Writing is something that I feel gets neglected a lot in the ESL classroom. Motivating students to write more is a struggle, but it is a necessary component for learning and mastering a language where students can improve their skills.
I have used discussions in Schoology for some time. They are so simple to set up and they are a fantastic way of encouraging students to participate in writing activities.
Discussions are a folder option in the virtual learning environment Schoology which can be used just like a Facebook wall. Students can write as much as they want to, and the teacher, or other students, can reply.
In the discussions I post a question to which students respond to, often around a subject we have discussed in class. Since they have already had the discussion, following on with writing helps students to repeat the information, and use the vocabulary, which would otherwise be forgotten.
Recently I found that these discussions can be assigned individually, which gave me the idea of assigning students with their own discussion wall and calling it their “blog”, where only the assigned student and myself can see what has been written.
I am really pleased with how well the blogs have worked so far. Students are motivated to write on their blogs and many do so several times a week, using it as a diary for their learning. It has really encouraged students to learn more independently, as they have taken ownership of their blogs.
The blogs have made it easier for me to spot common errors amongst my students. I am able to reply to their writing, just as you would reply to a comment on Facebook, point out errors in their work, and paste direct links to websites where they can practise improving their English. Students will later reply with their errors corrected.
For this class I decided to make it so that only myself and the assigned student are able to see the blog. My reasoning behind this was that I had one student who seemed very shy about their writing because it was of a lower level than his peers. I thought by not allowing others to see his mistakes, it would encourage him to write more. With my future students I want to try more peer error correction, perhaps assigning students into groups, where they will write on their own blogs and correct their group’s work.
I would recommend that all teachers of English should consider student blogging. I use Schoology, but there are many different ways of doing them on-line.
I shall definitely be making blogging a permanent fixture with my classes.