Teaching literature with WordPress blogs

What is WordPress and how does it work?

WordPress is a content management system (CMS) and with a market share of 60% in April 2016 it is currently the leading one.[1] The first version was published in May 2003 and till January 2004 it was “stabilized” (version 0.70, at that time still called b2, turned into WordPress 1).[2] Professionals, celebrities or companies use WordPress as well as individuals due to its great range of possibilities. WordPress might be best known as a blogging software, but it equally allows the creation of “professional” (business) websites without requiring knowledge of HTML.[3] Ten years after the invention of WordPress, 66 million websites are run by WordPress, the greatest share (66%) in English-speaking countries.[4] However, in 2013, it was estimated that there were approximately 1.2 million WordPress blogs in Germany, too[5] – a number which is quite likely to have increased since then.

If you use WordPress as blogging software, after having registered you can set up your own site for which you have several formatting options (theme, font, background image etc.). Then you can start creating posts. Basically, you could just publish texts with headlines, but to make things more interesting, insert images, links (without needing to have the URL visible in your text!) or whatever you like (that does not infringe copyright). Uploading other kinds of media (videos or audios) is only possible with an upgrade for which you are liable to pay costs. However, you are not restrained from embedding videos or audio files from other platforms such as YouTube, vimeo, SOUNDCLOUD or Spreaker. You have several options of how to insert pictures and can choose the layout which suits you best. There is the possibility to save drafts and continue working on them later. Or you can set a date and time when your post should be published. You can categorize your posts by different topics or associate certain keywords with your posts by using tags. It is your choice whether you want to allow comments, likes and/or sharing for your posts.

What about data protection?

To use WordPress you need to create an account. You do have a free option to do so (only upgrades are with costs) and you do not need to download anything to start a simple blog on wordpress.com. As a professional, you might prefer to download the web software on wordpress.org, but this is not necessary to use WordPress in class.[6] You should nevertheless make sure that your students and their parents give their consent for the creation of a WordPress account. If somebody is not fine with creating an account, there might be the possibility to work in pairs or small groups with WordPress.

For the creation of an account you need to give your email address, choose a username and a password. Thereby you agree to the conditions of WordPress, respectively their “fascinating Terms of Service”[7] (which you most probably will not read entirely and cannot avoid if wanting to use WordPress anyways). Basically, the most important points you agree to are that you are 13 or older, register with accurate information, protect your account and password and only engage in legal activities under applicable law.

As to privacy settings, you have the choice between “public” (everyone can see it, search engines might index it), “hidden” (it is visible to everyone, but search engines will not index it) and “private” (you and users you approve can see your contents).[8]

How can I use WordPress in the classroom?

WordPress is quite suitable for the creation of online reading (b)logs. Every student (or, in case some do not give their consent for an account, pairs or small groups of students) write(s) their reading log online while reading a novel “in class”. A good reading log should include the date of reading (just because its always good to have dates when looking back), a very short summary of the chapter including page numbers, a list of characters and setting(s) and the reader’s reaction to the passage read (remarks, questions, comprehension problems). If there is something particularly striking about the novel, this point can be an extra category to keep an eye on.

Accompanying the reading of a book with the writing of a reading log serves several aims: The teacher can make sure that the pupils actually read the chapters they are asked to read and can give them the possibility to reflect on what they have read. Furthermore, the students do not only train reading, but also writing skills and they can bring in their creativity in the creation of a reading log. Another advantage is that the most important pieces of information of the novel will later on be on hand. Particular passages will be easily to be found in the novel due to short summaries with page numbers, for example for exam preparation. If the students were to jot down their expectations before starting to read the novel, they can afterwards be referred back to and compared with the actual outcome.

The benefits of an online blog for a reading log first of all include all aspects concerning exchange. “Real” interaction is promoted and favoured not only between the students, but possibly also outside the classroom. As a publisher you can pose questions, remark something and wait whether you receive comments from your readers. This might be a great help for comprehension problems and can also provoke discussion about possible (non-linguistic) understandings of the content. As a reader, you can compare your point of view to those of your schoolfellows, get new insights, examine your understanding or just be allowed to focus on different aspects than the ones you considered.

Apart from interaction, WordPress is a good tool as far as aesthetics and extensibility are concerned. You can easily include pictures (be careful about copyright!), (re)format your text and add something new. The same goes for user-friendliness and flexibility: Mistakes can be corrected easily or passages can be entirely rewritten (even in posts that were already published). Different formatting options allow you to stay flexible!

Focus on… reading!

Reading literature in class belongs to the so-called receptive skills.[9] Working with literature in classrooms fulfills different functions and helps the students to develop several skills. Literary studies are more than being a “major contribution to the European cultural heritage”[10] – they help the students to develop their intellectual, emotional, linguistic and cultural skills. Literature in class can therefore be used to one’s own individual cultivation or for educational purposes.

Moreover, literary studies in class serves to develop literary competence such as:

  • Forming of mental models, filling gaps or forming hypothesis (cognitive understanding)
  • Being able to interact with literary texts and to communicate over literature with others (linguistic-discursive-competence)
  • Finding reading as enjoyable and recognizing that literature is important for life (motivation and orientation)
  • Subjective response to and participation in interpersonal and intercultural perspectives of others
  • Critical reflections and judgements of moral values and actions in literature
  • Understanding of aesthetic structuring, reading and textual impact and functions
  • Methodological competence and creative productions (e.g. through (re-)writing, performance, etc.).[11]

There are many approaches on how to teach literature in classroom. Analytical approaches focus on content. Therefore, in class students often have to answer the w-question (who, what, when, where and why), mostly in forms of short summaries, descriptions or analysis. The aesthetic reading approach, on the contrary, focuses on artfulness of a text. Here, the students have to share the perspective of one or more narrators and can, for example, conclude how the story could go on, which conflicts could arise in the following, etc.[12]

Reading in class often consists of three strategies. Pre-reading strategies are used to activate the students in term of their knowledge of genre or cultural understanding and can fulfill a motivational function. While-reading strategies can serve to reflect cultural schemata or help to visualize characters, settings, plots, etc. This can either be done by skimming (reading for global information) or scanning (reading for detailed information). Post-reading strategies are used to review the major themes, topics and plots. Typical post-reading exercises can be analyzing the relationship between certain characters, role plays or interpreting the text on its subjective, social or cultural significance.[13]

[1] http://de.statista.com/themen/2156/content-management-systeme/

[2] https://de.statista.com/infografik/1128/ausgewaehlte-daten-und-fakten-zu-wordpress/

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4RxcFFXTOM

[4] https://de.statista.com/infografik/1128/ausgewaehlte-daten-und-fakten-zu-wordpress/

[5] ibid.

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RSdrAprJliM

[7] https://wordpress.com/start/website/survey-user/en

[8] cf. wordpress.com/settings

[9] cf. Haß, Frank. 2006. Fachdidaktik Englisch: Tradition-Innovation-Praxis. Stuttgart: Klett (pp. 130-136)

[10] (cf. Council of Europe 2001: 144)

[11] Grimm, Nany, Meyer, Michael et. Al.. 2015. Teaching English. Tübingen: Narr (p. 177)

[12] cf. ibid. pp. 177-182

[13] cf. ibid. p. 188