Part One: Teacher Tips for Blogging Projects

I’ve been doing a bunch of work lately with teachers who are interested in incorporating more digital learning opportunities in their classrooms.  Often, the first tool that they express interest in are blogs.

Blogs offer teachers and students a natural bridge between work that they are already doing (producing written reports and reflections on classroom content has been a part of classroom experiences since Socrates was stumbling around the agora with groups of learners) and work that they’d like to be doing:  Exposing students to a broader audience that can publicly challenge their thinking.

There are several considerations that teachers interested in blogging must think through before starting classroom projects, however.  Three of the most common questions that I’m asked about blogging in schools are answered below:

Should I have every student create their own blog?

Heck no! For blogs to survive and thrive, they need to have a constantly updated stream of content—at least 2 or 3 posts per week. Blogs that are not updated on a regular basis lose the attention of readers, who have plenty of other options in today’s digital world.

Because most K12 students will struggle to generate 2 or 3 meaningful posts per week—and because monitoring the content posted on 50+ blogs can be an overwhelming challenge for any teacher—it is best to start any classroom blogging project with one blog that every student in your class or on your academic team can post to.

While you’ll have to work with one username and password—which could lead to inappropriate or unpolished entries being posted by students that you don’t completely trust—your chances of generating an audience for your students are far greater when your students are working together to generate content.

Does blogging always equal writing?

Believing that blogs are ONLY opportunities for students to practice writing skills is a fatal flaw for most classroom blogging projects. Instead of digital soapboxes, teachers and students must begin to see blogs as interactive forums for continuing conversations around topics of interest—and interactive forums require two-way participation.

That means your students need to become avid readers of blogs, too. Consider organizing a collection of student blogs in a public feed reader that your students can visit during silent reading time or while surfing the web at home.

Encouraging students to read blogs written by other students serves three primary purposes:

  1. Students who read blogs see models of writing that can be use as comparisons for their own work.
  2. Students who read blogs are exposed to ideas for interesting topics that they may want to explore and write about in new entries for your blogging project.
  3. Students who read blogs connect with potential audiences for their own ideas.

Should I open student posts to comments?

Absolutely—as long as you’re willing to review comments before they become “live” on your classroom blog.

The comment section on blogs characterizes the participatory nature of digital learning experiences.  Not only are blogs a forum for your students to express their own thinking and ideas, they can become a forum for thinking and ideas to be challenged—and challenged thinking is the primary source for new learning.  When readers force your students to reconsider their original positions, you’ll see a level of mental wrestling that you’ll be proud to celebrate in your classroom.

Don’t forget to systematically teach the skills necessary for writing effective blog comments, too, because commenting gives students opportunities to practice reacting to ideas in writing. What’s more, comments left on entries written by other authors can serve as first drafts for future posts on your own classroom’s blog.

Finally, commenting emphasizes the community nature of blogging and draws reciprocal readers—people interested in looking closer at the ideas expressed by your students—to your classroom’s blog.

 

I’ll post Part Two in this series of posts—answering more common classroom blogging questions—sometime next week

14 thoughts on “Part One: Teacher Tips for Blogging Projects

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  2. Danmagie

    I’m thinking about using blogs as a way to publish summative assessments with my upcoming Short Stories unit.
    Your tip on not having one blog for each student is something very useful to me.
    Thank you for your contributions to global learning,
    Dan

  3. Jenny Nelson

    I have found a great way to set up a blog. I use an interactive wiki. Students all have their user names and passwords, so you know who is posting. Students or I introduce several possible blog topics on a wiki page (the rest of the wiki houses assignments, projects, etc.) created especially for blogging–such as BLOGGING-FAHRENHEIT 451. So that students can comment on each other’s thoughts, I ask them to use the “comments” section at the bottom of the page. This keeps comments in the proper sequence, too, and places the time and date (helpful in grading). I have Bloom’s Taxonomy on the wiki so they can choose verbs that aid in critical thinking. They are required to blog twice most weeks, either introducing a new look at the topic or responding to a classmate. They like it and so do I!

  4. Kevin Karplus

    Good point about the difference in audience.
    I admit to never having used blogs for classes (even at the college level). I use web pages for one-way communication and forums for multi-way conversations. It is true that the only participants in the forums are students in the class, the instructor, and occasionally an alumnus of the class who retains an interest. Most of what goes on in my classes is specialized enough not to have much of an audience outside the class—certainly not family members.
    As the parent of a middle-school student, I can see the problem with getting parents to read the blogs of the other students in the class.
    None of my son’s teachers have ever used blogging—the digital work the students do is usually for presentation to the class, not to a wider audience, so it has mostly been PowerPoint (though my son prefers to craft HTML documents using JavaScript to make buttons, mouseover actions, and other fancy features).
    The writing they do (which is a lot more writing than I did in middle school) is mainly in the form of traditional essays, read only by the teacher. They get writing in almost all their classes (so far this year 5/6 classes have had essay assignments: English, History, Drama, Spanish 2, and Programming 1, with Algebra 2 as the only holdout). The Programming class requires all assignments to be turned in as e-mail with discussions in the main body and programs or web pages as attachments, but that is still a very different audience than blogging.
    The only class that seems to be teaching them *how* to write (as opposed to assuming it) is the history class. The English class does cover low-level details of grammar and punctuation (in daily edits), but the notions of citation, argument, and structure above the paragraph level seem to be left to the history class.
    It would be good to see more assignments which had a natural audience other than the teacher (writing to the teacher is one of the big flaws I see even in grad-student writing), but I’m not sure that blogging would provide the kids with both the audience and the desire to write well for the audience. Writing to the class (which seems to be common in the history class, in which each student is reporting orally on a different culture, for example) is a bit better than writing to the teacher, but is still a rather artificial audience.

  5. ginnyp

    I’ve used blogs with my students for the past two years, more successfully as you may guess the 2nd as we/I gained experience over what worked and what didn’t. I had each student with their own blog, and linked them all to mine. I expected them to keep at least 3 pages: one to blog/journal either in response to something I wrote on the main page or about something that ‘mattered’ to them. This gave them a real feeling that “my opinion matters” because (a) I wanted to hear it and (b) I encouraged everyone to comment on blogs so the writer got feedback on their opinions. Some of the ensuing discussions were awesome. Following Bill’s lead (okay, so he started years ago), I want to incorporate Voicethreads to elicit their comments this year.
    Another of their pages was for responses or journaling about books they were reading. I attempted to get away from paper composition books; using a computer is more appealing than holding a pencil to most teens, and it’s a whole lot easier to sit with my laptop on my couch than hauling home 130 journals in crates back and forth from my car twice a quarter. If anybody else out there has ideas along this line I’d be glad to hear.
    The third page was for anything they liked that they wanted to share about themselves – a hobby, a page for poetry writing, one stduent did a math puzzle page.
    The keyword this year in our county is security. I have to be careful not to identify the kids and to be they do the same. They loved the interaction between students and between student-teacher. I loved – truly, I do! – reading their writing and leaving them feedback and comments that make them think a bit more on their thinking.
    Finally, because I have a ClustrMap widget on our main page, they see that “the whole world” can read what they’re saying so they are taking incredible care to be good editors (no amount of circling and underlining on my part had the same effect).

  6. Bill Ferriter

    Kevin wrote:
    Having people sign up for RSS feeds helps cut down on the need for frequent monitoring. There are many blogs that I read that post only once or twice a month. Given that capability, I see no reason to force all students into a single blog.
    Interesting thoughts, Kevin.
    I wonder if your perspective regarding the use of one blog as a classroom warehouse of posts is different from mine because you’re a university professor and I’m a classroom teacher in a middle school.
    My perspective is drawn from actually doing this work with kids for years—-and I’ve tried independent student blogs. Every time that I do, they die out quick.
    Here’s why: While adults who are digitally savvy may be able to use RSS feed readers to monitor 50+ student blogs, the vast majority of practicing classroom teachers, parents and middle grades students can’t.
    And given that parents, teachers and peers are a middle grader’s primary blogging audience, such a system inevitably means that many student blogs go completely overlooked, taking away one of the primary rewards of writing online: Having someone actively listening to your ideas.
    While adult writers are often self-motivated and would continue to blog even if no one ever visited their work, middle schoolers are different. If no one ever responds to their digital posts, they’re going to stop writing pretty quick.
    By focusing everyone in a classroom community—parents, grandparents, peers, teachers, colleagues, principals—-on one blog, teachers make feedback for every student far more likely because ideas don’t get lost in a mountain of feeds to be monitored.
    Any of this make sense?
    Bill

  7. Kevin Karplus

    Blogging is a poor way to announce assignments. There should be an “official” web page for the class that has the assignments, with pointers to blogs. Blogs are appropriate for discussions (though not as good as forums for that purpose) and for random musings that invite comments back.
    Having people sign up for RSS feeds helps cut down on the need for frequent monitoring. There are many blogs that I read that post only once or twice a month. Given that capability, I see no reason to force all students into a single blog.

  8. Russ Goerend

    Bill,
    I’ve been debating the first question internally for a few weeks. Our “classroom blog” is a combination of a few ideas: I broadcast news/assignments to parents, I have weekly Open Threads for students to have discussions, and the students publish the “final drafts” (I hate that term) of their essays on the blog.
    It works really well as a catch-all, and I’m able to direct visitors to what they are looking for with a menu bar on the top of the blog.
    What I’ve been debating, though, is where the blog is too crowded. If parents aren’t subscribed via email, there is a distinct possibility they will miss an important note if that post gets buried under a barrage of student writing.
    I can use labels/tags to organize, but what’s organized for me isn’t necessarily organized for a different reader.
    My wife has one blog for parents/assignments stuff and another one for all the student writing. I’m beginning to wish I had done it that way as well.
    Any thoughts on the way I’ve thrown everything together into one blog?
    http://www.MrGoerend.com
    Thanks for your insight,
    Russ

  9. Angela W

    My class is getting ready to set up their own website, and I’ve been looking for advice on how to run a student blog. These are definitely tips I can (and will) use. Thank you!

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