Weblogs in English Teacher Training
Discussion at JALT 2005 "Sharing our stories"

James M Hall
Iwate University Faculty of Education

Table of Contents
What is a weblog?
Background: English Teaching Methodologies III
How Blogs were used in the class
Good points, bad points, and lingering questions about using blogs
The New Research Blog Project
Highlights of the Weblog in English Teacher Training Discussion at the JALT 2005 National Conference.


On Saturday, October 8 at the JALT 2005 conference I facilitated a discussion where I shared my story about using blogs for an English teacher training class and other participants told their stories, asked questions and gave advice. It was a lot of fun and a great learning experience. This page contains the story about my blogging project from April - August of 2005 with my English Teaching Methodologies course and information about a new blogging project I have started with my adivisees. In the new project, my advisees have created research blogs to develop their ideas for their senior theses. Lastly, I have written some of the issues we talked about in the discussion.

1. What is a web log?

A weblog, hereafter blog, is an online collection of personal commentaries. The owner of a blog will post a commentary on his blog and readers can then post reactions to what the owner has written. While web pages are static and there to be read, blogs are designed to be constantly updated by the owner and are also designed for readers to post their reactions to the content. Thus, blogs offer the owner a chance not only to publish her thoughts but to read reactions to her thoughts and respond to them.

Resources about Blogs

Sample Blogs

Class Blogs:

Student Blogs

2.0 Background: English Teaching Methodologies III

English Teaching Methodoligies III is a continuation of English Teaching Methodologies II. The latter course largely dealt with Second Language Acquisition Theory and also offered students an opportunity to teach English at a local elementary school. Tsui (2003, p.257) writes that "expert teachers are able to theorize practical knowledge and 'practicalize' theoretical knowledge." Students had learned a lot of theory and in this class we were attempting to apply this theory to reality. Most of the students were also scheduled to begin their teaching practice a month after the course was to end. The primary objectives of this course were as follows:

2.1 Objectives
  1. Prepare for their teaching practice.
  2. Improve our ability in English so we can conduct classes in English
  3. Learn how to make a lesson plan using the junior high school textbook New Horizon as a base. Students would practice designing language learning activities using the New Horizon textbook.
  4. Work together to become communicative English teachers and develop the drive to continue trying to improve as English teachers after the course is over. (Good teachers are life-long learners.)

2.2 Class Style

This is primarily how we would have class: In one class week I would demonstrate new teaching methodologies and the next week students would do a demonstration lesson teaching non-Japanese adults who lived in the area and had never studied English or had very little experience with English. The teacher trainees used the New Horizon Junior High School textbook to teach the guest students.

3.0 How Blogs were used in English Teaching Methodologies III

Personally, I did not know what a blog was until December of 2004. While procrastinating when trying to write a paper for the proceedings of last year's JALT conference, I somehow stumbled upon information about an on-line course on blogging, EVO Online 2005. I immediately realized blogs could enhance my Teaching Methodologies III course. I used the blogs in the following ways:

3.1 Class members provided feedback on and discussed the teaching ideas I presented in class.

I was interested in what the students thought of the teaching ideas I presented to them. If they thought these ideas were impractical or they did not understand them, I needed to know that information. If they thought some ideas were really good and that they definitely could use them, I also wanted to know that information too. In most of the classes, students experienced the teaching activities as students but we did not have the time to actually reflect on the activities and consider their strengths and weaknesses. Journals/ teaching portfolios would have been a way for students to voice their opinions but I wanted students to be able to read each other's opinions.

3.2 Samples of class members providing feedback on teaching ideas

Teaching Ideas
Class Theme
Directions for Assignment
Participant Reflection
Response to Participant Reflection
Response to the Response
Spanish Class for Absolute Beginners
JH Assignment
Momogasuki Response JH Response Momogasuki Response to JH
Ways to Introduce Vocabulary

JH Assignment (Given in Class)

M&M Response Response to M&M from class members  
Ideas for CommunicativeActivities
JH Assignment
Ellie Response  

3.3 Class members were able to provide each other feedback on their practice teaching

In students' actual teaching practicum, after a colleague's "open class", I have seen students give their colleague constructive criticism in the meeting after the open class. However, in the university classroom having students give constructive feedback to their classmates was like pulling teeth. Blogs gave students a way to provide feedback to their classmates and, most importantly, it gave the week's teachers much more feedback than the instructor could have given himself.

3.4 Samples of class members providing each other feedback on their practice teaching

Feedback on Practice Lessons
Practice Teaching Group Directions
Practice Teacher Response with Comments
Practice Teacher Response with Comments
Observer Reflection
Observer Reflection
Team A
Team A - Nyanji Reflection
Team A - Ayu's Reflection
Keena's Reflection on Team A's Lesson
JH Reflection


Sniffle - Kasiwamochi
Center of Rice Field

3.5 Class members can have contact with Japanese teachers of English and teachers in different parts of the world:

I thought it was important for students to read the reactions of current English teachers about what we were talking about in class. Can these teachers, who work with children on a daily basis, provide us with a different perspective on the issues? Can teachers in different parts of the world provide us with a different perspective on the issues we discuss in the classroom? In order to have discussions with current teachers, I created a group blog for the class. Up unto this point, students had been using their individual blogs.

3.6 Samples of Discussions we had with current teachers and people in other parts of the world using a group blog:

Should Teachers Call on Shy Students?
The Deductive Approach vs. The Inductive Approach to Teaching Grammar

4.0 Good Points, Bad Points and Lingering Questions about Using Blogs

Category Good Points
Bad Points
Lingering Questions
Student Interest

Students' reactions to the blogs were generally positive; the majority of students were very dilligent in posting to their blogs.


1) Entries were often written for the sake of completing an assignment.
2) Students commented less and less on eachother's blogs as the semester progressed.

How does one encourage students to frequently update their blogs? I used instrumental motivation: write in your blog and you have completed the assignment; don't write in you blog and you get a 0. Example of Evaluation
Exchange of Opinions

1) The instructor received invaluable feedback from the students about class activities.
2) Students were able to read each other's opinions and observations. On the course evaluation forms they wrote about this favorably. Previously, important insights from the students were limited only to the instructor's eyes.
3) Practice teachers were able to receive much more feedback than the instructor could provide alone.
4) Class members were able to share differing opinions freely.

1) Students do not express themselves in the classroom but do in their blogs. I did not succeed in bringing the content of the blogs into classroom discussions.
2)Some of the student's blogs were virtually ignored by their classmates.
3) 11 students wrote only 5 or fewer comments in their classmate's blogs the whole semester

How does one raise issues discussed in cyberspace into the classroom?
Technological Savvy and Management

There were a lot of very tastefully designed blogs. A third of the students, although new to blogging, really picked it up fast.

1) Many students did not have computers at home and struggled to post in their blog regularly.
2) It took students weeks to set up a blog on blogger; students forgot their passwords, usernames, e-mail addresses etc.
3) A few students never took to blogging and rarely posted.
4) It was difficult to keep track of all the blogs. I was able to do so using an web log aggregation site using RSS , Bloglines. Although I gave students the class blog roll and demonstrated to them how to do it, only about 5 of 26 students were able to use it. We needed to have an entire class in the computer room to have som success with RSS but did not have the time.

Could all this have been done on a group blog or a discussion board without students creating individual blogs? What are the advantages of individual blogs over group blogs.
Communication with people outside the classroom.
We recieved comments from teachers in Japan and other countries. They gave us different perspectives on such topics as whether teachers should call on shy students and inductive grammar vs. deductive grammar teaching..

1) The instructor had to "recruit" local teachers to contribute. This was very time consuming.
2) Blogs soon become outdated/ Blogs discontinue after the class ends. I felt that right when we were just starting to generate interest the class had ended.


5.0 The New Research Blog Project

The blog continues! Four students of English Teaching Methodologies III and 3 senior students who are all taking a seminar of mine have created Research Blogs to help them develop their ideas for their graduate papers. The students' blogs can be accessed at the following site. These blogs will serve as a testament to how their thoughts about teaching has evolved. Two of the students, Eri chan and Gami, who completed English Teaching Methodologies III, recently talked about how their 3-week teacher practicum. Dekita.org, an online community of EFL bloggers, has created a way to register courses using blogs on its site. If you are interested in registering a course or want to see what courses are registered, please click here.

6.0 Highlights of the Discussion on Weblogs in Education at the JALT Conference 2005

Approximately 14 people attended the discussion and ranged from blogging veterans to people who just wanted to learn more about blogging. I told a very abbreviated version of the above story and talked about some of my triumphs and shortcomings with blogs. The floor was then opened and two participants talked about how they had used blogs with their students. It was interesting because the three of us had different approaches.

Miscellaneous Notes

7.0 Links

Blogs, websites, and discussion groups on blogging:

EVO Course Blog

An Excellent Discussion group on blogs


On-Line essays on blogging:

Educause Learning Initiatives. (2005) 7 Things You Should Know About Blogs [viewed 19 September]

A very straight forward description of what blogs are.

Farmer, J. & Bartlett-Brag, A. (2005). Blogs @ Anywhere: High fidelity online communication [viewed 15 September]

This is a good paper on the does and don'ts of blogging. There are also a wealth of resources in the bibliography and the comments to the paper are quite informative and also chalked full of resources.

Wikipedia. (2005) RSS (File Format) [Viewed 1 October]