Controlling

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Image courtesy of Gary Cycles
Note: This post is my submission for the 2nd ELT Research Blog Carnival. The subject of this carnival is on learner autonomy and is hosted by Lizzie Pinard. If you are interested in knowing more about writing one yourself, please visit her website for more information.

For those who don’t know me, this isn’t the only blog I have. I also have an education technology site that was not really intended to be a education technology blog. Instead, it was meant to be a place where I could post things about language learning and teaching, but somehow evolved into a how-to type of site for those who are new to using technology in the classroom. As a result, I felt that I needed a place strictly for reflecting on what I was learning and doing as a language instructor. Hence, the need for this blog.

Reflection has always been the cornerstone of this site, but not just on what is happening in my day to day life as a teacher. It is also a place where I can share things I am learning about from what I am reading in areas of language education. In fact, my first post was on the integration of education technology and the work of Earl Stevick. Since my time in the MA TESOL program at Trinity Western University, I have been intrigued by the work of Dr. Stevick and his focus on the learner. This leads me to the research article I have chosen for this particular ELT Research Blog Carnival on learner autonomy.

Although the article is a couple of years old, the material is still very relevant to today. In this article, Lee (2011) shares about the use of blogs and ethnographic interviews to promote learner autonomy. This fits really well with what I was discussing about with the work of Stevick and education technology. The focus of this particular study was on American exchange students studying Spanish who have never travelled to another culture before. These students were required to take language and culture classes in Spain while living with host families. The course used blogs and ethnographic interviews with L1 Spanish students to help the exchange students take control of their language learning and to critically discuss issues with others students.

The article starts with an explanation of what learner autonomy is and how blogging fits into this idea. The basic rationale is that blogs allow students to take control of what they publish, allowing them to learn how to “plan, understand, and regulate their own learning” (Lee, 2011). The author also points out that “blogs increase students’ participation and motivation because they are intended not only for a sole instructor but rather for a broad audience.” This fits in well with what I have been advocating for a while now regarding e-portfolios. Blogs can be used as the ‘showcase’ part of the portfolio after working through things in the ‘sandbox’. This makes language learning a joint effort involving peers and the instructor in the process.

In this article, the sixteen exchange students work on private and class blogs, each with their own focus and purpose. Another portion of the program was time taken to interview native Spanish students about their culture and allowing students to dig deeper into the culture and the language. The end result was very positive as students realized the effectiveness of becoming reflective in their learning. Of course, this has been done for years with journals, but the openness of blogging allowed students to write for a more diverse audience and to express themselves not just as language and culture learners, but as global citizens.

I really enjoyed this study and can see a lot of merit in doing this with my own students. What I particularly liked was how the teachers prepared the students through practice and workshops. One of the drawbacks mentioned in the study was the lack of internet access, making it difficult for students to work on their weekly posts. I don’t know how well this would work in Spain, but in North America (and I am sure this works in other parts of the world as well), Blogger and probably other hosted blog sites can use SMS texting for posting. Also, the use of Twitter or Facebook as blogging alternatives would do well in achieving the same results.

To me, the critical portion of this study / course was how students were able to grow in their language learning through the simple act of reflection. This is how I see myself as a teacher as well. Maybe if we as teachers joined in with the students in the blogging process, we could learn together with our classes, becoming learners as well.

I want to do more blogging with my next group, but I think I will have to prepare my students ahead of time on the use of blogs and what that would look like before embarking on this journey. I know a number of you have your students blogging as part of their language learning and I would love to hear from you about your successes and your not-so-very-much-successes.

Reference:

Lee, Lina. (2011). Blogging: Promoting learner autonomy and intercultural competence through study abroad. Language Learning & Technology, 15(3). 87-109. Retreived from http://llt.msu.edu/issues/october2011/lee.pdf

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