Saturday, 19 May 2012

An EFL project - and blogging

My blogging students are finishing their third and last EFL course this year. The curriculum topics for this course are 'schools, education, learning' and 'employment and job applications'. I wanted to try some project work to introduce my students to the wealth of publicity our Finnish education system has been receiving for a few years now. By going through some of this media material, the goal was to write their responses to what they found out in their own blogs. I was hoping that this process would result in some higher order thinking.

I had collected an impressive list of links to online articles, blog posts and videos that I wanted to share with them as their background research material. I wanted them to learn relevant vocabulary by reading a bulk of articles and watching many videos where the same vocabulary would be repeated again and again. Ideally, we would have searched for the online material together but unfortunately, we didn't have the time within the busy 6-week course of 3 lessons a week. But how to make this list inviting to the students? I could just about imagine their long faces if I presented a dull list of written hyperlinks in the course blog! Then I came up with the marvellous idea of creating a magazine out of the links. Straight away the articles and videos looked much more attractive. My students were at least mildly interested when I introduced the project with the accompanying materials titled FINNISH EDUCATION IN SPOTLIGHT. I think their scepticism came from the apprehension of how much work all this would involve and how demanding it would be!

I posted the initial project guidelines in the course blog, also introducing the idea of Bloom's taxonomy to inspire them to dig deeper. This was also discussed in class. After this, the students were off to do their background research, mostly at home but we also spent some class time on it. Firstly, I wanted to touch base with each of them to see where they were at. Without supervision, many of them tend to procrastine too much. In class I was able to offer some tips on what to focus on, and how to start planning their eventual blog post early enough. Secondly, I wanted to give them a chance to ask their peers or me if they encountered any problems. We also discussed their findings together so they could get some more insights. And as kept suggesting more and more links, the pages of the magazine kept increasing. Students didn't complain, though!

For these classes, we often used the new, modern learning space of our school, where the students could make themselves comfortable on the couches. I expected them to have lots of questions but they seemed to be very self-directed and assured me that they were proceeding well. Some had their notes on their laptops, others preferred a handwritten notebook. I had to fight hard to stay in the background, available if needed but not interfering and "orchestrating" all the time. These are the sort of classes that I would like to do more often!

As the deadline for their projects was approaching, I decided that we would spend one whole 75-minute class on finalising the blog posts. This would give them the chance to still ask for any last-minute advice. The day before this class, it was a public holiday, so I posted final advice on the course blog as I knew many of them would be frantically working on their project at home (last minute panic is very common amongst them - but then again, I'm the same!). In my advice post, I also tried to model the kind of writing I expected from them, with hyperlinks to the materials. I'm so happy now that we had the last class finishing the work together! It was then that I noticed that, after all the preparation and explanations, some of them hadn't grasped the idea of a hyperlinked blog post at all, or how they were expected to refer to the material they had studied. I was quite surprised and disappointed at first. I thought I had given them such thorough and clear instructions! On second thoughts, I realized that they had probably never done such source-based writing before, or if they had, it had been in the traditional paper format, with a list of sources listed at the end. Luckily, I was able to go through the idea of hyperlinked online writing once more, and most of them finally seemed to get the point as it's was relevant to their work at hand!

What was learned?
  • Students got their work done in the end - all at their own level. This type of work allowed personal approaches, and some did manage to demonstrate deeper and more analytical thinking. I'm really proud of them!
  • is brilliant as a repository of study links! (In addition to being a nice way to curate a topic for your PLN.)
  • Next time, do more process writing - students benefit from ongoing hands-on guidance.
  • Maybe try something like this in pairs - collaboration might prove fruitful.

Why not check some of their work through the links to individual student blogs in the sidebar of our course blog! COMMENTS ARE MORE THAN WELCOME!