forward the same arguments I've used with language learners:

  • By being on the internet at all, you've already surrendered a certain amount of your privacy
  • We have, nevertheless, done what is possible to make our community private
  • You do need to concern yourself with what you share with whom…
  • But, in the 21st century, you probably do want a professional digital footprint on the internet

A professional digital footprint
In the world of work — which, after all, English language teaching is part of — you probably do want to hide certain things. Who can access what on your Facebook page, for example…? Can a potential employer…? What photos can other people find and see, not just on Facebook but elsewhere, too…? Picassa, for example, is a site where I discovered I was unwittingly "sharing" photos I never meant to.

Unknown userBut you probably do want to be on LinkedIn, for example, with a carefully crafted profile and an attractive profile picture — for the job offers you can obtain through it and so that recruiters can take a good look at you. And yes, for that reason, you want a profile image, not some faceless default image (see example, right).

Somewhere like about.me is another quite good place to post your curriculum (and a good place to link to in your paper or digital CV). Here, to provide an example, is my about.me page — still a work in progress and note that I'm not looking for a job as an English teacher: if I were, I'd most definitely change things there.

Being able to show examples of what your learners have done is also interesting, perhaps work that they posted online (and again, you'd want to concern yourself with privacy and obtain their permission to make use of it). If it's not posted publicly, screen captures on paper in a portfolio would be one way to go.

And you probably do want to be "on" social media, with a blog and/or a Twitter account that you can also show to potential employers (always assuming that what you're posting isn't going to immediately put them off you as a candidate!).

By following other people on Twitter or on blogs or via RSS (my tool of choice: TheOldReader), you (1) get yourself some informal, ongoing social learning — which has got to have a positive effect on the classes you teach — and (2) arm yourself with an immediate answer to the question I'd personally put to all candidates for jobs in education today: "Describe your PLN to me…"

Coming next | Why teachers should use social media with learners

What makes a great teacher?

Need something uplifting for Monday? This one i found on Adam Simpson's All things ELT Scoop.it (more about Scoop.it), the kids being 12-13 year olds, if I've understood the Australian school system correctly.

Such things are fun for kids to create and record (either as a podcast or on a mobile phone) and super instructive, I think, for teachers to listen to.

I provided technical support for a similar project recently where the kids talked about what makes a good learner. There was a privacy issue (the school involved vetoed any videos being uploaded to YouTube) so instead the videos were shared on/via the kids' phones.

The recording had to be done outside class (the school has a ban on mobiles being used in schools) but that (ie. the former!) isn't necessarily a bad thing: classroom time was used for discussion and rehearsal, with the recording being done outside class.