As we have introduced a 1:1 netbook program in grade four this year, I have changed my approach to student blogs. Rather than having a system where students can earn their personal blog, all students in my class now have a blog as a digital portfolio.
As always, we began the year focussing solely on our class blog.
I believe it is important to establish a class blog before beginning student blogs for a number of reasons.
- Students can build their blogging “skill set”. I like to teach students about quality commenting, blogging etiquette (eg. responding to comments), online safety (eg. what information should be published online) and blogging terminology (eg. page, post, widget, comment etc.) amongst other things.
- A sense of classroom community is developed. Students, teachers and parents can learn and share together at the start of the year. A sense of identity for the class is developed and the blog becomes an online meeting place and showcase for the all the wonderful things that are happening in the classroom.
- Parents can learn about blogging. Educating parents about blogging is very important. Parents won’t be willing or able to get involved in your class or student blogs if they don’t have the knowledge and skills required. I’ve written a guide to getting your parents involved in your class blog here.
In the past, I have allowed a group of students in my class to earn their own blog throughout the year. To find out exactly how I did this you can read my post from early 2012.
The system of students earning their own blog used to work well for me as I could:
- Monitor student blogs closely and comment somewhat regularly.
- Ensure parent support was available to help with blogging at home.
- Ensure the students had the skills and motivation necessary to maintain a blog. As I have mostly blogged with grade two students in the past (7 and 8 years old), this was especially important.
- Provide small group tuition and support throughout the year.
- Ensure all students could access a computer to blog on. Until this year, I’ve generally had a computer ratio in my classroom of between 1:5 and 1:3.
Now working with older students who have 1:1 computer access, I decided the time was right this year to change my approach to student blogs.
In the past, my students have blogged about a combination of their own interests and school activities. This year the blogs are essentially a digital portfolio. Each week during class time, the students publish a piece of work on their blog, along with a reflection of their learning and future learning directions. Families and other students are encouraged to comment on the posts with feedback, questions or support.
Enthusiastic bloggers are also welcome to create posts about their own interests out of class time, although I do stress that a parent or adult needs to check the post.
To get the students started with their digital portfolios, I went through the following steps:
- At the start of the year, I gain parent permission. This year my permission note covered the class blog and student blogs. You can find the permission notes in this post.
- I sent home an information note to let parents know about our student blogs when we were getting started. Student blogs parent note – K Morris 2013
- I set up each blog through the dashboard of our Global2 class blog, making both myself and the student the administrator. You can find the step-by-step instructions on how to do this using Edublogs Campus sites (like Global2) here.
- Setting up a spreadsheet with student blog details such as URLs and usernames has helped me keep track of all the details.
- During our first lesson, I had the students find the activation email in their school email inbox, log in to their dashboard, change their password and record their blog URL/username in their diaries.
- I used Edublogs’ “My Class” option which allows you to manage student blogs in bulk. This page explains more about “My Class” and how to use it. Early on in the setting up process, I had each student join our “Class”. I could then display a widget on our class blog to show all of the links to the student blogs.
- I added each student blog to my Feedly RSS reader to keep track of their posts. Although it would be impracticable to comment on all posts, my Feedly subscription helps me to keep up to date with each student blog.
- While students are loving teaching each other the skills they’re learning, each week I have been explicitly teaching the class a range of skills such as:
- writing a post
- writing a page
- finding a good theme
- using links in posts and pages
- managing and moderating comments
- inserting media into posts and pages
- sourcing and attributing Creative Commons images
- embedding HTML
- managing widgets
- using tags and categories
While we only started the student blogs a few weeks ago, enthusiasm is high and the amount of learning that the blogs facilitate is impressive! I look forward to continuing to work with my students on this evolving classroom program.