Friday, January 28, 2011

Internet Safety

The internet, as many of us are aware, is an infinite cloud of information, and often there are very few limitations on what can be discussed, viewed, or shared with others in this virtual world.  If I'm going to be introducing this world of the internet and blogging into my classroom, I'll need to be sure my students are prepared to protect themselves while exploring this valuable resource.

Essential things to teach my students about blogging:

  • To insure the safety of yourself and your classmates, don't use any personal identifiers (last names, specific locations, birth dates, or phone numbers) about yourself or others.
  • Connecting with Others:  Blogging is a great way to connect with others that share your common interests.  When communicating with other bloggers, be sure to keep in mind that they are independent individuals with the ability to say or share what they see fit.  If any language or content that another blogger shares with you on your blog makes you uncomfortable, know the process for reporting inappropriate behavior and make sure the teacher is aware of any problems or issues.  Never meet in person with anyone you don't know.
  • Responsibility and Accountability:  What you say and do online is part of your digital identity, and you should share that identity with your parents and friends.  Our blog is a classroom site: do not include any language, material, or links to material that you wouldn't use in a formal class presentation.  Comments and blog material should be constructive, appropriate, and useful for the classroom.  While reflecting on personal experiences is essential to second language learning, be aware that you are displaying this information about your private life in a public forum.  Do not include information or details that might offend or distress myself, your parents, your classmates, or your classmates' families.  Take ownership of what you express.

No matter which type of networking (blogging or otherwise) we would use in the classroom, I'd make sure all of my students were well-educated on the issue of cyber bullying, because it is an increasingly important issue today, especially because of the amount of young suicides related to cyber bullying.  This article is a great place to start learning about what it is and how to prevent it.

Using Blogs in my Classroom

In the US, the state and national standards for education are what dictate the learning goals for every student in a public classroom.  How these goals are met, however, is determined on a more individual basis. For my first entry, I'd like to take a moment to reflect on how I could use blogs in my future emergent bilingual classroom to not only reach but exceed these standards in an enriching, relevant, and challenging way.  For this assignment, I've used the standards for ESL for Intermediate Grades 5-8.

  • Standard:  Students will demonstrate cross-cultural knowledge and understanding.
    Requirements include:  Demonstrate understanding of norms in American English and different regional and social varieties of English, recognize and share cross-cultural experiences, identify similarities and differences and universal cultural themes.

    The blogging community is a great place to begin cross-cultural learning because it is so large and, by virtue of its size and accessibility, encompasses a wide range of authors that express viewpoints on innumerable aspects of world cultures.  In our textbook, Will Richardson points out that the weblog will "expand the walls of the classroom."  Through blogging, my students could reference and review other sites that comment on cultural (or cross-cultural) traditions, evaluate the positions presented in those sites, contrast/compare videos, photos, or other media across culture, and share their own processes of cultural learning.  
  • Standard:  Students will listen, speak, read, and write in English for literary response, enjoyment, and expression.
    Requirements Include:  Identify and explain distinguishing features of the major genres, locate and identify selected literary elements and techniques in texts and relate those elements to those in other works and to students' own experiences, create stories, poems, songs and plays using a variety of writing styles appropriate to different audiences.

    I love the idea of blogging in the classroom because it will give my students the opportunity to showcase their work; their creative efforts can be praised and criticized by their peers, organized and accessed anywhere, and presented in a visually stimulating way.  Because learning English as a second language is a process rooted in personal experience, it's essential for students to use language to express their experiences creatively, and to receive recognition for their mastery of multiple languages.  With a blog, students can showcase their skills in their native and English language in a format that can add some 'prestige' to their work.  What I mean to say is this:  Blogs are not a crumpled up piece of notebook paper.  Blogs have a customized, clean, professional, visually appealing platform for students to present their work to the world.  They can help students take more pride in their work because they give it the presentation and the recognition it deserves.  What's more is that students now have an opportunity to share their work in English and their native language.  Without blogs, if I am unable to understand a students' native language, their creative expression in that language can only reach and/or be recognized by so many people. With blogs my students could know that their work in both languages is being appreciated and recognized by whomever they choose to share it with.
  • Standard:  Students will listen, speak, read, and write in English for critical analysis and evaluation.
    Requirements Include:  Assess, compare, and evaluate the quality or spoken or written texts and visual presentations, evaluate students’ own and others’ work, individually and collaboratively, develop and present clear interpretations, analyses, and evaluations of issues, ideas, texts, and experiences, supporting positions with well-developed arguments.

    The "comments"  capability of blogging caters to this important standard of learning.  Thorough comments, students can offer criticism of each other's work and engage in an ongoing discussion with multiple members of the class.  Therefore, their evaluations can be completed on both an individual and collaborative level.  In our text (p. 32), Richardson mentions how blogs can be used to deconstruct other websites, pointing how structural aspects of these resources affect the reader's experience.  A blog could be used to review and discuss books translated into English from my students native languages.  We could also evaluate and discuss news articles from both English and native language sources, comparing and contrasting the same story in two different news sources each day. In this way, my students would have an opportunity to critically analyze numerous forms of text, provide links to or photos or excerpts of those texts, and also consider the reliability/validity of the texts.  With blogging, the amount of information on the screen isn't limited by space in the same way that a piece of paper is, and information can be added or edited at any time.  In this way critical conversations done in writing are not limited by time or space, giving students more opportunities to practice and learn English together, all while participating in a thought-provoking conversation.