Indigeneity, Language and Authenticity

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Using Tumblr as a tool in formative assessment

Earlier today I posted this post on a Tumblr blog I made specifically for my EFL students. It’s part of a bigger project I’m doing this semester as a way to hopefully help my students improve their language skills – both when it comes to writing and reading – and ultimately perhaps acquire higher grades. It is also a tool for me to see if students who don’t write as much as they are required to in school perhaps perform better in a non-school based environment. It can also be used as a way to see if students who do really well in classroom assignments with clearly defined guidelines are able to take those skills and actively use them in a much more freer, natural language environment.

Ultimately blogging can be a way for students with lower grades to show off hidden skills, while it at the same time encourages high achievers to perform even better.

This may or may not work, but I will leave the final assessment of this project until the midterm break.

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In short, this is what it sometimes feels like to be a teacher. You wave your hands about, saying things that might just as well be spells while students look at you as if you’re an alien from outer space trying to communicate, but failing miserably.

Then again, I imagine being a student might often feel as if you’re Ron in the picture above – something loud and possibly dangerous is trying to fill your head with … knowledge … and why couldn’t you just stay in bed for one more hour ?

Life is harsh sometimes.

However, on rare occasions, both I as a teacher and you as a student feel completely happy with the lesson we’re having.

I imagine it going down a little like this:

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Some of my students’ national EFL exams are coming up in a couple of weeks, and in order to prepare them for the essay part of the exam, but also to improve their written English skills just for the sake of it, I’ve asked them all to start a blog where they have to write at least one post a day for the next 30 days about literally anything they like.

I have put virtually no restrictions on what they can write and post about, nor have I given them any strict guide lines as to how they should write their posts, as long as they use appropriate grammar and a varied use of language in their posts. In total I expect them to write 30 posts each, which can be anything from 3 sentences to a page long each, where all posts but four of them can be about literally anything.

These blogs will then continue to be used, if not perhaps quite as frequently, as on-line based portfolios that will function as a guide to carry out formative assessment. By letting the students have an easily accessible on-line portfolio in the shape of a blog, I hope to encourage my students into thinking more about the way in which they are learning English, thus enhancing the learning not after they’ve received their grades, but during the learning process itself.

In short I envision that writing blogs will help my students in a number of different ways clearly connected to the Swedish national curriculum. The following is just a short, random selection of things I hope this assignment will help my students with.

  1. Getting used to writing and expressing themselves through the medium of English in a much more relaxed, less school-focused way
  2. To improve their overall vocabulary and use of idiomatic expressions, whether canonical set expressions from the collected works of Shakespeare or more Internet specific expressions.
  3. To think of English as something fun, rather than merely a demanding school subject.
  4. To use English in a real setting, exchanging ideas and thoughts with L1 and L2 English speakers from all over the world.

Collaborative blogging is a great way to become better both at reading and writing a foreign language, whilst being fully immersed in the third of five key ingredients making up the stew that is L2 education, i.e. that of culture integration, which is far too often forgotten or seen as less important than e.g. the teaching of grammar or set phrases.

What is more, research carried out by P. Beeson in 2005 suggests that students who write blog entries become much more aware of their own writing styles, and thus automatically raise the level of their written work. This in turn is of great importance when learning a foreign language, not just because its required in order to get a high grade, but because finding an appropriate style or tone and being able to successfully employ it when writing is essential in order to get a message across to another person, without risking any serious misunderstandings.

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