Blogging and the Literacy Curriculum

This article is cross posted on ABC Splash website. If you haven’t already checked out the site, I recommend you do so. There are many fabulous free resources and interactives for Australian teachers and students.

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2013 is the sixth year that I have used educational blogging in my classroom. When I first began my program, I just tried to squeeze blogging into my already busy curriculum. This might have been a few minutes during transition times or while the students ate their lunches.

I soon realised this was not the best way to unleash the full benefits of blogging. The lack of momentum led to low student interest and lack of opportunities for explicit teaching and learning.

To realise the many educational benefits of blogging and ensure your program has an extended life-span, blogging needs to be prioritised and planned for. It should to be integrated into the curriculum; busy classrooms rarely have time for “add ons”.

When I first began blogging I had a computer ratio of 1:6 in my classroom. Over time, my students have gained access to more devices and this year we implemented a 1:1 netbook program.

Depending on the resources available and our current learning focus, I have used whole class, small group and rotation structures to make blogging work in my classroom.

Blogging is all about literacy

The concept of literacy education has changed as technology has evolved. It is no longer enough to teach students how to read books and write on paper. This won’t adequately prepare them for their 21st century lives.

Our students need to become transliterate and develop the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media, both traditional and digital.

Blogging is an authentic way to teach both traditional reading, writing, speaking and listening, as well as multi-modal 21st century skills.

My approach involves spending 10 – 20 minutes of my daily literacy block on whole class blogging. This is a chance to read our latest posts and comments, and take a look at what our blogging buddies are learning.

Our discussions are directed depending on our current reading or writing focus. Through blogging, we have been able to introduce or reinforce a wide range of literacy conventions in an authentic, ongoing context.

Build blogging into literacy rotations

Like many primary classrooms, reading rotations are part of our literacy block. Every week, one of the activities students complete is blogging on their computers.

Their task is to read a certain post on our class blog, a student blog or one of our blogging buddies’ blogs. Students then need to respond with a quality comment, practising their literacy goal.

Create digital portfolios

This year I have been using student blogs as digital portfolios. This approach doesn’t need to be an “add on”. It can replace other more traditional methods of reflective writing, journalling or completing work in exercise books.

In her book Radical Reflections, well known children’s author, Mem Fox, states that “We’re currently wasting a lot of time by giving unreal writing tasks in our classrooms….You and I don’t engage in meaningless writing exercises in real life—we’re far too busy doing the real thing”.

If we want our students to be motivated to use their emerging writing skills, we have to make writing purposeful, challenging, and real-to-life. Blogging offers this.

Blogging for the sake of it or trying to blog on top of the regular classroom curriculum just isn’t going to work. Most teachers are affected by a crowded curriculum.

Find ways to embed blogging into what you are already doing to meet your students’ learning needs and expand their horizons. Looking at integrating blogging into your literacy curriculum is a great place to start.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

How do you integrate blogging into your curriculum?

There’s Blogging and There’s Blogging…

Blogging is becoming increasingly common in schools, but are all blogging programs helping to improve student learning outcomes?

This is an issue I was discussing with a member of my professional learning network recently.

There seems to be two main schools of thought on educational blogging programs:

  • The unrestricted program: this may involve all students being given a blog and the aim is for them to express themselves in any way they like. This program may be largely student centred from the start.
  • The structured program: blogging is integrated into a literacy program, momentum is built and high standards are set. This program may be teacher centred before becoming increasingly student centred.

When it comes to classroom blogging, I am an advocate of a program that:

  • begins with a class blog before allowing students to work on their own blogs
  • is integrated into a literacy program on a regular basis (while incorporating other curriculum areas)
  • sets high standards for writing, design, netiquette etc.
  • is regularly maintained and is an evolving space
  • allows students to express themselves while improving their educational outcomes
  • provides feedback and explicit teaching to students
  • begins with a high level of teacher guidance, before increasingly offering students more responsibility.
Through this sort of a program I have seen students achieve the many educational benefits of blogging.

If students practise a poor standard of writing over and over, unhelpful habits are formed and the scope for improvement is limited.

I believe blogging can help students become exceptional writers when the following parameters are put into place.

When I first began blogging in 2008, my program was haphazard and I didn’t set high standards. Needless to say, my students didn’t get all that much out of our program.

One of the biggest mistakes I made was lack of momentum. Because blogging wasn’t integrated into my work program, I had to find time in a busy curriculum to work on the blog. This led to low student interest and lack of opportunities for explicit teaching.

When it came to posts and comments, I accepted almost anything and didn’t take the time to scaffold the students’ writing on the blog.

In reflection, my original blogging program was also too student centred from the beginning. I have since learnt that beginning with a more teacher centred program before giving students more responsibilities has provided my class with the most rewarding outcomes.

Through learning from and with exceptional educators, such as Linda Yollis, my blogging program has continued to evolve and improve.

Even now, I have to regularly stop and take stock of my own classroom blogging program to:

There can be a natural ebb and flow to a quality blogging program.

I encourage educators to think about these things when establishing or evolving their blogging programs.

I’ve heard many people comment that they have “done” blogging or they “do” blogging, but what is it that is really being done?

How has your blogging program evolved?

What other advice do you have about quality blogging programs?

A Guide to Involving Parents in Your Class Blog

This is an update of some of the posts I’ve written in the past about getting parents involved in blogging.

About parents and blogs

One of the many benefits of having a class blog is the strengthening of home-school relationships.

A class blog can provide a virtual window into the classroom.

After having a class blog for many years, I have found that most families enjoy being able to keep up with classroom events and student learning.

Unfortunately, I have seen a number of teachers almost give up on their class blog because of the lack of parent participation and comments.

I often get asked how we get parents involved in our blogging community.

Our parents are no different to those in other classes. They are busy people who need education, encouragement and ongoing invitations to participate.

I have certainly discovered that you cannot leave parent participation to chance.

Educating parents

At the start of each year when I introduce my class to blogging, there are always many students and parents who don’t know anything about blogs.

I spend lot of the time at the start of the year helping my students learn about blogging, however, I have also come up with ways to educate the parents. This is very important. Parents won’t be willing or able to get involved in blogging if they don’t know anything about it.

As Linda Yollis says, everything is more powerful when parents are involved in their child’s learning so I definitely like to encourage parent participation in blogging.

Like students, parents have different learning preferences and I like to offer my parents a range of different means in which they can learn about blogging.

Introduction to blogging handout

On the first day of the school year I send home a blog permission note along with an information note.

You can find the PDF of both documents below.

4KM and 4KJ Blog Permission Note 2013

4KM and 4KJ Blog Information Note 2013

The information note lets parents know things such as:

  • What a blog is
  • What our blog URL is
  • Why we blog
  • What our safety guidelines are
  • FAQs based on common questions from previous years

Handout to help parents navigate the blog

There is a lot to know about effectively navigating the class blog so I created a handout for parents called 10 Steps to Navigating the 4KM and 4KJ Blog 2013

It includes information such as:

  • blog jargon
  • how to subscribe to email updates
  • how to leave and reply to comments
  • how to use our web app and Google calendar
  • how to search the blog
  • how to become part of our wider blogging community

A guide to navigating your class blog is even something students could create themselves.

Information on the blog

I have created a “learn about blogging” set of pages on our class blog. This explains to readers (including parents) what a blog is, why we blog and how to comment. For parents who prefer a more visual description, I have created a video explaining how to comment.

Other ideas

Here are some other ideas we’ve used to educate and encourage parents to become part of our blogging community.

  • Parent Information Evening: When we have held these in the past, blogging is one of the areas we have covered.
  • Family Blogging Afternoon: We have held a couple of these events where family members are invited into the classroom to learn about blogging. Find our 2012 example on our class blog here
  • Family Blogging Month: This is an idea that Linda Yollis created for her class. We have borrowed her idea many times as a way to encourage family participation in blogging. Family Blogging Month is basically a competition where students try to get as many family members as possible to comment on the class blog. See our 2012 example which resulted in around 800 comments for the month of May here
  • Email Subscription: It’s important to have an email subscription on your blog and make sure your students/parents know how to sign up. That way they will be notified when new posts are published.
  • Fortnightly Parent Emails: We send fortnightly newsletters to all our parents. This is a great way to offer blogging news or tips (amongst other classroom news and reminders). You can also thank the parents who have been commenting and invite parents to comment on particular posts.
  • Posts for Parents: Sometimes we write posts with questions for parents. Here is one post we published last year that was specifically designed for parents. This idea was originally inspired by Henrietta Miller.
  • Virtual Volunteers: Linda Yollis has come up with the idea of calling on parents to be virtual volunteers on a roster basis. Rather than helping students in the classroom, they can assist online by replying to students and engaging in conversations.

Final advice

I always try to reply to comments or have students reply. Of course this is not always possible but we do it as much as we can.

It is good blogging etiquette to reply and provides an example to students that comments are not just one-way; they are used to generate conversation and discussion. A great deal of learning can occur when conversations are developed.

Parents may not be encouraged to keep commenting if they don’t feel their comments are being valued or acknowledged.

Using my work

Want to use these ideas or modify my notes and handouts for your classroom use? Go ahead, I have included a CC-BY-NC license for the PDF files. Simply credit me as the original author and link back.

What other ideas do you have for involving your parents in your class blog?

Developing Blogging Skills: Simple Rubric

I’ve been toying with the idea of creating a blogging scope and sequence for a while. However, something about that idea makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like the thought of limiting blogging skills to certain age levels.

For example, a number of my grade two students were sourcing and attributing Creative Commons materials for blog posts, and using HTML in comments. These sorts of skills would probably not appear in the grade two section of any blogging scope and sequence.

I find blogging to be a fantastic avenue for students to work at their own pace, while developing their skills as far as their capabilities and interests allow.

A number of teachers who are introducing blogging into their classrooms have asked me what they should teach their students next. I decided a simple rubric might help blogging teachers and students to gain ideas on how skills can be developed. It could also be used to assess student or class blogs, however that is not the intention.

I have borrowed a couple of ideas from Kim Cofino’s Blogging Scope and Sequence (with permission), while incorporating many of the ideas I have developed through blogging with my students.

Educational Blogging Rubric

If you are having trouble viewing/downloading the rubric, you can access the PDF here K Morris Blogging Rubric November 2012

What would you add to the rubric?

How could you use this document?

Making Educational Blogging Work for You

Originally published as a guest post on Free Technology for Teachers. 

I was introduced to educational blogging in 2008. A twenty minute tutorial by a Department of Education staff member was enough to ignite my interest and, four years on, blogging is something that really works in my classroom.

When I look back at how I first approached blogging, there are few similarities to how my blogging program operates today.

Initially, I saw blogging as a bit of fun. I thought it would be a good way to communicate with parents and archive classroom information. I didn’t realise that there are countless other benefits that blogging can bring when it is working effectively in a classroom.  

I used to think blogging was an add-on. I didn’t realise that it can be seamlessly integrated into the classroom literacy program. I used to feel guilty about taking time away from my reading and writing curriculum.

It was a light bulb moment for me when I realised that blogging is literacy; and an authentic and important style of literacy too. Now a day without blogging as part of my literacy block would be hard to imagine.

I used to think it was about the posts. Back in 2008, I had students writing posts from day one. There was no education or standard. Few comments were written and those we did receive were often limited to “I like your blog!!!” or “Our class is cool!!!”. The students’ writing just wasn’t developing. Working with teachers such as Linda Yollis made me realise the comments are the place to start. This is where everyone can get involved, collaborate, learn and practise their skills.

From the beginning of each school year, I now put the emphasis on writing quality comments. This requires explicit teaching, modelling, practice and feedback. I write the posts until the students develop the skills they need to write an effective post. From there the students can earn their own blog. It is a sequential process which has led to incredible gains in the students’ literacy skills, confidence and 21st century proficiencies.

I used to think participation would just….happen. Unlike traditional websites, the dynamic nature of blogs means people can be having conversations, interacting and learning from each other every day. My blog used to be a fairly dead space. It received a handful of daily visits and maybe one comment per post at best.

Over time I realised that participation cannot be left to chance. If you want parents to get involved you need to educate and encourage them. Parent handouts, videos, e-newsletters, Family Blogging Afternoons, posts for parents and Family Blogging Month competitions have all led to greater family involvement in our blog. Most teachers are well aware of the link between parent participation in schooling and improved student outcomes. Blogs provide a bridge between home and school, however, many families need to be shown the way … just like the students.

I used to think our class blog was just for our class. Little did I realise that an important aspect of blogging is getting involved in the online community. When I first began, I didn’t know any other blogging classes. Now we connect with blogging classes from all corners of the globe on a daily basis.

Global collaboration has led my students to learn alongside their peers and achieve amazing outcomes such as raising $20,000 for a Ugandan school.

Our classroom program is much richer because of our blogging buddies. Blogging partnerships have allowed my students to learn about geography, cultures, time zones, seasons, language, internet safety and more in an authentic way.

This is the fifth year that my class has been involved in blogging. I am constantly learning and tweaking ideas. Implementing a blogging program has certainly been a rewarding journey for both my students and myself.

Through integrating blogging into the curriculum, setting high standards, educating families, and being active in the blogging community, my students now reap the rewards that blogging offers. Yours can too! Not sure where to start? I have written a five step guide to getting started with blogging and many other posts on all aspects of educational blogging. 

What did you used to think about blogging?

Parents Shining in the Blogging Community

Educational blogging is so much more meaningful and rewarding when it occurs within a blogging community.

It takes time and persistence to establish your own blogging community. When I first started blogging with my class in 2008, we received the odd comment from a student or parent but there was no other audience or interaction. Fast forward four years and my students and I are part of a diverse and large educational blogging community. We learn and interact with people from all over the world every day.

Many teachers wonder how you can get parents involved in a class blog. My best advice is that parent involvement cannot be left to chance. It takes ongoing education and encouragement. This is something I have written about before and you can find some posts here, here and here.

Sometimes there are parents who take involvement to the next level. One such parent is Alma (aka AA), who is the mother of Bianca (aka BB), a student I taught in 2010.

2012 is the third year that AA has been extremely committed to commenting on a wide range of student, class and even teacher blogs.

AA has taken commenting to the next level and has established strong friendships with other teachers, students and parents from many schools around the world. She has learnt so much alongside us in the blogging community and she has reaped her own rewards.

AA and BB have generously sent Australian souvenirs, birthday gifts and Christmas presents to students, families and teachers abroad. They even supported Melbourne teacher-librarian, Kim Yeomans, by sending books to restock her school library after recent flooding. They found out about this cause from Seattle teacher-librarian, Julie Hembree.

AA is a role model parent blogger who demonstrates that the more you put in, the more you get out. AA would be the first one to say that blogging and navigating the internet was very new to her but through persistence, she has shown what is possible.

Recently, AA celebrated her 50th birthday and to commemorate the occasion, a number of blogging classes around the world put together a collaborative blog of birthday wishes http://aabday.edublogs.org/

With the new school year recently beginning, I hope to find other parents who are interested in embracing the world of blogging, even to a small extent of what AA has done.

Everything we do comes down to student learning and as the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development states,

” It is well known that students with interested and involved parents do better at school.”

With blogs and other online tools acting as windows into classrooms, the ways parents can be involved in their child’s school have been redefined. The possibilities are expanding rapidly and, with the right structures in place, amazing outcomes can be experienced!

Do you know any special community members who have embraced blogging?

What do you do to establish a blogging community and encourage those community members?

Five Steps to Starting a Class Blog in 2012

I revised this post in August 2012 to create a nine page, five step guide to beginning a class blog. Feel free to view, print or download the document to help you get started on your blogging journey.

Five Steps to Starting a Class Blog

If you’re having trouble with the Scribd document, you can access the PDF here Five Steps to Starting a Class Blog

Good luck!

Quality Blogging and Commenting Meme

If you are interested in educational blogging, Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano has written an outstanding series of posts on her Langwitches Blog.

It is called Learning About Blogs FOR Your Students and covers seven areas:

Part I: Reading
Part II A: Writing
Part II B: Student Writing
Part III: Commenting
Part IV: Connecting
Part V: Reciprocating
Part VI: Consistency
Part VII: Quality

This guide is ideal for both beginners and those more advanced with blogging. Silvia really articulates my beliefs about blogging so well. I wish I had have read this series four or five years ago instead of finding out the long way that this is the best way to blog! Click here to find links to the whole guide.

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TEACHING AND ASSESSING QUALITY

In Silvia’s latest post, she is requesting more samples of blog posts and comments for teachers to practice recognizing, evaluating and assessing various levels of quality work. She invited me to take part in a meme. If you haven’t heard of a meme before, you can read more about it here on Wikipedia. It is basically just an idea that spreads from blog to blog.

Last year, I wrote a guest post for the Edublogs Teacher Challenge about how I teach quality commenting. Teacher and blogger, Linda Yollis gets full credit for mentoring and inspiring me to instil a culture of quality commenting in my class.

I tend to use a process for classroom blogging as outlined in the diagram below. I start the year by doing a lot of working on explicitly teaching quality commenting skills. From there, students become more involved in writing blogs posts until they earn the right to have their own blog. This post explains my system for earning student blogs – another idea from Linda Yollis!

Blogging progression K Morris

During 2011, I focussed more on step one and four, than two and three, however, it still demonstrates a model that I have found to be effective.

In terms of what constitutes quality, Silvia published some useful blogging rubrics on her blog. As I have been teaching seven and eight year olds, I have found the poster below more useful as a simple guideline. Next year I am teaching grade four students so I might look into adopting a rubric for these older children, some of who have blogged before.

Commenting Poster 2011

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MY EVALUATIONS

One of the biggest points I’d like to make about quality is that higher quality comments and posts do not automatically come with age. Time and I time again, I have seen my grade two students write at a more advanced level, in terms of writing conventions, than students and adults who are much older.

Quality Writing K Morris

Every day in my class we look at some blog comments and talk about things that have been done well, as well as having “on the spot” mini lessons on a range of writing conventions. This depends on what comes up in comments.

In the images below, I have have annotated some comments from students who range in age, with some mini lesson ideas and some modelling points. Generally, when evaluating student comments, I like to give both positive feedback to reinforce and constructive feedback to help students improve.

Tip: click on images if you want to make them larger.

Grade Five

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Grade Three

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Grade One

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Grade Two

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Grade Four

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Obviously, there is tact involved in creating mini lessons based on student errors. We don’t focus on the same student all the time and we don’t focus on every mistake that a certain student has made. The discussion is started in a positive way and if the comment needs a lot of work, feedback would be provided privately, rather than in a whole class lesson.

You can also find some examples of how some of my individual students have progressed with their writing over ten months, here.

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YOUR TURN

I’d like to tag three teachers/bloggers to complete their own audit:

Sue Wyatt (aka Miss W, aka @tasteach). Read Sue’s post here.

Tracy Watanabe (@tracywatanabe). Read Tracy’s post here.

Stef Galvin (@stefgalvin). Read Stef’s post here.

Anyone else is very welcome to write their own post evaluating blog posts or comments. Check out the post on the Langwitches Blog here for more information.

Bec Spink (@MissB6_2) has written her audit here and Kathryn Trask (@KathrynTrask) has completed an audit here.

Leave a comment if you have some thoughts about teaching and assessing quality writing on blogs.

Memorable Student Blogging Moment

Bianca is a grade three student who I introduced to blogging last year. She is definitely a success story, having produced weekly posts on BB’s Awesome Blog for a year and a half now. That’s 86 posts! Her success is partially due to the fabulous support of her family.

BB

Bianca has a solid following from teachers and students around the world and she replies to each and every comment.

She is confident at sourcing and attributing creative commons images for her blog posts, and her literacy skills have progressed rapidly since she began blogging.

Bianca comes up with many quirky and interesting topic ideas and she is a very reflective young girl.

This week, Bianca experienced a highlight in her blogging career. She wrote a post called Can’t Put Down Books. Not only did this post receive 52 comments but there was one extraordinary comment.

In her post, Bianca described her favourite book, Alice-Miranda by Jacqueline Harvey. What a surprise for Bianca when she received a comment from author, Jacqueline Harvey!

Comment BB

In Bianca’s reply to Jacqueline, she said

I was squealing with joy that you wrote on my blog I had to call my mum in and tell her.

Thank you, Jacqueline, for creating an experience that this nine year old girl will probably remember for the rest of her life.

This is another example of the power of blogging; I can’t imagine a classroom without it!

What are your blogging “memorable moments”?

QuadBlogging Video

QuadBlogging is something I have blogged about here earlier this year.

The term QuadBlogging was coined by David Mitchell.

The concept: four blogging classes come together and learn about one another one week at a time. Each week a different blog in the quad is the focus and the other three classes take the time to visit and comment on their blog.

Earlier this year, Linda Yollis, Jonah Salsich, Judy McKenzie, Kelly Jordan and I all decided we’d make our own quad.

*Mrs. Yollis’ Classroom Blog, California, U.S.A.*
*Open the Door to B-4  in New Zealand*
*Mr. Salsich Class Blog, Connecticut, U.S.A*
*2KM and 2KJ  in Australia *

This works really well and we wanted to share the message with other classes. Teachers and students from all four classes got together recently to collaborate on a video about QuadBlogging. We used the tool Sliderocket which was easy to use and effective.

Thanks to Linda Yollis who put the final product together!


Visit http://quadblogging.net/ for more information and to become part of a quad.