Want to start a class blog? Here’s what I learned in the past four years of blogging with my fifth grade class.
My blogging journey began in 2010 when I attended a presentation by Dr. Tim Tyson at the NESA conference. Teachers use blogging in many ways: some as a tool to connect with the parents of their class, others as a means to publicize their lesson materials for sale on Teachers Pay Teachers. A third class of blogs, such as award winner Linda Yollis’ 2nd grade blog, are used as a learning tool for the classroom: a place where students can reflect on their learning, respond to discussion prompts and publish their own work. I was immediately inspired by the concept of students writing for students and getting authentic feedback from their readership. Blogging quickly became an integral part of my classroom.
My 5th grade blog is an open invitation for students to extend their educational experience beyond the four walls of the classroom as they publish stories, reflect on class activities and contribute feedback to one another through comments. With the advent of blogging in my classroom, writing has become an authentic form of communication. The blog has become the web 2.0 version of something between a cumulative yearbook, a news sheet and a class literary magazine.
If you are tempted to have a go yourself, here are some tips on getting started:
Setting up a blog is extremely simple and can be done in less than 15 minutes. My initial blog was hosted on Blogger.com. I later moved it to WordPress.com which gives you more design control. Linda Yollis has developed a very useful wiki on creating a class blog. There are three main issues to decide upon when choosing the settings for your blog: who can post, how the blog will be accessed and whether comments will appear instantly or be moderated before posting.
When setting up a blog you need to consider how you plan to allow your students to post their work. While giving them the status of contributors has the advantage of allowing students to directly publish to the blog, I have preferred to ask my 5th grade students to publish through me by emailing me their posts. This way I can request additional proofreading if necessary and deal with any technical problems, such as posting images. Another consideration is whether to have your blog on open access on the web or whether to have access by invitation only. Obviously some school districts mandate specific access terms, but having tried both, I can say from experience that restricting access to invitation only reduces student participation and makes blogging partnerships well nigh impossible, thus reducing the learning potential of the blog. Currently our 5th grade blog is on open access and I have not experienced any problems. I do get parental permission for our students to participate and am cautious not to connect real names with photographs of students. Finally, setting up the blog so that all comments are moderated by the teacher ensures that I can filter any negative comments, not that this has ever happened.
When introducing the blog at the beginning of the year, I, and the technology specialist, teach students how to access the blog through a permanent link on the class moodle course during a computer class period. We also teach email access and how to attach a document to an email, as these are essential skills to participate in the blog. Occasionally we have students who do not have easy access to technology at home and they are encouraged to use the school facilities to post and comment as equity of access to the blog is a value. Students are given a sneak preview of some highlights from the past years and then encouraged to independently explore the blog further at home.
Posting to the blog is mostly a voluntary activity done independently out of class. When I see students especially excited by a class activity, I often pass someone the class iPad and suggest they take some pictures or video. “Would anyone like to blog about this?” is often all that is needed to incite a volunteer to type up a post during break or at home and they always end their post by inviting classmates to share their opinions in comments. Following the example of previous years, students often choose to post their favorite creative writing pieces to share with their classmates, who enthusiastically respond. Longer pieces are released in installments to build the anticipation, with students writing comments begging for the next episode! Often, when grading, I will invite students to post particularly successful pieces to the blog. For some students blogging becomes a hobby and they regularly post narratives which they have written at home. Occasionally, I will post discussion questions on topics introduced during lessons or assign a blog post as a homework activity.
It is always important to spend some class time teaching the desired format for commenting. I have followed Linda Yollis’ useful guidelines on teaching commenting which can be found on her wiki. I teach students how to write their comment in the form of a short letter and I provide commenting guidelines on the About page of the blog. Correct spelling and punctuation is a requirement to pass through comment moderation. Periodically, I spend Language Arts time checking the comments held for moderation with the class and peer editing them. This has the benefit of raising consciousness and the level of concern about accuracy in conventions. We also collaboratively create a rubric for assessing comment quality as a class.
Blogging harnesses the potential of technology in the classroom and offers a uniquely immediate relationship between author and audience. Students develop a more natural and spontaneous relationship with writing through blogging. They blog in order to be read by their peers and feedback from their peers inspires them to write more. The immediacy and social significance of peer feedback helps these young authors develop a sensitivity to their audience and to become more skilled in expressing their ideas with that audience in mind. The blog hosts writing of many different genres: from suspenseful story to the steps of a science lab. The overarching goal however is the same: clarity of communication. The blog provides a safe playground for young writers to explore, soar, run with an idea and challenge one another to greater feats. Come and visit us at the OWL blog!
Do you already have a class blog? If so, I’d love to hear how your experience compares with mine. If you are thinking of starting a blog and have more questions, I’d be happy to share more of my blogging discoveries. What do you think? Does it sound a worthwhile endeavor?