Digital Pathways to Enhance Academic Language and Motivate Digital Citizens
By Sherina Isolica and Maxine Rendtorff Baines
firstname.lastname@example.org & email@example.com
Pueri Domus, Sao Paulo
If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.” (John Dewey)
How the world communicates changes daily. Classroom blogs and sites allow and facilitate information sharing, inter-operability and collaboration on the web. We at Pueri Domus in the Global Brazilian American Program have discovered that the use of blogs and sites as educational tools in classrooms are very effective not only in enhancing the development of academic language but also to increase student motivation, engagement and performance in their learning processes.
The use of blogs and sites is becoming more attractive to educators because it is a tool which involves students in their learning processes. However, teachers must take into consideration the following areas before creating their digital platform.
Regardless of what pathway a teacher uses it must always be intentional, and aligned with the curriculum learning expectations. For the students to understand what is expected, the educator needs to expose students to different examples of sites and blogs and collectively elaborate digital etiquette class contracts before starting a blog or site. Ongoing discussions on what it means to be a digital citizen are also essential to create a respectful and trusting digital community.
The decision on whether students will be allowed ‘free writing’ or whether they will be expected to proofread and revise their work before posting must be made beforehand and also with much care. Feedback from a survey that was conducted with our students showed that students do care about their posts being revised and edited. They don’t want their blog or site with spelling or grammatical mistakes. However, free writing provides an opportunity for us to become more attentive to the problems found in our student’s writing.
Constantly reflecting over whether learning is taking place is a crucial component not only through the posts, but also through class discussions and dialogue. In general, the expectations are high and we have learned that we must continuously reinforce our belief in the student’s potential to satisfy and even transcend their expectations (growth mindset) and value this digital process.
The importance of evaluating the learning taking place and whether students are achieving the expected outcomes requires careful analysis of student output in the blogs and sites, helping us as teachers to identify the strengths as well as what need to be improved in learning, in teaching as well as the blog/site. For this reason, rubrics are highly recommended to maintain objectivity.
Rubrics can be used to assess, for example:
i. coherence of ideas
iii. Writing and spelling
iv. Relevance of comment
V. quality of blog/site
A blog encourages the building up of knowledge within a class and offers an opportunity of participation and sharing of knowledge to all students. It can be a platform to create projects, discuss books that have been read and express ideas about several themes as well as sharing and discussing current affairs.
Successful Outcomes for using Blogs in the class
- can be used for specific content areas
- promotes high student interest
- provide high student participation
- support high student high performance in assessments/evaluations
- improve home connection
- offer opportunities for differentiation
A classroom site on the other hand, offers a wider range of possibilities, which can be an advantage, but also brings the challenge of keeping it simple and focused on the initial learning expectations. Apart from being similar to a blog for it provides a platform to post videos, links, photographs, files and comments, classroom sites offer the opportunity for more student participation and interaction through message boards, journals, forums and polls.
Pre-school teachers at our school choose to use the site more as a showcase for parents, including photographs and videos of student’s work. In upper elementary level sites we can already expect a certain degree of student output which increases as we go into middle school. We have been exploring new ways of attempting to show evidence of progress and growth in student’s written outcomes through journals and ongoing self-evaluation texts.
Classroom sites also seem to contribute towards creating a sense of group identity, where the students feel that they belong to a community of respect and can communicate with their peers using the digital pathways that they feel so comfortable with. Students who don’t usually interact in the classroom find an opportunity through the site to connect in
new ways which promote self-esteem and discovery.
We have found in our experience that following Peter Elbow’s ‘Free Writing’ advice (1981) to “use the power of an audience to our benefit instead of letting it get in the way” in class sites has worked very well. Students began to understand that grammar, punctuation, the choice of words, of style, voice and syntax is not something that only the teacher demands, but also is important for effective communication. Common mistakes and frequent misspellings are addressed in class and used in mini- lessons as feedback to plan next steps in class instruction. In this way, the community of blogs and sites guides the learning process of language into a creative, exploratory and joyful experience.
Successful Outcomes for using a Classroom Site
- improve home connection
- promote high interest/motivation
- enhance positive interactions among students
- provide opportunities for differentiation
- be a platform for student output and teacher
feedback and intervention
These modern educational tools demand enthusiasm from all participants as well as regular updates. They are both highly efficient when intentionally integrated pedagogically. For language across the curriculum, blogs and sites create platforms that can be used in several different ways to involve students in exploration, discussion and discovery.