I’ve been thinking a lot about blogging recently for a number of reasons: first and foremost, I did some research into blogs as a platform for self-development examining the extent to which they can facilitate reflective thinking; secondly, I also passed a year since I started this blog last month (first post was made on 28th April 2010) and I’ve been ‘reflecting on my reflections’ as it were.
One question I’ve been pondering is why do I blog? After much consideration, I can only say there is no definitive reason. The things that prompt or inspire me to write a post vary greatly as does the nature of the posts themselves: it may come from some general thoughts about education and language teaching, it may be a response to another post on another blog, it may be an extension of an ELTchat session or it may be some random event from the wider world that just gets me thinking.
But most of all, my inspiration for blog posts comes from the classroom: reflecting on how lessons went or how I attempted to tackle a problem encountered or a challenging situation is what really helps me as a teacher. Add to that the comments, opinions, advice and support of those who take the time to read my posts and there is a potential for a deep, critical level of reflection.
One interesting thing I discovered in my research was stages that bloggers seem to go through over time and how I could identify the ways I had experienced something similar. First of all, many new teacher-bloggers seem to start by offering descriptive accounts of lessons. There is little in the way of explicit reflection here and this is often used as a criticism of journal and blog writing from a developmental standpoint. However, this can also be seen as a good place for teachers to start as they get used to the idea of writing about lessons and using a blog before later moving into more critical reflection (see Farrell, 1998). I see this in my older posts with accounts of what I did in class stage by stage, mainly focusing on successful moments (see Introducing Myself to New Classes or Pictogloss for examples of what I mean).
One of the most important stages is that of engaging in a community of practice. Blogging is not just about writing your own posts but reading the posts of others as well. This can prompt reflection on our own beliefs and experiences as teachers (see Cecilia’s recent post and comments for a perfect example of this) even if the context is completely different. One study I came across of pre-service English teachers in Hong Kong (Deng & Yuen, 2011) identified an important aspect of critical reflection that emerged as the research took place: blog-reading. When interviewing the participants, the value these teachers attached to being able to read the blogs of others was something that kept coming up again and again even though it wasn’t immediately apparent when analysing the posts and comments themselves. I’ve certainly learned a lot from other people’s blogs reading about their experiences, relating them to my own and getting some ideas for my own blog as well. So thanks to all of you (too numerous to mention) who have provided me with some great reading over the last year or so.
By reading and commenting on others blogs, teachers start to build connections and then feel more comfortable in talking about more difficult moments. They may start by asking for help or advice with challenging classes or students or when entering new territory. My first post like this was the one where I pondered why my ‘difficult’ class were better behaved when a teacher new to the school came to teach them for a day as part of his induction (‘Outdone by the Pink Elephant’). However, I was still not at a level of critical reflection as I was asking for explanations more than offering them.
It is when we start to give our opinions, justify our ideas, diagnose problems and offer solutions and evaluate what we do - both the positive and the negative - that we reach a point of critical reflection (that’s what I at least tried to do with my recent thoughts on our drama performances). Having described some of my experiences this year here on these blog pages and having read the blogs and experiences of others, I feel as though I can go into next year much better prepared to help my students get the most out of the learning experience. This is something I could simply not have achieved by writing a private journal or discussing things in the staffroom at school. There is some suggestion that the public nature of blogs makes it more likely that the teacher will hold back and not truly engage in critical reflection. I find the opposite to be true - being able to reach an audience of like-minded individuals regardless of geographical location, benefitting from their unique perspectives and sharing with them makes me more open and able to reflect on a deeper level.
What about you?
Deng, L. & Yuen, A.H.K. 2011. Towards a framework for educational uses of blogs. Computers and Education. 56: 441-451.
Farrell, T.S.C. 1998. ESL/EFL teacher development through journal writing. RELC Journal. 29/1: 92-109.