Five Steps to Starting a Class Blog

I have revised the posts I have written in the past 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!

Tips and Topics for Student Bloggers

Recently, I wrote two posts about quality student blogs. You can find them here and here. I have also written a guide to setting up student blogs here.

A new group of students in my class are almost ready to earn their own blogs. I wanted to compile the tips I offer my students in one document for my new bloggers.

Below is a poster with tips for student bloggers. Feel free to download it if it will be helpful in your own classroom (Tip – click on the Scribd button to download or print).

I have also made a document with 20 ideas for blog post topics. I’ve found after a few posts, many students get “bloggers block” and need new inspiration. Hopefully this document will help my students and yours.

Do you have any tips to add to the poster?

What other ideas for student blog post topics could you offer?

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?

ISTE 2012 – What an Experience!

Six weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to win the Victorian Teachers Mutual Bank Outstanding Primary Teacher Award. This award has partially allowed me to attend the ISTE conference in San Diego, California and meet some of my international blogging buddies face to face.

Meeting Mrs Yollis!

When I arrived in the USA, my long term blogging buddy, Linda Yollis, was there to pick me up from the airport. It was truly amazing to meet one of my closest blogging buddies face to face.

2012 is the fourth year that our classes have been collaborating through blogging, Skype and global projects. This relationship has connected eight cohorts of students, and many amazing friendships and learning outcomes have been achieved.

Linda is a very experienced and enthusiastic teacher who has been a mentor to me in many ways. Over the last few years I have adopted so many of her ideas and received some great feedback and advice from my blogging buddy.

Our friendship developed through the internet, although when we met, Linda and I got along like old friends. We spent many late nights discussing education and sharing ideas.

It was wonderful to meet many of the parents and students that I had connected with through blogging. It was also a surreal experience to visit Linda’s school after seeing it so many times in photos, videos and over Skype.

ISTE 2012 

The annual ISTE conference is said to be the world’s biggest ‘ed tech’ convention, and it was certainly far bigger than anything I had ever experienced. This year was the 33rd conference. The host city, San Diego, came alive with enthusiastic teachers who were ready to learn, network and discover new ideas.

The theme of the event was ‘expanding horizons’. I can safely say my horizons were expanded. I attended so many great sessions and had countless enriching conversations with dynamic educators. I left ISTE with many new ideas and deeper friendships within the global education community.

Linda and I presented a session at ISTE called ‘Educational Blogging: Flattening Classroom Walls’. We really appreciated the feedback we got on our session from teachers in the audience. It was great to hear that they enjoyed our story and were encouraged to begin their own journeys with blogging and global collaboration.

It was fabulous to meet up with so many people face to face who I had got to know online over many years. Fantastic friendships can be developed through blogging and Twitter. Meeting those friends face to face is the icing on the cake.

Ronnie Burt, Julie Hembree, me and Linda Yollis

It’s going to take me quite some time to process everything I experienced. Overall, ISTE was a real whirlwind with sessions and events from early in the morning until late at night.

I recommend thinking about attending ISTE 2013 in San Anotonio, Texas!

Read more

As my USA journey continues, I look forward to continue learning and connecting. If you want to read more about my experiences at ISTE and visit with Linda Yollis, there are a few more posts you can check out.

4KM and 4KJ Blog – I wrote a post for my students on my class blog.

Mrs Yollis’ Classroom Blog – Linda wrote a post about my visit on her class blog.

The Edublogger – Linda and I wrote a guest post for the Edublogger blog about our presentation at ISTE.

Quality Student Blogs Part Two – Post Topics

Last week I wrote about how students with their own blogs can be guided to create quality posts.

After I published my post, I showed my class the less ideal post example I used about dogs. It was so interesting to get their opinions on the fictional post. Seeing their “shock” at the lack of proofreading, lack of content and the use of multiple exclamation marks etc. was quite amusing! It made me realise that we have created a classroom culture where students aim for high standards.

When students in my class earn their own blog, I generally have a chat to them about the sort of posts they’d like to write about. Some students like to make blogs with a particular theme, such as cooking or sport. More often than not, students like to create blogs with a variety of post topics.

A common pattern

Without guidance or discussion, I have found that students can get into the habit of writing blog posts such as

  • My family
  • My pets
  • My friends
  • My favourite sports
  • My favourite animals
  • My favourite books
  • My favourite foods….

The “My Favourite…” theme can go on and on!

I saw this pattern emerge many times before realising the students could be encourage to “think outside the square”.

Be observant 

Linda Yollis recently gave one of my new student bloggers some excellent advice, “You mentioned that you are thinking about future topics…. I also recommend just being observant. Sometimes posts come from something you notice in your backyard or on a drive somewhere. For example, I sometimes do posts about plants in my backyard or something new I noticed in my neighborhood. Hobbies are also a wonderful topic.”

I think writing about what you observe is a wonderful tip for student bloggers. Encouraging curiosity and the exploration of something new could help a student grow in so many ways.

Think about your audience

Another element that is important for student bloggers to understand is that your blog is not only about you and what you like, but about your readers too. Readers = comments = interaction = learning and growth!

Blogging is different from traditional writing or journalling; you are writing for an authentic audience.

Students need to think about whether their post topics are interesting for themselves and their readers. They also need to provide enough background information to help their reader understand the context of the post.

Fresh ideas

I recently helped a student think of some ideas for post topics. Here are some of the ideas that we came up with….

  • A recipe with photos and instructions that others could follow
  • A movie or book review
  • A restaurant, hotel or tourist attraction review
  • A poem or short story
  • Instructions to do …. anything
  • A discussion on what you’re learning at school
  • List of some of your favourite websites with details
  • A family tradition
  • What makes you happy/angry/laugh….
  • My dream holiday
  • Make a poll where readers vote on your next post topic

Role models

It’s great for students to look to other students as role models. Just a few examples include:

Bianca - 2012 is Bianca’s third year of blogging after starting in my grade two class in 2010. She is a regular poster who has formed some strong connections with teachers, students and parents overseas.

Jarrod - this student was in my grade two class in 2011. He continues to blog in a non-blogging class and uses a wide variety of tools.

Miriam - this student established her blog when she was in Linda Yollis’ class. She continues to create regular posts that are very interesting and well written. Continuing the family tradition, Miriam’s younger sister, Sarah, also blogs.

Royce - this boy also earnt his blog while in Linda Yollis’ class. Every couple of weeks, he creates a new post with interesting information or observations.

'Rosie the Blogger' www.flickr.com/photos/9106303@N05/2493066577

What ideas or advice do you have for student blog posts?

Quality Student Blogs Part One – Posts

As I have written about before, I have a system in my classroom where students can earn their own blog. Adapted from Linda Yollis’ idea, I have found the system to work well in both my grade two and grade four classes.

Recently, six 4KM and 4KJ students were the first to earn their own blogs for 2012. They join a couple of student bloggers in our class who were in 2KM or 2KJ in 2010.

Teaching about and encouraging quality comments is a big part of our classroom blogging program. It is the first blogging skill we teach students and we invest a lot of time in this process. I have found that quality commenting allows the students to improve their literacy skills and engage in meaningful conversations on the blog.

Teaching students about creating quality blogs and writing quality blog posts is another area that needs explicit teaching and ongoing feedback. 

Over a series of blog posts, I will look at aspects of quality student blogging.

What makes a quality student blog post?

Over the years, I have discovered my own definition of quality by working with my student bloggers.

Left to their own devices, I have seen many students create posts like this.

While enthusiasm is high, this is not the sort of work I’d like my students to aim for. I believe the following areas need attention.

  • Overuse of glitter text – very tempting for young bloggers!
  • Unnecessary post introduction. I find many student bloggers want to start each post with “Today I am going to talk about…”
  • Lack of content. I would encourage this student to either research some information about dogs or write a personal reflection on their dog.
  • Lack of proofreading and overuse of exclamation marks.
  • Use of unattributed, copyright image from Google Images.
  • Limited interaction with reader (ie. they could end the post with some questions).
By contrast, below is a post by Jarrod who is still blogging (in a non-blogging class) after being in my grade two class in 2011.

Jarrod has
  • Written about a topic that interests him, and would also be useful to others (game review).
  • Used text and images without overdoing coloured fonts or glitter text.
  • Proofread his work with an adult and corrected most errors.
  • Included a link to the game he was reviewing.
  • Ended his post with questions for his readers. Not surprisingly, Jarrod received 29 comments on this post.

Tips for writing quality posts

Helping students to create high quality blog posts is an ongoing process. I don’t teach them about every aspect of quality blogging as soon as they begin. Teachable moments often occur as students travel along their blogging journey.

Some of the tips I give student bloggers include:

  • Write posts semi-regularly such as every week or two. People might not have a chance to read posts that are published too close together. Readers might forget about your blog if you leave too long of a gap between posts.
  • Write about something that you are interested in but also something that will interest others. I will write more about chosing post topics in an upcoming post.
  • Reply to all/most of your commenters. Readers will be encouraged to comment again if their comment is acknowledged or if they engaged in a conversation.
  • Don’t overdo glitter text and keep fonts consistent and easy to read. Yellows and fluro colours are generally very hard to read.
  • If you want to use images, use creative commons images, screenshots or your own photos/artwork. I have written about teaching students to use creative commons images here.
  • Make posts easy to read. Left aligning text, using paragraphs, subheadings and/or dot points all helps the reader take in your post more easily.
  • Experiment with web 2.0 tools to make your posts interactive and engaging. In the past, I have explicitly taught students about some tools and also encouraged them to find their own new tools that meet their needs.
  • End posts with questions to provide readers with commenting prompts. Formulating questions that a variety of readers could answer is a skill that we like to help our students develop.
  • Proofread and check your facts before publishing. One of my student bloggers recently wrote a post about my upcoming visit to the USA without checking his facts. He wrote that I was going to stay at one of Linda Yollis‘ student’s houses! This was definitely a teachable moment.

What tips would you give to help student bloggers construct quality posts?

Look out for my next post about quality student blogs!

Students Learning From Their Blogging Buddies

I seem to be continually uncovering more and more benefits to educational blogging. Aside from the advantages that I’ve shared here and here, having your class involved in the educational blogging community allows students to learn from and with their peers from all around the world.

In my class we often use our blogging buddies’ posts as inspiration for classroom activities, and as role models for high standards of work.

One such example was the readers’ theatre activities that we were doing last week as part of our CAFE reading program.

Throughout the week, we read a range of readers’ theatre scripts and used the posts on Mr Salsich’s Classroom Blog and 4T’s Classroom Blog as inspiring models.

We published one of our own performances on our class blog here which hopefully continues the cycle of sharing.

There have been many other instances when my students have learnt from their blogging buddies. Just a few that spring to mind are:

When using ideas from other people’s blogs, we like to acknowledge where our idea came from. I believe this is good blogging etiquette to model to the students.

Being part of the blogging community not only enriches my students’ education but assists me to create authentic and interesting classroom activities. Everyone wins!

How have blog posts inspired your class activities?

Photo Slideshows in Blog Posts

Start small

When you start blogging it is important to start small and try to not be overwhelmed by what other people are doing. With time, support, perseverance and inspiration, your blog will continue to grow and improve.

When I first started blogging with my students in 2008, we wrote very simple posts containing text and images. From there we began to learn about different web 2.0 tools that can enhance posts by showcasing student work and creating a more interesting and interactive space.

Why slideshows?

When you are comfortable with using images in your posts, you might see the need to progress to a photo slideshow. A slideshow allows you to show more photos without creating a l-o-n-g post. It can also bring events alive by the use of captions, transitions and music.

The disadvantage of most slideshows is that they involve Flash so can’t be viewed on iDevices (I have found one solution to this if you read on).

Choosing a slideshow

I often get asked about the best and easiest tool to use for photo slideshows in blog posts. There are a number of options I use depending on what type of slideshow I’m looking for.

As most online tools are 13+, I generally just have a teacher account. This means I either have children help me make the slideshow, or have the students take the photos and I put the slideshow together.

Tip: if you want to use these sorts of tools for your personal photos, it’s best to have two separate accounts – a professional one and a personal one.

There are many options out there but here are just five free and effective slideshow tools:

PhotoPeach

This tool is very intuitive to use. You simply upload photos, add music and write some captions to create an effective looking video style slideshow. Find more detailed instructions on how to use PhotoPeach here.

This is a PhotoPeach that we made for our class blog last week after a visit from the Geelong Cats football players.

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PowerPoint to authorSTREAM/SlideShare

If you want photos that readers can click through at their own pace, one option is to insert photos into a PowerPoint and upload it to a PowerPoint sharing website. You can find the instructions on how to add a photo album to a PowerPoint presentation on the Microsoft Office website here.

I like authorSTREAM because of its clean, uncluttered design but there are many hosting options. This is a photo slideshow we put on our class blog to show our classroom transformation over the Christmas holidays.

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Flickr Slideshow

Flickr is a very popular photo storage and sharing site. The downside of Flickr is that you can only upload two videos and 300MB worth of photos per month, and only your 200 most recent photos are shown. Photos are also stored as lower resolution. Like many web 2.0 tools, there is a paid pro account available without these limitations.

I found out about Flickr slideshows from Shawn Avery, who often uses them on his class blog. Flickr slideshows are clean looking and easy to use. Sometimes you want a simple photo slideshow without music and transitions; this is a good option. Find the instructions on how to embed a Flickr slideshow here.

I made this sample Flickr slideshow to demonstrate what it looks like.

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SlideMyPics

SlideMyPics uses HTML5 which allows you to create a photo slideshow that people can view on their iDevice. With a large number of people now using iPhones, iPods and iPads to access blogs, this is something to consider when putting slideshows in your posts.

To use this tool, you have to first upload photos to either Facebook, Flickr, Photobucket, Picasa or SmugMug. You can add transitions and music from YouTube if you like.

I just made this sample slideshow to show what an embedded SlideMyPics slideshow looks like.

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Animoto for Education

Animoto allows you to easily turn photos (and video clips) into videos complete with effective music and transitions. Animoto for Education gives teachers free access to premium features. Find an Animoto tutorial on Shawn Avery’s blog.

Animoto isn’t a tool I use overly often but my student bloggers love it. Here is an Animoto I made for our Ugandan Global Project in 2010.

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Other options

Some slideshow options don’t allow you to view full screen photos within the blog. They direct you to the source website. Two of these are Smilebox and Picasa Slideshows.

If you are interested in a step-by-step description of how to use Picasa Slideshows, check out this post by Janet Moeller-Abercrombie on The Edublogger website. Her idea on how to integrate this tool in the classroom blog for parent access is excellent.

There are many more photo slideshow options out there. What would you recommend?

Fun and Games

So many rewards can come out of connections made through blogging and global collaboration.

I love watching my students learn about literacy, maths, geography, technology, history and all sorts of things about life around the world with their blogging buddies. It is such an authentic and memorable way to learn.

Last November when we were working on the Our World, Our Stories project, Mrs Yollis’ class shared one of their favourite playground games, Bamboo.

This video below, courtesy of Linda Yollis and her students, explains the game.

Bamboo became an instant hit. As Mrs Yollis’ class describe in this November post, our blogging friends around the world quickly started enjoying this unique game.

Three months on, Bamboo is still extremely popular at our school. Students from my 2011 class have introduced the game to the other students, and every lunchtime and recess the parallel bars are swamped by children of all ages.

I remember being at school and learning new games from students who had come from other schools, or from friends and neighbours who went to other schools. Now children from all over the world can so easily connect for fun and learning!

How can we encourage student centred sharing?

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?