Starting up student blogs is the best and worst thing I’ve done in a long time.
In late October I had my 7th grade Spanish students set up private blogs. According to the ACTFL (Amer. Council for the Teaching of For. Lang.) oral proficiency standards suggest that students at this level should be able to mimic sentences and alter them to a minimal degree. By the end of the year they should be able to manipulate the present and simple past, the future, and the present progressive tense. They should be able to speak in basic terms utilizing a variety of vocabulary, and they should be able to handle (in the second half of the year) to create basic compound tenses.
This group of kids are in our “Intro” level, which indicates that the child has had minimal exposure to languages in elementary school. A cynic would call it the remedial track. This being a performance-based assessment, the goal of the activity is to achieve meaningful language, NOT grammatical purity. At first, I wondered how I, a blue-blooded grammarian and devotee of massaged language, would handle being OK with grammatical faux pas.
So when, for the first assigned blog post, I asked my classes to describe their favorite restaurant, I’m wasn’t sure what to expect. Actually, I did. I expected my 2nd period to put in the minimal amount required and I expected my 4th period to put in a valiant effort that would not earn them the Medal of Cervantes.
I was stunned at the kind of entries I was reading!! Long descriptions of food, service, ambience, etc. They took the exercise seriously, and they were much more bold with a qwerty keyboard than they would have been with pencil and paper. After the second blog post (this time describing what they give their family as gifts and what stores they frequent), I realized that this is a trend. The kids write more expressively when they’re doing so on the computer.
In addition to posting entries (much like we do here at Dobbs), they are required to comment on one anothers’ blogs. Here we see the “minimalist approach” come out, but I’m hopeful that this will pass when they are talking about authentic topics. Admittedly, these first two are somewhat contrived, and I can see them not thinking “why are we responding to what so-and-so buys his dad for Christmas??” I told them that these entries were meant merely to “prime the pump” for when they really get into debateable topics.
Here’s the nightmare side to this scenario. Can you guess what I’m about to say?
I’M BURIED IN POSTS AND COMMENTS!! I’ve given up recreational reading for the foreseeable future since Dobbs, Language Lab, and blog posts/comments have given me the equivalent of Corominas’ Etymological Dictionary to read. However, since I’m not grading them, rather reading and responding when appropriate, I am TRULY ENJOYING engaging in the work of my students!! This is TERRIFIC and I HATE IT!
I’m very glad that I took this step. I just hope that I can carve it into manageable chunks of work.
Any ideas on how to give better prompts to get them to write more thoughtful comments?