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?

Integrating Blogging into the Curriculum

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been speaking to many teachers about educational blogging. Sometimes I feel like I live, breathe and dream blogging, so talking on this topic isn’t hard!

Kelly Jordan and I were so pleased with the feedback from our DEECD Innovations Showcase and ICTEV Conference presentations. This has led to many follow up conversations and even a presentation via Skype to staff at Edna Sackson’s school.

A question we have been asked and addressed many times is:

“How do you integrate blogging into your curriculum?”

This is the fourth year I have been blogging with my students. For the first couple of years, I just fit blogging in wherever I could find time. This might have been a few minutes squeezed in during transition times or while the kids were eating their lunches.

I soon realised this was not the best way to unleash the full benefits of blogging.

Like all new ways of working, blogging needs to be prioritised and planned for. It then becomes a habit and the true benefits are realised.

Kelly Jordan and I team teach in an open classroom with 43 students and 10 computers. We don’t have the luxury of a 1:1 program or bank of laptops. We use whole class, small group and rotation structures to make blogging work for us.

This is what blogging looks like in our classroom.

Start the day with blogging

After marking the roll, we spend the first 20 minutes of each day on blogging. Our focus changes each day but we might

  • read our latest blog post together
  • have students read out the comments they left overnight (great way to motivate students to keep commenting at home!)
  • look at one of our blogging buddies’ blogs. We never know what we’re going to learn!
  • compose a “quality comment” together as a class
  • look at our ClustrMap and discuss place value and geography.

This is the lead in to our Literacy Block so we draw in elements of literacy. If we’re focussing on paragraphs, capital letters, full stops, adjectives or whatever, we’ll talk about this while looking at blog comments.

DSC07468

A student reads out the coment she wrote at home.

Blogging in the Literacy Block

Like all junior primary classes here in Victoria, we have a two hour Literacy Block each day. Read more about it here. Every week, one of the activities students complete is blogging on the computers. We call this “working on writing” as it is an authentic way for the students to be practicing their writing.

Blogging in the Computer Lab

We’re at a big school where, due to timetable restraints, our Grade Two students only have specialist ICT classes for the second half of the year. Luckily there are some hours in the computer lab free each week so Kelly and I take our students there once a week. With 43 students it is generally one computer between two but it is a great way to have a focussed blogging session and the students get a lot out of working with a friend.

We have a different focus each week but it often involves responding to a certain post on our blog or our blogging buddies’ blogs.

Whenever we get the chance…

Because blogging is so ingrained in the daily routine in our classroom, our students often ask us if they can blog when they finish their work.

One teacher recently asked us “how do you get to the point where your students are wanting to work on blogging?”. I think it is about creating that culture in your classroom where it is a regular way of working and not an add-on. Blogging for the sake of it or trying to blog on top of the regular classroom curriculum just isn’t going to work. We have a crowded curriculum! Find ways to embed it into what you are already doing. The first place to start is your Literacy Block as blogging is all about literacy. I’d love to hear how you do it!

Check out Henrietta Miller’s post here to find more advice on this topic!

How do you integrate blogging into your curriculum?

Class Mascots

In my class, we adopted a new class mascot at the start of the year called Leo the Lion.

Leo on world

The idea of a class mascot is nothing new. In fact, my good friend Linda Yollis has had her class mascot, Panda, for nearly 25 years! The fantastic thing is that now with blogs, class mascots can be a real public symbol for your blog and help to give your class a unique identity. Class mascots can be “friends” that helps the students on their learning journey.

It was the fun I saw my blogging buddies having with their class mascots that made me think we needed one!

Linda Yollis has mascots Panda and Hoppy in her class while Jonah Salsich shares his classroom with mascots Juan Pablo and Perezoso.

Leo plays various roles in our classroom. He sits and watches over our class to make sure they are doing the right thing. He has even made his own video about quality commenting tips. Sometimes, Leo writes about his weekend on the interactive whiteboard and the students have to “help” Leo edit his writing. When students don’t have a partner to read to, Leo is always there and loves to listen to stories. Leo is also a role model commenter on our blog (he has his own email and avatar).

Having a class mascot adds a little fun and humour to the classroom. We often laugh about what Leo has been up to on the weekend, and his ability to fall asleep at any moment is a ongoing joke.

Leo has developed such a personality that we even had a birthday party for him this week. Leo “made” invitations for all the students.

Leo invite

This is the PhotoPeach we created for our class blog after the party.

There is so much you can do with class mascots. Linda Yollis and Jonah Salsich have some great ideas such as having the mascot display tips for students in the classroom or featuring the mascots in educational videos on their blogs. Some classes like Jen Dowling’s class K/1D, take their mascot, Ruckus the Reading Dog, home for visits. Jonah Salsich and I have thrown around the idea of exchanging mascots by mail although due to their size it’s not overly practical.

Even though we have only had our class mascot for a couple of months, Leo is a big part of our classroom community and the imagination of my 7 and 8 year old students never fails to amaze me. The students have helped to develop Leo’s personality and interests. I can’t wait to see what fun we’ll have with Leo next!

Do you have a class mascot?

How else could you tie a mascot into your classroom/blog?

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?

Clasroom Resources: Teachers Pet

I have been using the website SparkleBox for quite a while to find a wide range of printable resources for my primary classroom. I was therefore surprised to discover that the SparkleBox website has been been undergoing a troubled time recently with it’s creator and editor, Samuel King being imprisioned in January 2010 for child pornography offences. Read about it here. As a result of the convictions, many teachers felt compelled to boycott their use of SparkleBox.

sparklebox

This week on Twitter, I found out about an alternative new website called Teacher’s Pet. The site that was launched on April 14th 2010 is the combined work of a teacher, Christina and Flash programmer, Jay. The site contains free printable PDFs and will soon contain IWB resources and music. The website is nicely designed and the resources are clear, colourful and purposeful. While this is a UK site, it looks like it could be useful for primary teachers worldwide. This site is very new, however new resources are being upload regularly and hopefully it will eventually become a site that is as comprehensive as it’s comparable website, SparkleBox. Check it out!

Teachers Pet

Postscript: I have just come across another new similar site called Twinkl. There must be a few SparkleBox alternatives popping up on the web. This is good news for teachers!

Leave a comment if you know any other sites with printable resources for teachers.