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?

Grade Two Students Blogging with Purpose in the Local Community

Last week, Kelly Jordan and I were approached by our local radio station, Bay FM. They were interested in the way our grade two students were blogging and wanted to talk to us about joining forces for a special project.

After meeting with Patrick from Bay FM, we decided that our students would be regular guest bloggers on the station website, and learn about professional writing and the media along the way.

Patrick presented our class with a “content agreement”, working as if our students were freelance bloggers in a paid position (of course, it is actually unpaid).

The content agreement stated the formatting requirements, topic guidelines and time frames.

Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the rest of the year, a different student from 2KM and 2KJ will write a guest post which we will post directly onto the BayFM website.

Their topic will be something that appeals to the Geelong community such as,

  • A recipe
  • Commentary on a current news event
  • History or an article celebrating the anniversary of something
  • Restaurant review
  • Travel information
  • How to guide

After nearly a year of blogging, Kelly and I know our students are up to the task and the parent support has been extremely positive.

We think this will be a fabulous way to conclude the year and we know our students will get a lot out of this authentic and purposeful activity.

Visit Bay FM to see our student posts!

http://bayfm.com.au/index.php/the-team/leopold-primary

BayFM

How have you been able to link learning to the community?

2011 School Year Begins

Today was the first day back at school for teachers in Victorian Government Schools.

All schools are spending the first three days on professional development and planning.

This year my school is focussing on in-house professional development. Each Monday night teachers will be presenting on Literacy, Numeracy and ICT. I am in charge of ICT professional development.

Last year, I set up a weekly lunch time ICT Drop in Session for teachers to assist them with blogging, IWBs and general ICT questions. I hope to continue with this this year to follow up on my Monday night sessions.

Today I presented to my staff about ICT. My guidelines were broad so I decided to offer my Top Ten Tips to Integrate Technology in the Classroom.

The ideas in the presentation are some of the areas that I will cover in PDs throughout the year. I knew not everything in the presentation would appeal to all teachers however I hoped there was something to inspire everyone.

The highlight of the presentation was skyping with the wonderful Linda Yollis in California, USA. Linda not only spoke about some of the ways she had used Skype in the classroom but demonstrated how Skype is actually used for those teachers who were unfamiliar with this tool.

How does your school structure professional development?

What are you focussing on at the start of the school year?

What would you include in your Top Ten Tips for Technology Integration?

A Reflection on the Benefits of Classroom Blogging

I updated this post in March 2013. Click here to find the new post!

Most of you will know how passionate I am about blogging in the classroom. Since I started blogging with my students in 2008, I have come to realise how enormous the benefits are.

The diagram below summarises the most powerful benefits I’ve found from blogging:

  • Improved Literacy Skills: I wrote about the improvement in my students’ literacy skills in this post. Not only were skills improved, but engagement levels increased. Reluctant writers wanted to write for a purpose and students were using blogs to purposefully communicate and converse with others.
  • Authentic Audience: In the traditional classroom, the only audience of student work was the teacher and sometimes classmates and parents. Blogs provide a much larger audience for student work and an avenue for feedback and self-improvement through commenting.
  • Sense of Classroom Community: Creating a class blog requires teamwork and collaboration. Students and teachers learn and share their learning together. A real sense of classroom community can be developed through blogging and establishing a class identity.
  • Global Connections: I have found this to be one of the most exciting benefits of blogging. Blogging can help flatten the classroom walls and we have got to know many classes across five continents who we call our “blogging buddies”. The benefits of these connections are priceless. A sense of understanding and tolerance develops and students can learn a lot about the world in which they live. We’ve used blogs to undertake global collaborative projects such as Collaboration Corner and the Uganadan Global Project.
  • ICT Skills: Blogging assists students to become more ICT literate which is an important 21st century skill. Through blogging, we’re able to incidentally discuss many ICT skills such as keyboard shortcuts, researching online and troubleshooting.
  • Home- School Partnerships: I have received many comments from parents and families who love using the class blog as a “window into our classroom”. Through commenting, families can be a part of what is happening in our classroom and have real time access to their child’s education.
  • Appropriate Online Behaviours: Everyone will agree that teaching students to be safe online is an important issue. You can’t just do one off lessons on cyber safety. Cyber safety is not a separate subject. Through being heavily involved in blogging, my Grade Two class has opportunities almost every day to discuss cyber safety issues and appropriate online behaviours in an authentic setting.
  • Confidence: I have found that students really take pride in their work that goes on the blog and want to do their best for their impending audience. Students can gain self-confidence from being part of a class blog and demonstrating their achievements.

Overall, blogging is a platform for everything. It is a fantastic place to start for teachers and students who want to learn about technology. Additionally, there are so many wonderful Web 2.0 tools out there which have so much more value when you can embed them in a blog.

Have you witnessed any of these benefits in your classroom?

What other benefits can students and teachers get out of blogging?

Literacy Skills: How Far They’ve Come!

I am always telling people how much my students’ literacy skills have improved through blogging.

In my seven year teaching career, I have not come close to finding another medium that helps students to refine their reading and writing so well.

Through advice from the amazing, Linda Yollis, I have been able to set very high standards for my students this year and, with support and practice, so many of them have excelled.

I have provided clear guidelines on writing quality comments which my seven and eight year old students didn’t take long to get a clear grasp of. The students in Mrs Yollis’ class were also role models for my students with their writing (12,000 kilometres away!).

Blogging is authentic. Students are reading and writing for a purpose and genuine audience. It is ongoing. Unlike other approaches to teaching literacy, where you may study a genre or style for a few weeks, blogging is a daily occurrence in our classroom.

Throughout the year, we have been able to discuss the the following (and more) in an authentic context.

  • spelling structures
  • paragraphs and organising writing
  • a wide range of punctuation (commas, capital letters, full stops, brackets, exclamation marks etc)
  • planning, proofreading and revising
  • writing voice
  • similies, synonyms and antonyms
  • verbs, nouns and adjectives
  • vocabulary
  • using bold and italics appropriately
  • tenses
  • how to ask quality questions and engage in conversations.

It has been so much more authentic to teach these conventions in the context of writing on the blog rather than as stand-alone, one off lessons. That’s not to say we don’t do regular lessons and units of work on various conventions and genres, it’s just that blogging is always there and the progress the students make with writing on the blog are transferred to other areas.

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.

Many of my students have transformed from emergent writers to very independent, competent writers who produce higher quality comments than some adults!

Rather than just talking about the improvements my students have made, I decided to look back at some comments from throughout the year to find evidence of this.

The presentation below shows how three students have progressed with their blog comments throughout the year.

(Tip: Press play then click on the square on the bottom ride hand side of the presentation to view in full screen. Press escape to get out of the presentation)

How do you think blogging improves students literacy skills?

Editing Students’ Blog Comments

Recently, a teacher asked my opinion about editing students’ writing on blogs

She said

“We are having a debate in our primary school at the moment – to what extent should we correct spelling/grammar in posts or comments by students? Our principal sees the posts as a finished product which reflect on our school, while the teachers prefer to see them as a work in progress, encouraging children to write. What do you think?”


This is a question I have pondered myself a lot in regards to blog comments. I can’t help having high standards for my grade two students and I want them to always strive to produce their best work. I also want their writing to be legible. Therefore, I have put a system in place to help students achieve a high quality comment.

The students need to realise that when you’re writing for a world-wide audience, you need to make your writing as good as it can be so that what you’re communicating is clear and effective. Often the fact that the students are writing for a global audience provides the incentive they need to achieve their best work.

While I don’t insist that my students’ comments are flawless, I do insist on an editing process.

This is a run down of the system I have put in place in my classroom:

  1. The students write their blog comment using Firefox as their internet browser. Unlike Internet Explorer, Firefox automatically puts a red line under misspelt words which makes the editing process easier for young students (and older students/adults!). Explicit instruction on what to do when you see the red line is something we cover incidentally on the IWB.
  2. The students read over their writing, checking for spacing, spelling, grammar and all the other things mentioned on our commenting checklist which is displayed in the computer area. Click here to view our poster
  3. The student has a friend read over their comment and point out anything that needs to be edited.
  4. They press Control C (copy) before hitting the submit button. This means if anything goes wrong (eg. wrong anti-spam word has been entered or internet connection is lost), they won’t have lost their comment.
  5. I moderate all comments. If a child has written a comment with some small mistakes, I leave it. If a comment has so many errors that it may be considered illegible (this doesn’t happen too often due to the above editing processes), I call the child over to my computer at an appropriate time and together we edit the comment to make it legible. Teaching at the point of need is quite powerful and I usually leave the child with one goal to work on in future blog posts (eg. it might be “don’t forget to press the space bar after each word”).

These are just my opinions and I don’t think there is any right or wrong answer but I do find, when you set the bar high, you can be amazed at what your students can achieve!

Take this quick poll to share your opinion.


What are your opinions on editing students’ blog comments?

Tech Tools for Teachers #22 PrimaryPad

Each week Simon Collier and I collaborate on an email newsletter for teachers called Tech Tools for Teachers. Click here to find an archive of past newsletters and to subscribe.

This week we review the site PrimaryPad

http://primarypad.com/

PrimaryPad  is a tool that allows students and teachers to collaborate on a word-processor style document. Despite the name, PrimaryPad could be used with both primary and secondary students.

primarypad

We like PrimaryPad because it:
* is free.
* doesn’t require users to sign up or log-in.
* is very easy to use. You can create a page in seconds.
* has a wide range of uses for all ages and curriculum areas.
* allows for collaboration across the class or globe.
* is secure – only people with the unique URL can enter a room.
* is ad-free.
* provides an authentic opportunities to discuss netiquette and cyber safety issues.

An example of how I used PrimaryPad in my Grade Two Classroom
Last week, I used PrimaryPad with a small group of students each day.
I wanted to use this tool, not only for the powerful collaboration opportunities it offers but to create an authentic opportunity to introduce my students to chat rooms and netiquette in a controlled environment.
For the task, there were six members of the room (including myself) each on individual computers. We first started by having a general online chat to get the students familiar with the tool. I had my students focus on
reading others’ messages, responding appropriately and remaining on-topic and polite.
With the first group, the chat led to a discussion of the school Festa that was held on the weekend and the group decided to use the collaborative space to create a top 10 list of the best aspects of the Festa. The chat feature of the tool was used to decide on what to put on the list.
The students got so much out of this session. Afterwards, we were able to reflect on how the students did with reading and responding to messages and we had a rich discussion about netiquette (ie. CAPTIALS means shouting, the importance of taking turns etc).

Other examples of how PrimaryPad could be used (note some ideas from http://www.ideastoinspire.co.uk/primarypad.htm)

* Import a document and students edit it collaboratively.
* Students write a story, movie/book review, essay or other text in small groups.
* Brainstorming in groups what students know about a new topic.
* Import an opinion piece and have students use the chat function to debate the topic.
* Make a chain story. One class starts a story, another class continues it and so on.
* At the end of a unit of work, students collaborate to document what they’ve learnt.
* Students help their peers to make their sentences more interesting.
* One child types a word in and other children try to list as many synonyms of it as possible.
* One child takes on the role of a person (e.g. Roman soldier, environmentalist, land developer etc.) who must answer questions posed by other children.

For more information about how to use PrimaryPad, download the PDF of this week’s Tech Tools for Teachers Newsletter Newsletter #22 PrimaryPad

Have you ever used PrimaryPad?

Do you know if any other tools like PrimaryPad?

How could you see this tool being useful in your classroom?

PrimaryPad is a web-based word processordesigned for schools that allows pupils

and teachers to work together in real-time.

Sites for Integration Aides

Monday 9th August is a statewide curriculum day for Ultranet implementation in Victoria.

For readers who are outside of Victoria, Australia, the Ultranet is a  $60.5 million online portal for teachers, students and parents in Victorian government schools. Read my post on my initial thoughts on the Ultranet here.

I am a Lead User at my school, Leopold Primary School and we came online in Cycle One in May.

While I remain somewhat sceptical that the Ultranet will actually work on August 9th, we have come up with a detailed plan for training the staff on this day.

Catering for our integration aides was a consideration in our planning.

While our integration aides will be participating in the basic Ultranet and Web 2.0 workshops, we are also allowing them time to explore useful websites that they could use with their students on classroom computers.

I have prepared the following handout for our integration aides, which may also be useful for primary school teachers.

What do you have planned for August 9th?

Do you have any sites that you think would be particularly useful for integration aides?

Super Teacher Worksheets

super teacher worksheets

Super Teacher Worksheets is a useful site for primary teachers that contains free, printable worksheets.

The worksheets are divided into the categories of

  • maths
  • reading and writing
  • grammar and phonics
  • spelling lists and worksheets
  • puzzles and brainteasers
  • holidays
  • science and social studies
  • teacher helpers

In each of the categories, there are activities suitable for a wide range of ages and abilities.

I have found some great activities for my grade two students especially for place value and reading comprehension.

Check out Super Teacher Worksheets and see what activities may suit your class!

Leave a comment. Do you use Super Teacher Worksheets or any other sites for ready-made resources?

StoryIt: Word Games

StoryIt is a website that doesn’t look amazing with its simple layout and advertisements but has some great resources for the junior primary classroom.

While there are stories to read and print, seasonal resources, printable shapes and more – the resources I’ve found most useful are the word games.

There are about fifteen word games available to play online that involve making sentences, making words, spelling, changing words etc.

In the Wiz Game, the goal is to make as many words as you can from the letter tiles. Get the question mark tile to the bottom and a vocabulary question appears. Select the best meaning of the word and earn extra points.

storyit2

The Odd One Out: Word Family game involves choosing the word that doesn’t belong.

storyit

There are games on the StoryIt site that would be suitable for students in at all levels of primary school.

These games could be used as a lesson introduction or closure on the IWB, with a small focus group or individual students could use the games on classroom computers.

Have you used the StoryIt Word Games?

How could you use these games in your classroom?