When I teach my adult English language learners, I often tell them my story of arriving to Canada and learning a new language at the age of 11. They feel very inspired and motivated that one day they will be able to communicate easily and have a career in their new country upon graduation. My story is inspiring to them and allows us to connect over cultural changes, language barriers and challenges that come with being an immigrant. But, often times, I feel the need to remind them and myself that our immigration experiences are not homogenous.
Understanding the depths of immigrant experiences, especially those of immigrant students, helps us educators to foster culturally responsive teaching in the classroom. This, in turn, allows us to help students be empathetic and culturally aware of their own experiences and their classmates’ experiences. I remind my students that, although I struggled to learn the language, I still do not share their struggles because I experienced them as a child, whereas they are adults. Where we come from, why we left, who we are, our backgrounds, our ages and our life stages—all these factors help shape who we are.
To help my students understand each other’s stories, backgrounds and experiences, I incorporated blogging as a means for them to communicate their thoughts and ideas. Blogging for ELL and immigrant students can be very beneficial. For my students, blogging allowed them to improve their writing, and more importantly, to strengthen their interpersonal and social skills.
I also used blogging to help create a classroom culture and community of sharing, kindness and empathy. I really appreciate that blogging fosters an environment where discussions of culture, race and ethnicity happen safely and inclusively.
How to Use Blogging to Amplify the Immigrant Experience
1. Determine the learning outcome.
Here are some questions to ask yourself before incorporating blogging into your practice:
- What do I hope for my students to learn throughout this process?
- What do I want the students to grasp by the end of the process (concepts, ideas, strategies, methods)?
- What are some of the obstacles that I foresee my students facing?
- How can I implement solutions to these obstacles while still meeting the students’ learning needs?
- What are the available resources for me to seek out when I need assistance/advice?
2. Connect blog topics to classroom discussions.
I often hear from teachers that the hardest part about using blogging with their immigrant and ELL students is getting students to actually write and publish posts. Students need help and guidance from teachers, often by having a selection of choices, topics and ideas from which to choose. Focusing their first few posts on classroom discussions can help them ease into the blogging process.
In my class, we talked a lot about various cultures and traditions, so offering such topics as choices for blogs proved very useful. The following topics can allow students to feel comfortable in reflecting and writing meaningful posts: culture, traditions, home/lifestyle, holidays, cultural practices, food, religion, entertainment and movies.
3. Have students tell their own stories.
As we delved into writing responses about classroom discussions, many students were encouraged to share their personal stories. This happened because the topics and readings we discussed in class related to their interests, culture and backgrounds.
One story, in particular, really resonated with me. A student had come to my office to ask whether one of her experiences was worth blogging about (of course it was).
She shared a memory about her arrival to Canada. She remembered stepping outside of her apartment building on a cloudy day in Toronto, around mid-December, and she recalled feeling completely alone and a little depressed that she no longer had all of her family with her. She was in a new country, by herself, with two children. But she looked up at the sky and it started to snow. At that moment, she said, she realized “my family back home is looking at that same sky.”
She later shared this story in a blog post that many of her classmates appreciated, commented on and discussed. This story always reminds me of the power of blogging to bring a classroom closer together and to help ELL and immigrant students feel a sense of belonging.
Alrubail is a writer on education, teaching and learning. She is also the editor of Medium’s The Synapse publication on learning, teaching and education.