Connected Development: How blogging has aided my reflection and development (Part 2)

Sketching things out reflectively
Yesterday's post (cunningly titled as above but with '(Part 1)' on the end) focused on examples of how blogging has helped me reflect on the daily challenges of teaching and how the community around teacher blogs has caused my thinking to develop further.

Today, I will be returning the questions I signed off the last post with, namely:

  • Beyond single lessons, classes and 'moments', how has blogging helped me develop my thoughts and beliefs about teaching? 
  • And how has it helped me develop beyond the classroom?

Epiphany Spaces

Revisiting this post, I vividly remember the walk home that led to this post as well as the talk by Luke Meddings that led to the simple and obvious yet completely overlooked solution to the problem of getting students to speak more and speak better. I arrived home that evening knowing I had to put those thoughts into words and how else would I do that other than through this blog?

There was a lot of background to this of course - engaging in the blogging community, finding out more about dogme ELT, getting ideas about incorporating creative activities such as art and drama into language lessons, and discussing the merits of choice and open-ended learning tasks all contributed to the belief that I could offer more to my students by giving them less. Fewer worksheets and more personalisation, more student input, and more learning.

A lot of those ideas would then become the backbone of my approach to preparing students for the Cambridge Starters, Movers, and Flyers tests. They would also prompt me to focus more on personalised tasks and student-generated content in class, which would in turn involve increased collaboration between students, self and peer editing, and encouraging my learners to also engage in a reflective process.

That 'ah-hah' moment was amplified though the blog. I had a platform on which to share my developing ideas, tap into the insights of others, and set off in different directions in my classroom practice. Without the blog, that thought process may well have ended when I arrived home that evening.

Expanded Spaces

Writing blog posts has played a big role in processing my thoughts and exploring new ideas as well as connecting with like-minded teachers around the world, but it has also played a big role in other activities I have engaged in during this more active, reflective part of my teaching career.

Native speaker, fluent speaker or developing language learner, writing is a skill that needs work. If we don't write much, we lose an element of our written fluency. Finding the right words can be tougher and the prospect of having to compile a report or submit an assignment can be daunting.

However, when we write regularly, we can write more readily. By taking a critically reflective approach to our own writing style, we can write better. This has helped me in a number of ways over recent years:
  • Conferences - It's no coincidence that I started to present sessions outside the comfort zone of my own school around the same time I started blogging. Sometimes, ideas lead to blog posts, blog posts lead to more ideas, and those ideas end up becoming workshops or conference talks - like this blogging and blogging idea on the road to IATEFL. :)
  • Assignments - when it came to time to research and submit three extended assignments for my Trinity Diploma, my experience of writing blogs was an advantage for me. Having analysed, reflected on, written about my in-class experiences so many times over the years, the prospect of conducting action research by identifying an aspect of my teaching I wanted to develop, and reflecting on my progress over a series of lessons was one I was able to approach with more equanimity than trepidation (granted, my MA studies also helped but that is intertwined with my blogging experience as well).
  • Formal observations - again, my reflective experiences were useful when it came to the assessed lessons on the Dip TESOL. While the lessons may not have been stellar, I felt comfortable about honestly analysing my teaching and engaging in a reflective discussion with the tutors afterwards. In my current working contexts, this has meant my 'performance review' observations are followed up by a detailed written reflection and discussion, which allows for a more developmental focus than writing three or four lines prefaced by "I think the lesson went well because..."
  • Writing articles - with blogging came guest blogging, and then came invitations to write for 'big blogs' like OUP Global, Teaching English and iTDi. Writing for my own audience and the audiences of others gave me the confidence to apply to be the IATEFL Roving Reporter. From there, I started to submit proposals and articles to teaching newsletters, magazines, and, most recently, a journal. Without a background in blogging, I doubt I would have had as many writing opportunities.
And that is one of the big benefits of writing for an audience, whether it be on my personal blog, another website, or for a magazine. I not only reflect on my own teaching and thoughts about language learning but I also think how I can convey these experiences in a way that will be relatable and useful for a wider audience. That helps me reflect and develop with more detail and more focus. That helps me teach and learn.

You can see my talk on Thursday 6 April, 12.00 – 12.30 in Boisdale 1 Room as part of the LTSIG Day.

Title - Connected Development – teacher reflection and online networks

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