Throughout the twenty-some years I have been teaching, I have continued to seek new, engaging ways for my students to practice their foreign language skills. I want students to work on their reading, writing, speaking and listening skills and develop confidence using the language in the process. When learning a new language, an issue that often arises for students is the fear of making mistakes. As a result of this fear, they tend to shy away from participating in our class activities. They will note on their homework and tests that they are “probably wrong” or a some other general comment showing a lack of confidence in their work. Other times, before they provide a response in class comes a statement of self-doubt such as, “I’m sure I am wrong” or a request to not have to respond, “Can you please call on someone else?”
Students in general are afraid to be wrong. In the foreign language classroom, I have noticed this is a recurrent theme among my students.
Hearing students exhibit these feelings drove me to look for ways to help them become comfortable in expressing themselves. Students need to practice language skills, so I focused on finding methods to encourage students to cast aside doubt and find confidence in expressing themselves through the language. Initially, I started each class by reminding students to “just go with it,” to simply read their answer, write their response, and not worry about being wrong, just participate. I tried to help them understand that it is normal to make mistakes – that is how we learn. I even shared stories of my own mistakes to emphasize this point.
I chose to integrate blogging as a way to encourage my students to take a chance with writing and to be more creative with the language. I started having my students write blogs for a few homework assignments. I encouraged them to share their thoughts, write freely, and not worry so much about grammar and being right, but to focus on expressing their ideas and using the language.
I had done some blogging with students in Spanish many years ago, although at that time it was called “our daily journal writing.” I set aside 10 minutes in class a few days each week, created a prompt, and encouraged them to write. I asked them to write without worrying so much about grammatical accuracy, but rather focus on expressing their ideas. I also took the time to write alongside them because I found it was important to be involved in the process. The prompts I provided were fun to write about.
At the end of each week I would collect their notebooks and read their responses. I chose not to grade their entries based on correctness, but rather provide feedback where needed. I also used it as a way to learn about the students themselves. Building relationships is such an important part of what we do as teachers and, for me, this was a great way to learn more about the interests of my students and to build their language skills in the process.
The students would read my responses and as part of the following week’s writing, try to implement some of the corrections or feedback that I had provided into their work.
Blogging has proved to be a tremendous way to encourage students to be creative and express themselves without worrying so much about being right. They are now focusing on talking about things that matter to them and, therefore, creating with the language.
Photo Credit: WELCOME by prayitnophotography; CC BY 2.0 license via flickr