This week in my CEP 812 course we have been tasked with reading several chapters from James Paul Gee’s The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Learning. In his work Gee includes a very insightful attack on human intelligence and the way that we go about problem solving.
As a Spanish teacher I understand that a key part of the language acquisition process is being able to write in the language that one is acquiring. Often times, language learners are reluctant to write in the second language. I have witnessed this often times in my Spanish class, as well as in the English language with ESL students.
In language methods classes we are often encouraged to have students keep blogs; however, having a student acquiring a new language keep a blog can be problematic. First, keeping a blog is just a modern way of having them answer a prompt that we would have had them write about in their journals in the past. We have changed the forum that students respond to the question in, but we have not changed the questions that we are asking. The second problem with blogging is that the language learner can easily become frustrated. Many language learners enjoy the experience of blogging but when we ask open questions in a language classroom, students will often quickly learn of their own shortcomings within the language. Lin, Groom, and Lin interviewed a group of ESL students about their experiences using a blog in class and found that blogging “increased awareness of their own limited linguistic ability” (Lin, 2015).
The question then becomes, how can we motivate students to write? As students are acquiring language it often helps them to be able to use pictures and illustrations to express themselves.
Image from http://www.storybird.com
In my research of web based tools to encourage writing and literacy for those acquiring a new language, I stumbled upon Storybird. Storybird allows users to make books for free by selecting illustrations from the site’s vast library, and then to write stories to accompany the images – kind of a reversal of the typical writing process. What I like about being able to use an image to generate writing is that it may help students who exhibit writer’s block or express concerns in their ability to be creative.
Another feature that I really love is the ability to open up a project for collaboration. The author of a story book can add other users for collaborative purposes. Allowing students to collaborate on a project could help overcome limits in linguistic abilities as students acquire language at a different pace. While many studies have shown that blogs in ESL and World Language classrooms are instrumental in increasing proficiency, blogs are not perfect and come with deficiencies (Lin, 2015). Storybird is one possible way to address some of the deficiencies that blogging can present.
Lin, Ming Huei (2015). Learner Centered Blogging: A Preliminary Investigation of EFL Student Writers’ Experience. Journal of Educational Technology & Society , 18 (3), 446-458. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/jeductechsoci.18.4.446