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?

Student Blogs: Digital Portfolios

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:

        1. 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.
        2. 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
        3. 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.
        4. Setting up a spreadsheet with student blog details such as URLs and usernames has helped me keep track of all the details.
        5. 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.
        6. 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.
        7. 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.
        8. 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.

How do you use student blogs in your classroom?

Benefits of Blogging by Linda Yollis and Class

My good friend in Los Angeles, Linda Yollis, recently created this excellent video with her second and third grade class about the benefits of blogging.

This video may give you more of an insight into what you could get out of blogging with your students, or you might like to share it with your staff.

It has been my pleasure to discover the benefits of blogging alongside Linda since we both began our class blogs in 2008.

If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of educational blogging, check out the post I wrote last month.

To learn more about educational blogging, including how to set up class and student blogs, check out the educational blogging page on my site.

Our World, Our Numbers Global Project

My class is currently involved in a wonderful global project called Our World, Our Numbers.

We launched Our World, Our Numbers alongside our blogging buddies on Monday 25th February.  

In late 2011, many of us worked on a global project called Our World, Our StoriesThis latest project is based on a similar format with a mathematical focus.

In late 2011 I reflected on the fabulous outcomes from the Our World, Our Stories project.

Classes involved

The students are all from primary (elementary) classes and are from three different continents and five countries.

Mr Avery’s sixth grade class from Massachusetts, USA

Mrs Monaghan’s 3/4 class, Room with a View, from England

Mrs Morris and Miss Jordan’s grade four class, 4KM and 4KJ, from Victoria, Australia

Mrs McKenzie’s 2/3 class, B4, from New Zealand

Mrs Yollis’ 2/3 class from California, USA

Mr Salsich’s third grade class from Connecticut, USA

Mrs Watson’s K/1/2/3 class from Canada


View Our World, Our Numbers in a larger map

How does the project work?

Students from all classes are connecting and collaborating by sharing their mathematical lives. This is happening through the blog and involves a variety of media.

A different class “leads” a mathematical topic every week or so, publishing posts and replying to comments. The other classes read the posts, possibly publish their own posts, and leave blog comments.

Topics

The topics so far have been:

Our future topics will involve mathematical elements of animals, area/populations and seasons/temperatures.

The learning

Through blog posts, the students teach each other about different aspects of mathematics based on aspects of their own culture.

The learning continues in the commenting section where students, teachers and parents engage in conversations to explore mathematical and cultural topics further.

Students are gaining an understanding of mathematics through the eyes of children in different countries and cultures. They are making comparisons and contrasts between their lives and other students’ lives.

Concluding the project

This project will conclude in mid-May. Stayed tuned for a culminating celebration then!

Our World, Our Numbers is a project we came up with ourselves. If you want some advice on how to start your own global project, read my post “Start Your Own Global Project”.

The Benefits of Educational Blogging

This in an update of older posts about the benefits of educational blogging.

2013 is the sixth year that I have maintained a classroom blog. When I first began I didn’t know much about blogging at all and I didn’t realise there could be educational benefits to running a blogging program.

I thought having a class blog would be a bit of fun and a good way to connect with parents.

As time has gone on I’ve come to realise that blogging brings many educational benefits. Years later I am still discovering new advantages for my students.

The diagram below summarises the most powerful benefits I’ve found from blogging (so far):

  • Social Skills and Confidence: While some people may be quick to say that blogging and online social media can inhibit social skills, I see blogging as a terrific starting point. It can help certain individuals to practise their skills and transfer them into the “offline world”. I have previously written about how students with ASD and confidence issues can improve their skills here.
  • Internet Safety: 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 class has opportunities almost daily to discuss cyber safety issues and appropriate online behaviours in an authentic setting. Blogging is an excellent way to learn about being a responsible member of an online community.
  • Literacy: 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. Blogging is part of my literacy curriculum so I use blogging to explicitly teach English conventions.
  • Maths: While using blogging as an avenue for teaching and learning literacy may be more obvious, blogs can also be used for maths. Just two examples are our daily use of Clustrmaps and the Our World, Our Numbers blogging project we’re currently involved in.
  • Home– School Connection: Many parents and families have told me that they 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. Encouraging parent participation in your blog is something I have written about recently
  • ICT Skills: Blogging assists students to become more ICT literate which is a crucial 21st century skill. Through blogging, we’re able to incidentally discuss many ICT skills such as keyboard shortcuts, Creative Commons, researching online and troubleshooting.
  • Classroom Community: Creating a class blog requires teamwork and collaboration. Students and teachers learn and share together. A real sense of classroom community can be developed through blogging and establishing a class identity. A class blog mascot can be a fun way to represent your classroom community. 
  • 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. I have found that students really take pride in the work that goes on the blog and want to do their best for their impending audience.
  • Global Connections: I have found this to be one of the most exciting benefits of blogging. Blogging can help flatten the classroom walls and over the years we have got to know many classes across the world 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. I’ve listed some tips for global collaboration in an earlier post.

Student Perspectives

I’ve created a couple of videos with my students in the past to allow them to highlight some of the advantages of having a class blog.

I made this fifteen minute video with my grade two students in 2011.

Last year I presented at ISTE in San Diego with my Los Angeles blogging buddy, Linda Yollis. Our classes have been collaborating through blogging for many years. We put this short video together with snapshots of our students talking about what they get out of blogging.

In the ten years that I’ve been teaching I haven’t come across a program that provides as many benefits to students as a well-run classroom blogging program.

Blogging is a fantastic starting point for introducing technology and collaboration into your classroom.

Additionally, there are so many wonderful online tools out there which have more value when you can embed them in a blog. Blogging can provide a really diverse learning platform and while it takes a lot of work, the benefits to students definitely outweigh the costs!

Have you witnessed any of these benefits in your classroom?

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

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?

10 Tips for Introducing Blogging into Your Classroom

With the new school year beginning in Australia, many teachers will be introducing blogging into their classrooms.

Some teachers will be continuing an established blogging program with a new cohort of students, while others will be introducing blogging for the first time.

If you’re totally new to blogging you may like to check out Five Steps to Starting Your Class Blog If you’re in a Victorian DEECD or CEO school, check out Getting Started with Global2.

Here are some tips based on my own experience of how to successfully integrate blogging into your classroom:

  1. Start small: don’t expect to know everything at once and avoid comparing your blog to more established classroom blogs. Begin with simple posts that include text and images. As you build your skills and confidence, you might begin embedding web 2.0 tools.
  2. Integrate: don’t make blogging an add-on. Integrate mathematics, literacy and other subjects into blog posts and comments. Make blogging part of your literacy block or homework schedule. Find more advice on integrating blogging into your classroom curriculum here.
  3. Be regular: a haphazard blogging program isn’t going to provide as many benefits as a predictably regular one. Set yourself goals (such as publishing one new post every week) and routines (like spending the first 10 minutes of each day reading the students’ blog comments).
  4. Start local before global: I recommend building teacher and student skills through a class blog before you begin to collaborate globally with other blogging classes. The students will get more out of global collaboration if they have established the basic skills around commenting, internet safety, etiquette etc.
  5. Begin with a class blog: If you plan to use student blogs in your class, whether students will be earning blogs or simply assigned a blog, I strongly recommend starting with a class blog. This allows the children to build those essential blogging skills that they can transfer to their own blog.
  6. Teach quality commenting: I always start the year by teaching the students about quality commenting. Initially, I write all the posts and the students’ role is to comment. I have found explicit teaching + high expectations + regular feedback + authentic motivation = high quality writing. In my class, our blogging program has a strong literacy focus.
  7. Integrate internet safety: Once you have established your blogging guidelines and made sure all parents and students are aware of them, use blogging as an authentic way to teach about internet safety. Blogging is an excellent way for students to learn about being responsible members of an online community.
  8. Collaborate: find a buddy to learn with, either someone at your school or another educator online. Don’t be afraid to learn with your students; you don’t have to be the expert. You might even set up a joint blog with your whole grade level, or with another class. Sharing the workload can make blogging easier and more enjoyable.
  9. Get parents involved: Parent involvement cannot be left to chance. At the start of the year, focus on educating the parents about blogging via a parent night, family blogging afternoon, handouts, emails etc. Continue to educate and encourage parents to become part of your classroom blogging community throughout the year. 
  10. Keep going: it is easy to set up a blog but maintaining it requires work. Keep focussing on your goals and persevere. You will soon see your students enjoying many benefits from your blogging program!

What other tips could you offer?

Image attribtion: ‘Caution: Blog Ahead‘  

Getting Started with Global2

Yesterday I ran a professional development day for teachers called Technify Your Teaching in 2013.

While my colleagues Matt Limb and Simon Collier ran sessions on iDevices, Google Apps, Evernote and web 2.0 tools, I presented workshops on blogging with my team teaching partner, Kelly Jordan. One of our sessions was on setting up your class blog for 2013.

I created a step-by-step handout for the event called “Getting Started with Global2”. This is based around the guide that John Pearce created a few years ago (thank you, John).

If you are wanting to set up an educational blog and you’re working in a DEECD or CEO school, I strongly recommend you head straight to Global2. Global2 is a DEECD sponsored Edublogs Campus Site. That means you get all the best features that Edublogs offers for free! Support for Edublogs Campus subscribers is extensive.

2013 will be the sixth year that I have used Global2 and I have found it to be an excellent platform for my class, student and teacher blogs.

The following guide takes you through six initial goals when setting up a Global2 blog

  • signing up
  • writing a post
  • changing your theme
  • adding widgets
  • writing a post
  • adjusting general settings

I hope you or your colleagues find it useful.

Getting Started With Global2 by Kathleen Morris

If you are having trouble accessing the Scribd document, you can download the PDF version here Getting Started with Global2

If you are looking for more advice about setting up a class blog, check out Five Steps to Starting a Class Blog which I published last year.

What are your blogging plans for 2013?

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?