Center for Language Studies

#FutureMindedOrganizing: Using Blogs to Archive Language Teaching Resources | May 15, 2015

Every semester, when I begin teaching, I try out a new organizational method to help me not only keep track of what I will do and have done during that semester, but also be able to find and reuse these materials in the future. The last time I taught, my method involved making an extra printout of every assignment that I gave, every agenda that I used, every handout that I passed out, and putting them all in order in a binder. The semester before that, it was naming everything with a specific formula in my computer: Date_TitleOfAssignment.docx. The semester before that, it was naming everything as Chapter#_Day#. Before that… well, I can’t even remember what my method was.

Each of these organizational methods has its advantages and disadvantages. The first allows me to flip through a binder with the materials in front of me until I find the page that I’m looking for — which, as an aspiring literature scholar, will always have its charms for me — but isn’t searchable by a computer. The latter two, although searchable, require me to remember exactly how I filed each assignment. If I can’t remember, I’m stuck opening up file after file until I find the one that I’m looking for.

How often has this happened to us as teachers? We know that we’ve already created an assignment that would be just perfect to review the subjunctive, or that has a cultural element to it that would make it fit in well with a unit on the French Riviera, but we just can’t find it. So we go online and search for a new activity, flip through our textbooks to find something similar, or create a new activity altogether.

The next time I teach, I’m going to try a new method, one that, hopefully, will combine the best points of each of these different methods. That method: keeping a blog.

Why a blog, you might ask? Blogs are used for communication and for sharing ideas! Sure, that’s true. But I’d like to take advantage of an organizing principle that began with blogs and that social media such as Twitter now use to organize even people’s tweets: tags.

The problem with all of the methods of organization that I’ve used in the past is that they always have their blind spots. Three-ring binders aren’t searchable by a computer, take up a lot of physical space, and can’t be backed up; moreover, I have no idea what system I used to name the file in my computer. The latter two methods, although searchable and labeled via a specific scheme, require me to remember either the particular title I gave to that assignment or the specific day that I used it. You could just label your file names with every relevant keyword, but how useful is that really when your computer can only display names of up to a certain length?

Blogs, whose posts can be tagged with any number of different identifiers, will allow me to label each assignment, handout, or exam with any number of potential keywords that might help me find it later on, so I can search for a keyword that I think I labeled an assignment with and all of the relevant results will pop up. Even if I don’t remember the keyword, I can even use the blog just like I use my binder: I can scroll through the past entries just like I flip the pages of my binder until I find the activity that I’m looking for.

As an example, let’s take a handout that a classmate and I put together for our microteaching this semester and think about how it might be labeled so that I can access it easily in the future to reuse it in another course.

And here’s the exercise in question:

———

Complétez les phrases avec le pronom relatif qui convient : qui, que, dont, ou .

  1. Le désert est l’endroit ______ le narrateur rencontre le petit prince.
  1. Les grandes personnes ne voient pas l’éléphant ______ est dans le boa.
  1. Le premier mouton ______ le narrateur a dessiné était déjà malade.
  1. Dans la caisse se trouve le mouton ______ le petit prince a besoin.
  1. L’astéroïde B 612, c’est la planète ______ habite le petit prince.
  1. La découverte de l’astéroïde est le sujet ______ l’astronome turc a parlé.

———

Pretty basic, really: the activity requires students to fill in the blanks with the appropriate relative pronoun. It uses sentences that are based off events from the story that they had been reading, Le Petit Prince. I used this in FREN 200, the second semester of the elementary-level sequence here at Brown, on Friday, April 17, 2015. It focuses on reading more than any of the other four skills.

All of these characteristics (and more) are ways that I would likely remember using or labeling this activity, and that I might help me find this activity later on.

How did I actually label this activity in my computer, you ask? The filename was Microteaching_FREN200_Handout.docx. Not the most helpful nor the most recognizable of names.

In order to find this file later on the way that it is labeled now, I will have to do either one of two things: either find it myself by remembering that I put it in my LANG 2900 folder which is inside my Spring 2015 folder which is inside my Coursework folder and so on and so forth, or remember how I labeled it so that I can search my whole computer for it. Both of those possibilities are somewhat unlikely. Maybe I would have remembered to search for microteaching, but if I were to search for a filename containing the term “relative pronouns,” I would be out of luck.

But if I were to post this activity to a  blog, here are just some of the tags that I might use to label and, later, search for and find it again:

#relativepronouns #que #qui #ou #dont #fillintheblanks #questionsets #lepetitprince #reading #fren200 #basicfrench #lang2900 #microteaching #april2015

Instead of being restricted by a single filename, this organizational system will allow me to find that assignment using any of those search criteria.

What’s more, when I search for those criteria, I won’t just come up with this one assignment: I’ll find all of the assignments that I’ve posted that fit into those categories. How many assignments have I already created that I’ve already forgotten about and that might even be better than this one to review relative pronouns, for instance? Maybe I need something more general outside of the context of Le Petit Prince, and maybe searching for all of my assignments labeled #relativepronouns will help me find another assignment that I didn’t even remember making.

Moreover, we can do more than upload files to a blog: we can also add links to online resources, such as videos, that already exist, and label those as well. In this way, we aren’t restricted to having a particular file stored in a particular folder, taking up space on our computers: blogs can help us link our own work to what is already out there and that, once linked, will be far less likely to become lost.

And perhaps best of all: this sort of organization can make these documents accessible and searchable for our students, our colleagues, or anyone else, for that matter. This is where the communicative aspect of blogs come in: by organizing and archiving our resources in useful, searchable ways, we can disseminate knowledge, in the form of our teaching resources, that might otherwise be restricted to use on one single day in one single classroom. With the above activity tagged this way on a public blog, anyone searching for practice with relative pronouns or for activities related to Le Petit Prince might find it. In this way, others will also benefit from our future-minded organizational teaching methods.

Being organized in the present, for the current semester, is one thing. But if we as teachers are organized for the future as well, we will significantly reduce the amount of time that we need to spend searching for and remaking assignments that we, or others like us, have already made. This will allow us to focus more on what’s important to us: meeting with and engaging students in real time in those personal interactions that are so vital to the language classroom and that the web, despite all of the innovative ways in which it does manage to connect us to one another, still has yet to be able to fully replicate.

Benjamin Fancy
PhD Student in French Studies


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