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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?

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.