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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Developing an English Unit Implementing a Course Blog for Listening Comprehension

Learning a language is not just learning a set of words or learn a structure, is not like learning Math or Chemistry where you learn a set of formulas and you just need to apply the numbers in order to get a result. Learning a language is more complex than just learning a formula, learning a language involves a process where we apply our eyes, ears, mouth in order to understand the information that we are getting, but also expressing our ideas in an oral or written way.  As whole, learning a language, like in the case of English, is a rather quite complex process because we are learning a language, a tool for us to communicate to others therefore it needs preparing different aspects such as grammar, writing skills, reading skills and listening comprehension. Now with the rise of technology we, as teachers, can improve the whole teaching experience by including Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Web based lessons. Blogs or Web-blogs are defined by Varlack (2009) as “web logs that are updated on a regular basis by their author. They can contain information related to a specific topic. In some cases blogs are used as daily diaries about people's personal lives, political views, or even as social commentaries. The truth of the matter is that blogs can be shaped into whatever you, the author, want them to be”. In the following paper, an English Unit will be created implementing the use of blogs, this unit is for 7th grade students at the Instituto Jean Piaget School.

Other researches and blogs
Regarding the topic of blogs on ELT, blogs are one of the most used tools on the webs. However, most of the blogs found on the web regarding ELT are more oriented to the teaching of grammar, vocabulary or reading. Examples can be seen in the following pages:
• this blog presents activities and resources that teachers can use and implement in their classrooms, activities like flashcards, games and puzzles.
• this blog presents unit, class activities, evaluation and assessment activities that teachers and instructors can implement in their classes. The activities cover different skills like writing, grammar, vocabulary, reading and listening.
• this blog is similar to the previous mentioned, it gives to the teacher different activities that can be applied to the classroom, improving the different skills required in ELT.
• this blogs provides with lessons and exercises to students or people who wants to learn English and also provides with activities for teachers to improve the teaching experience.
Similar researches about the use of blogs have been carried out, like for example the one carried out by Fahad Hamad Aljumah in 2012 called Saudi Learner Perceptions and Attitudes towards the Use of Blogs in Teaching English Writing Course for EFL Majors at Qassim University which objective were, according to the researcher, “(1) to investigate students’ attitudes toward the use of blog in learning writing, and (2) to demonstrate the advantages and disadvantages of using blog in language learning. A total of 35 Saudi students majoring in English participated in this study. Data are collected from learners through questionnaires conducted at the end of the writing course (ENG143) during spring semester 2009. Responses indicate that students have a favorable perception towards weblog use in their writing classroom. Findings suggest that learner-perceived benefits of using blogs included increased interest and motivation to use English because of interaction with, and feedback from classmates and teachers. Teaching English Writing Course for EFL Majors at Qassim University” (Aljumah, 2012). Other research is the one carried by Grami Mohammad A. Grami in 2012 called Online Collaborative Writing for ESL Learners Using Blogs and Feedback Checklists which seek to “reports on the experience of seven Saudi female ESL students who worked collaboratively in an interactive online writing environment over a period of four weeks. It chronicles their experiences with online writing tasks, documents their responses to online feedback, and examines their attempts to cope with different settings and audiences. It was found that interactive features of weblogs helped establish a valid peer review culture as an integral part of collaborative writing. The experience also helped develop critical thinking and ability to identify target audience. In general, students’ attitudes were positive and participants exhibited a desire to incorporate similar tasks in upcoming ESL writing classes. It is therefore recommended that educational authorities and teachers should solicit online resources more often” (Grami, 2012).

Participants and their context
The participants are described in the following list:
•          Name of the institution: Instituto Jean Piaget.
•          Location of the school: the school is located in los Guayabitos, Baruta municipality. The zone is considered as one of the most wanted zones to live here in the city of Caracas.
•          Sector of the School: High School.
•          Number of classrooms:  5 classrooms, from first year to fifth year.
•          Number of sections: 1 per each grade.
•          Average of students per classroom: 26 students per classroom.
•          Classroom analyzed: 7th grade.
•          Number of students in 7th grade:  26 students.
•          Accommodations of the classroom: the classrooms present a desk for the student, a desk with a chair for the professor, a blackboard, markers and an eraser.
•          Others accommodations: an audio-visual room, with a video beam, a television and chairs for the students. A computer room with 30 computers with Windows 7 installed and speakers included..
•          Student’s level of English: the level of English of the students in the Instituto Jean Piaget is low. The students know a few words in English, also some basic concepts of grammar like present simple, past simple and present progressive
•          Causes of the student’s low level of English: it can be caused by the absence of English teachers for more than one period (trimester). Other causes can be the lack of motivation of the student or misuse of the previous teacher’s teaching techniques.
•          Amount of class hours: 7th graders receive 5 academic hours per week, being two classes of 2 academic hours on Monday and Friday and one session of one academic hour on Tuesday. While the other years receive 3 academic hours weekly of English (in the case of 2nd year, 3rd year and 4th year), while 5th year receives one class of 2 academic hours per week.
•          Sociocultural levels in the group: since it is a private school, most of the students attending the Instituto Jean Piaget are of high social status. According to some students, the students live in zones near the school such as La Lagunita, La Trinidad, El Volcán and the rest of the surrounding areas.

The researcher developed a unit to teach the 7th grade students the Simple Past, this unit consist of explanation of the Simple Past, exercises that cover the 4 skills such as reading, writing, speaking and listening comprehension (In the annex section you can see the unit). To assess listening comprehension, the researcher created a Blog where the researcher can post activities related to the aforementioned skill. The blog was created on the web page Blogger that lets it user to create a free blog that permits the use of audio and video material in their post. Prior to the implementation of the unit, the researcher created a questionnaire for students, professors and administrative personnel in order to measure the acceptance of technology in English class at the school (see annex section to see the questionnaire).
Since the students have 5 academic hours of English during the week, the researcher will start teaching the first part of the unit during one of the sections of two academic hours. The use of the blog will be applied during the one academic hour session in which the researcher can use the computer room, permitting the students use the computer and log in to the blog itself to participate in the activities.

There were no results because of time constraints and also that the researcher had a pre-established class schedule in the school. However, the researcher predicts a high acceptance to the implementation of ICT in English classes because it’s something appealing and out of the ordinary for the students.

Considering the vast options that the use of blogs provides, we could say that its implementation would be widely helpful both for teachers and his/her students in order to develop not only the listening comprehension skills required in class, but also how to take advantage of technological tools for their education in other areas beside English. We have seen that there are an incredible number of possibilities to apply different kind of exercises, each one of them from a different perspective and with a different strategy, to effectively guide and help the students in their process of developing their listening comprehension skills.

·         Aljumah, F. 2012. Use of Blogs in Teaching English Writing Course for EFL Majors at Qassim University. Taken from on July the second, 2014.
·         Grami, G. 2012. Online Collaborative Writing for ESL Learners Using Blogs and  Feedback Checklists. Taken from on July the second, 2014.
Varlack, J. 2009. What are Blogs? Taken from on July the first, 2014.