Writing for a specific audience is considered an important literacy skills for students. The DfE cites research evidence that teaching students to write for a purpose is an effective approach for teaching writing in both primary and secondary schools (What Works Clearinghouse, 2012; Gillespie and Graham, 2010; Andrews et al, 2009; Graham et al, 2011; Santangelo and Olinghouse, 2009 cited in Department for Education, 2012). However, during my practice, I have observed that some students have difficulty in writing for a purpose or with specific audience in mind. Having undertaken activities in the past where I have aimed to encourage them to write for a purpose or audience, I believe that some have not engaged with it as expected because they know that it is not real: they are merely completing a task which involves writing for a faux-audience.
This post will aim to lay out a basic structure of a research project I will be undertaking based on the concept of using blogging to improve literacy skills. Here I will outline the rationale behind the project, a skeleton plan and the potential pitfalls that may arise.
Could blogging be the answer?
I am aiming to address this through the medium of blogging: encouraging students to write posts for a new, online class blog, linked to the learning that is taking place in lessons. I aim to established wherther making students aware that the work will be published on the internet, for a real audience, will offer them greater encouragement to write with a specified audience and purpose in mind.
With the continued aim towards improving standards of literacy amongst students in Wales, largely driven by the implementation of the Literacy and Numeracy framework (LNF), this style of activity is linked to the strand of “Writing across the curriculum”. The document states students should be able to “make choices about content, structure, language, presentation to suit the purpose” and “choose the best ways to present writing using ICT in order to communicate clearly and effectively, e.g. continuous prose for a detailed argument, hyperlinked pages for different information on a topic, moving graphics to show processes” (Welsh Government, 2013). Due to my interest in the use of digital technology, I will also be exploring a strand of the new Digital Competence Framework. I have chosen to focus on the “Creating” element of the “Producing” strand, which states that students should be able to “explore and develop formal text document structures for given purposes” (Welsh Government, 2016a).
Arena (2008 cited in Montero-Fletaa and Pérez-Sabater, 2010, p.774) argues that there are three major benefits to blogging in the classroom: firstly, students have to make appropriate choices about their language, based on the audience and the purpose of the writing; secondly, students are able to receive new perspectives on their thoughts due to the commenting feature that is available on many blogging platforms; and finally, the motivational factor that their writing is accessible to a real, global audience. Other commentators, such as Thomson (2016), state the blogging in general encourages writers to be more concise in their approach, allows users to experiment with new forms of writing and ultimately builds confidence. Research conducted by Marsden and Piggot-Irvine (2012) illustrated that students engage in writing on a daily basis, such as instant messaging, emailing and even blogging, often using some form of technology to do so. They also found that whilst some of these involved writing at length, they rarely had to write long reports beyond the realms of school. This potentially means that an intervention such as this adds another real world element, beyond that of writing to a global audience: it taps into a method that they are perhaps more familiar with, as opposed to writing formal reports, which they may have little of no experience of.
Within the Digital Competence Framework guidance document, Welsh Government (2016b) state that the producing strand “covers the cyclical process of planning (including searching for and sourcing information), creating, evaluating and improving digital content”.
– Planning – During the planning phase, I will adopt a writing strategy suggested by both the literacy co-ordinator and Head of English at my school, “GAP LIST”. This is a framework encourages students to plan their writing by considering the genre, audience, purpose, language, information, structure and tone of their writing. It is anticipated that by asking students to consider these elements prior to beginning their writing, it will provide them with a structure to work within prior to beginning their writing.
– Creating – Once students have planned their blog posts and gathered the neccessary information, they will begin creating their blog posts. The aim is for these to be published on the class blog and shared through the medium of social media. Whilst creating their posts, students will be encouraged add media, such as images and/or video. This will provide an opportunity to explore copyright laws and encourage students to source and use appropriately licensed digital content.
– Evaluating and Refining – Prior to students submitting and publishing their posts, students will undergo a peer review session to ensure that they have met the success criteria. Based on the feedback they receive from their peers, students will make the suggested improvements to their posts. It is also anticipated that students will revisit this as and when necessary and further respond to any comments or feedback left by readers of their posts.
Whilst some commentators argue about the positive impact blogging has on students, it should be noted that it is not without its issues. Whilst on the whole being complimentary about the impact blogging can have, Drennan (2012), points out a few potential pit falls that can emerge. Firstly, he suggests that students can be intimidated initially since articles posted online are generally seen as high quality in terms of their written content. However the author also notes on this point that student bloggers, as is the case with many of their adult counterparts, should not be seen as the “finished article”. Secondly, Drennan also states that whilst the facility for others to leave feedback on posts which can be responded to can have many positives, it opens up the potential for offensive comments to be left on student work, which can have a negative impact on them, particularly with younger students and those who are new to blogging. Whilst it is unsavoury, it is one of the risks of engaging with conversations online. However, as opposed to shying away from this, it could be argued that it provides teachers with the opportunity to explore other elements of the Digital Competence Framework, particularly with those within the citizenship strand.
Department for Education, 2012. What is the research evidence on writing?. London: Department for Education.
Drennan, M., 2012. Blogging in the classroom: why your students should write online. The Guardian, [online] 17 July. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2012/jul/17/students-should-be-blogging [Accessed 30 December 2016].
Marsden, N. and Piggot-Irvine, E., 2012. Using blogging and laptop computers to improve writing skills on a vocational training course. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 28 (1), pp. 30-47.
Montero-Fletaa, B. and Pérez-Sabater, C., 2010. A research on blogging as a platform to enhance language skills. Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2 (2), pp. 773-777.
Thomson, P., 2016.Seven reasons why blogging can make you a better academic writer. Time Higher Education, [online] 2 January. Available at: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/blog/seven-reasons-why-blogging-can-make-you-better-academic-writer [Accessed 30 December 2016].
Welsh Government, 2013. National Literacy and Numeracy Framework. Cardiff: Welsh Assembly Government.
Welsh Government, 2016a. Digital Competence Framework. [online] Available at: http://learning.gov.wales/resources/browse-all/digital-competence-framework/framework?lang=en&year=year_8&selectedYear=col_14&lang=en [Accessed 30 December 2016].
Welsh Government, 2016b. Digital Competence Framework guidance. Cardiff: Welsh Government.