Guest Blog Post: Blogging in the Classroom

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This week’s guest post comes from Mr. Mat Wachtor, who has had the pleasure of working with both myself and Jee Young. He is currently the lead Middle and High School English teacher at an international school in Seoul. Mat is passionate and dedicated to the teaching profession and seems to be leading a seminar every other day (according to my facebook newsfeed)! He was kind enough to give us a post on how he integrates student blogs into his teaching.

“This semester we are getting rid of paper journals, and moving online.”  This is how I started my high school English language arts classes on the first day of the Spring 2012 semester.  When I came to my current international school, I instituted a journal writing program into all of the high school classes (easy to do since I was the only high school ELA teacher at the time).  My rationale was to get students writing and engaging with various topics: creative, personal, school, and classroom topics.  However, after having piles and piles of student notebooks each Friday I quickly desired change.  Thus, the idea to get students’ blogging was born.

Personally, I have gone through quite a few of the blogging phases: Xanga, Myspace, Facebook Notes, Blogspot, and now Tumblr.  One day as I was searching the education hashtag on Tumblr, I came across an article about how the benefits of student blogging.  I began imagining what it would look like if I implemented a student blogging into my course.  It would simplify collecting journals, and would also allow for greater student responsibility on their part to do their homework.

I chose Tumblr because of its features: following blogs, news feeds, comments, and customization.  Students would be able to see my post in their blog feed when they logged in, and then write their own responses for me to see.  I customized my Tumblr page to have various sections for keeping up with homework, Youtube resources, and school announcements.  I tried to make it as much of an all in one stop for a student as possible.

wachtor's blog

Students were also able to customize their blogs as well, and follow each other.  This allowed for students to comment positively (yes, I monitored the comments) on each others journal posts.  This also helped with EFL (English as a Foreign Language) students as it gave them samples for how to respond to the questions.

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Each Monday I would start off class by explaining the journal topic for the week, which I actually posted on Sunday mornings for those who were eager to do their homework.  Students would then have until Friday 5pm to post their responses.  Responses were assessed based on the length and how accurately they responded to the question.  In order for students to know that I graded their journal assignment I “liked” their post, and would occasionally post feedback by commenting.  This system also helped keep my records in order!

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Since the nature of blogs are social, I encouraged various extra credit assignments that required photos or videos.  My goal was not only to educate students on how to use the internet as a form of communication, but also to have them understand how to positively use social networks.  One of these extra credit assignments was to post pictures from your spring break.  Before leaving for break I announced that I would be traveling to Chicago to visit family, and the could follow different parts of my trip on my blog.  Thus, they would receive extra credit for posting a picture with a quick thirty word explanation.

spring break wachtor

spring break student

Blogging as a class can be very exciting and fun!  Remember to set rules for the students to follow so that the community is safe and free to express themselves.  Happy blogging^^

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Guest Blog Post: Learning to Teach, Teaching to Learn

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This past July, one of my long time wishes finally came true. I finally got a sister! We welcomed into our family Jane, who married my brother, Brian. I’m thankful to finally have a younger sister who I can go shopping with and do “girly” things with. I’m also thankful that she’s a passionate educator making a difference in the lives of her students Korea. This is her first year teaching middle school and high school English at an international school in Seoul.

Learning to Teach, Teaching to Learn

By: Jane Kim

When I take a step back and actually realize what I’m doing, I’m in utter… awe.

As a high school English teacher, I often get comments like “Oh, you’re an English teacher? So you must really love books, huh. What’s your favorite?” It’s a fair question, but I still struggle to know how to respond. To be honest, it has been a while since I sat down to read a literature book for pleasure, and no, I don’t absolutely love reading and writing. And to be really honest, I’ve often struggled with reading and writing throughout high school and beyond.

So, how and why am I teaching English to high school students? I’m often reminded of the answer when I get comments from my students about how much they hate writing essays and how hard it is to understand “Paradise Lost”. Strangely, these comments don’t frustrate me; they invigorate me. They remind me of how I used to be.

I remember reading many books as a child because I liked fun, exciting and moving stories. I mean, who doesn’t? If I hadn’t been exposed to reading books, I think I would’ve gotten into movies, cartoons (now it’s anime), or even video games, like many of my students now seem to enjoy way more than books. I also wrote a lot of stories and poetry growing up, because after reading so much, my hand just naturally began to imitate what I read. My own creativity was fueled by the stories I was immersed in. And most of all, I know I wasn’t the only one. Look at the posts below! All of Jee Young and Melody’s students love to read!

So why did so many of us stop enjoying reading and writing in high school?

Something happened as we got older. No longer were we receiving praise for our writing, but we were seeing red marks all over the things we wrote. We received A’s and B’s on some papers, but we really can’t remember those. There had to have been things that we wrote well, but they were buried under the red scribble about missing commas, “awkward” sentences, question marks, “too long”, “too short”, wrong font, disorganized, lack of flow, and the list goes on. And as for reading, well, homework, Sparknotes and academies had taken over. No time for that.

Of course, there are things that I, as a teacher, have a responsibility of teaching my students. Yes, proper grammar and writing style is pretty important. Yes, picking up on the author’s intent and techniques in a reading may also be important. But at the cost of what?

When students walk into my classroom, they have either begun or are in the midst of another day as a teenager. I have 70 minutes with them before they move on with their day. There are a countless number of skills that they need to learn. But becoming more apt in reading and writing does not motivate my students. Some have decided that they’re already bad at it, and others have developed a formula for doing enough to get the grade. And 70 minutes is simply too long to teach irrelevant skills to unmotivated students.

I’m learning that teaching English is much more about teaching than it is about English. In the midst of broken families and vicious teenage social lives, the space for teenagers to articulate their honest thoughts has become smaller and smaller. They may feel trapped in societal norms that define who they are, leaving them with no outlet for their God-given creativity. If my classroom is not a safe place for my students to express themselves, then I’m not doing my job.

When I can create a classroom environment where my students feel safe enough to voice their opinions, be honest about their feelings, and have conversations with me about what they are learning (or not learning), they are more likely to engage in the material. When they are given the time and space to write down what they think about, about things they’re actually interested in, without having to perform, here’s the shocker: they can write. When they can talk about the poem they just read without having the pressure to say the right answer, guess what: they can articulate exactly why they hate that line (and then write a poem about why they hate it). And when they can see that I am not looking for mistakes but for pieces of gold in a goldmine, they are more motivated to produce their best work.

In less than one year, I’ve buckled under the pressure of improving students’ writing skills. I’ve delighted over hearing some students say that they finally found writing relevant to them. I’ve cried from frustration over consistently unmotivated students. I’ve seen students beaming from their breakthroughs in their discussions of certain texts. I’ve had to apologize to students for my short temper. And through it all, I’ve discovered that I absolutely love teaching because I love seeing my students discover something new about themselves.

I’ve learned that the moment I stop learning about my students and their needs is the moment I stop teaching. It’s funny: when I do that, I get to learn so much more about myself and my creative abilities to not only teach, but also to read and write. So this is my prayer as a teacher: God, give me the grace to never stop learning.