Last year I delved into the idea of having my students blog. I researched the different blogging platforms before our school year started and knowing very well my student’s parents would have reservations about online safety, I made sure I found out all about the control measures I would have as the teacher and how they would keep my students safe.
I decided upon Kidblog as the platform for the year and for someone starting out I would highly recommend this platform. It was simple to set up and looks great and the parents were open to the idea when I presented it to them at the beginning of the year.Parents were reassured of the safety because all blog posts and comments came to me for approval so I could ensure their was nothing inapporpriate being writing and no negative comments being posted. Students would post to the one page and I controlled what it looked like and all the content.
The first step with my students was to introduce them to digital citizenship and I found fantastic resources and lesson plans at www.commonsensemedia.org/educators/digital-citizenship. After some explicit teaching and brainstorming about what blogs and comments should look like and what sort of content was appropriate for a blog, we set about writing.
It was slow at the start and was sometimes frustrating as students would forget their passwords or how to log in, but slowly we got the hang of it. Initially, I had it set so the only people that could see our blogs were our parents and us and with such a limited audience the students enthusiasm was fairly low key. On reflection, I can see that I was asking the students to do what they saw as extra work for no purpose.
Come the start of the second term that all changed. After further reading of some fantastic teacher blogs I saw that the blog really needed a purpose so I set about finding some other classes from around the world who would be blogging partners with us. I changed the settings in Kidblog taking our blog public. I still had to approve all blog posts and comments but now we had a global audience. I advertised on SkypeClassroom and very quickly got some takers in the USA. When I shared with the students that we were going to be sharing our learning with classes from overseas, their attitude changed markedly. We set about introducing ourselves to our partners and all of a sudden students started blogging about everything they were doing. They were excited to share all about their learning but this also flowed into their home life and we started to hear all about the exciting things happening in their lives away from school. If you want to get to know more about your students and what they like to do you can’t beat a blog! One thing I did and still do emphasise with my students is that what they write must be worthy of the web! This means that for me to approve their posts or comments they must be well edited with no spelling or gramatical errors. They were told if a post is still sitting their for approval 24 hours after they posted it then they needed to do further editing.
What made it even better was when we Skyped with our blog partners and got to talk face to face with them. I started to invetigate widgets and one of the best things I did was putting in view and flag counters. It is very exciting to see a new flag appear when we recieve a new visitor.
I set my students blogging and commenting challenges and some of my students approached these with great gusto and then it started to happen, the flow on effect. One of my students wrote in her own time blogs totalling 17,000 words in one term. She would routinely post between 50 and 100 blogs per week on topics ranging from what we were doing at school to inspirtaional quotes. In fact she started a fad in my class where each day a number of the kids would spend their time before school looking for new quotes they could post. During this 10 week period this students reading level went up 2 years and she went from being an average speller to being one of the top spellers in the class. Initially I would reject 1 in 2 of her posts with spelling or gramatical problems but by the end of the term it was down to 1 in 50. This one activity took a student who was reading at a below age appopriate level and was an average speller and writer and transformed her into the champion of the class, and you know what, the other kids noticed too and quickly followed suit!
Give the students an audience and there is now a purpose to their writing. No longer are they writing their assessment pieces for me, but instead the world, and this is a highly motiviating factor when it comes to producing high quality work. No longer do they produce work that is good enough but rather it has to be perfect.
This year I wanted to give the students a bit more freedom of expression and give them their own blog pages so I switched over to Edublogs. As the number one blogging platform for schools it was hard to go past and it hasn’t dissapointed. I have set up a class page where I share blogs about what we are doing in class and students still like to post to this page but each student also has a blog page which they can personalise and maintain. All posts and comments to the class blog and also the students blog pages still comes to me for moderation so I know they are still in a perfectly safe and supported environment. One other aspect of Edublogs I love is that my class blog page is able to actually serve as our class website, where I can share newsletters with parents as well as subject specific content with my students. No longer do I need to maintain a seperate website and a blog page.
Another great feature of Edublogs is the student blogging challenge. Students are able to enroll in the challenge where they have to complete weekly missions. They are given a mentor who advises them on how to improve their blogging skills as well as connections with hundreds of students all over the world. One of my favourite tasks one of my students was given was when a girl the same age in Slovakia wrote half a story in Slovakian and asked her to use Google Translate to change it into English and then complete the story for her. Now that is Global Collaboration at its best and really shows you how you can have a classroom without any walls.
Once again I have a number of students writing 1000’s of words in their own time each week. Last term I challenged them to write short stories that they could share with the world. One budding author wrote 60 short stories adding up to around 10,000 words. She has become such an accomplished editor and writer that I have actually now given her the added responsibility of joining me as the blog editor. Now she is not only responsible for ensuring her blogs are perfectly edited, but now has to ensure the other students are provided perfectly edited work and giving them feedback on how to improve their blogging.
Blogging done right is a game changer in the classroom. It is a way to motivate the reluctant writers and extend and challenge those kids who given the opportunity can fly far beyond what we can someitmes offer in the classroom. Our students have a lot to say, we just have to give them the means of having a voice and an authentic audience.