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.

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?

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?

Reflection on Our World, Our Stories

The Our World, Our Stories project has come to an end this week. It has been one of the most rewarding experiences of 2011 for my class.

My grade two students worked with classes in the USA, Canada, Belize, New Zealand and Ghana to share their stories and learn about how others live.

We used our blog http://ourworldourstories.edublogs.org as our central meeting place.

Our World Our Stories Blog

For seven weeks, the students blogged, commented and conversed about a wide range of topics. 30 posts and over 700 comments were published.

Week One: Typical School Day

Week Two: Recess Activities

Week Three: Food

Week Four: Our Local Environment

Week Five: Traditional Stories and Festivities

Week Six: Traditional Song

Week Seven: Final Celebration

Highlights of the Our World, Our Stories project:

  • Seeing the students excited about learning. The beauty of this project was that it was authentic. Learning about other cultures by reading a book is no longer enough for today’s generation. Our students can now develop friendships and have ongoing conversations to learn about others. Seeing my students curious about how other people live and coming up with such a wide range of questions was a real highlight.
  • Creating a joint reading of Mem Fox and Leslie Staub’s book Whoever You Are as one of our culminating activities. This picture book was perfect as the message was based around the idea that everyone in the world is different but we’re all equal. The most exciting part was that Mem and Leslie commented on our blog and brought such joy to our young students. This was truly a moment that many students will remember for life.
  • Recording a song together to celebrate the friendships we’d made. All the classes had different interests but we found singing was a common highlight for many students. The ‘traditional song’ week was very popular. Linda Yollis and her music teacher, Mr B, were the masterminds behind our joint performance of Make New Friends. Check it out!
  • Working with such dedicated and passionate teachers. As our students are quite young, the structure of this project was organised by the teachers with input from the students. It was a real pleasure to work with the other teachers who work so hard to create exceptional learning experiences for their students. This is was not the first time we have worked together and it won’t be the last.
  • Being nominated for an Edublog Award and inspiring others. Our World, Our Stories has been nominated for Best Group Blog in the 2011 Edublog Awards. Vote here! It was also pleasing to see some teachers liked our idea so much that they created their own spin off! Update: we won! Find out more http://ourworldourstories.edublogs.org/2011/12/15/we-won-an-edublog-award/.
  • Global collaborative projects are one of my very favourite aspects of teaching. I’m excited to see where global collaboration will take us in 2012!

    For those of you who have followed Our World, Our Stories, what has been your highlight?

    What have your students got out of collaborating with others?

    QuadBlogging Video

    QuadBlogging is something I have blogged about here earlier this year.

    The term QuadBlogging was coined by David Mitchell.

    The concept: four blogging classes come together and learn about one another one week at a time. Each week a different blog in the quad is the focus and the other three classes take the time to visit and comment on their blog.

    Earlier this year, Linda Yollis, Jonah Salsich, Judy McKenzie, Kelly Jordan and I all decided we’d make our own quad.

    *Mrs. Yollis’ Classroom Blog, California, U.S.A.*
    *Open the Door to B-4  in New Zealand*
    *Mr. Salsich Class Blog, Connecticut, U.S.A*
    *2KM and 2KJ  in Australia *

    This works really well and we wanted to share the message with other classes. Teachers and students from all four classes got together recently to collaborate on a video about QuadBlogging. We used the tool Sliderocket which was easy to use and effective.

    Thanks to Linda Yollis who put the final product together!


    Visit http://quadblogging.net/ for more information and to become part of a quad.

    Start Your Own Global Project

    Last week I blogged about Our World, Our Stories which is a new global project my class is involved in.

    2008 was the year that I began blogging and also collaborating globally with my students. Since then, our experiences of collaboration have become more integrated, frequent, richer and self-initiated.

    It is an amazing experience to see your young students communicating, conversing and learning with children from all corners of the globe.

    What is a global project?

    I define a global project as any sort of collaborative project that involves two or more classes from different schools/countries. There is usually a defined purpose and structure to the project. The learning is usually documented and shared on an online space such as a blog. Some global projects have a culminating event.

    A common starting point

    My first experiences with global projects involved my students joining pre-organised projects. When you’re first starting out, you don’t need to think of the project idea and find your own connections. There are agencies and groups that can do this for you. You might want to check out The Global Classroom Project, iEARN or ePals if you need a starting place.

    When you and your students are familiar with the concept of working with other classes, you might want to think about starting your own global project. I have found this is very beneficial because you can customise the learning experience to meet your students’ precise needs and interests.

    Here are 10 steps, based on my own experiences, to starting your own global project.

    1. What do you want your students to get out of a project? As teachers, this is the question we’re always asking ourselves when planning new experiences. If you start with this question in mind, you will be more likely to help your students achieve their full potential. Clearly we all have systematic standards we need to be covering in our classrooms. Global projects don’t have to be an add-on. They can be an authentic and innovative way to teach and go beyond core standards.

    2. Find teachers/classes to connect with. Twitter is my number one place to find a diverse range of educators to connect with. If you have a class blog, you might find this list of blogs around the world useful. It was compiled by Sue Waters to help teachers find other classes to connect with. When deciding how many classes to connect with, my suggestion is to start small and see how you go. I have found that the benefits from global connections comes from quality over quantity.

    3. Decide on project outcomes. Discuss with the other teachers what you want your students to learn and document this somewhere (I use Google Docs when collaborating with other teachers). The learning outcomes may differ for different classes but of course would have a common thread. Sometimes the outcome might be based on making an impact in the world (such as our Ugandan Global Project) or simply based on student learning and development (such as Our World, Our Stories).

    4. Come up with a timeline/structure. Once again, I use Google Docs to create a table that outlines each week that the project will run with ideas for activities/themes/milestones. Of course, this is just a guide and a working document.

    5. Create an online space. I think of an online space, such as a blog, as a place where the classes can meet, collaborate, converse and learn together. Of course the online space doesn’t have to be a blog; it could be a wiki, YouTube channel, VoiceThread or any sort of web 2.0 tool. When using a blog for a global project, such as our Collaboration Corner blog, one teacher can start the blog and add the various teachers as administrators.

    6. Regularly connect with the teachers. When working on a global project with other classes, I use Google+ Hangout, Skype, Twitter, email or Google Docs to stay in touch with the teachers. I find projects are generally more successful when the teachers are working harmoniously behind the scenes to steer the learning in a forward direction.

    7. Involve the community. Publicise your project to parents, the school community and your PLN. A global project is a fabulous opportunity for students to work with a diverse range of individuals in their community near and far.

    Research has shown that where effective partnerships exist, the quality of schooling improves, students enjoy more satisfying educational experiences, and communities are strengthened.(http://www.familyschool.org.au)

    8. Be organised but flexible. The great thing about global projects is there is so much extra learning that is unexpected but powerful. I have found global projects work best when they they have a clear framework but also a large degree of flexibility to pursue student interest and curiosity.

    9. Culminate the project. A culminating event can be a satisfying way for students to showcase and celebrate their learning. This could be a movie, fundraising event, song, Skype party, digital story, community event or art display. The possibilities are only limited by the imaginations of the teachers and students.

    10. Review your project. Naturally you learn from every involvement in global projects. Be sure to discuss with your students what worked and what ideas they have for next time. A thorough debrief and reflection can lead to even more powerful outcomes next time!

    What other questions or advice do you have about global projects?


    Our World, Our Stories

    Next week, my class will be joining in with many of their “blogging buddies” from around the world in a new global project.

    This project is called Our World, Our Stories and the blog  http://ourworldourstories.edublogs.org/ will be our central meeting place.

    After months of planning, we look forward to launching this seven week project on Monday 24th October.

    Our World Our Stories Blog

    Classes involved

    The students are all from junior primary classes and are from three different continents and six different countries.

    2KM and 2KJ from Victoria, Australia

    B4 from New Zealand

    Mrs Yollis’ third grade class from California, USA

    Mr Salsich’s third grade class from Connecticut, USA

    Melody Watson’s 2/3 class from Canada

    Andy Sefa Boachie and his students from Ghana

    Miss Usher’s standard 3 class from Punta Gorda, Belize


    View Our World, Our Stories in a larger map

    How will it work?

    Students from all classes will connect and collaborate by sharing their stories, experiences, thoughts and opinions about a variety of themes. This will happen through the blog and involve a variety of media.

    A different class will “lead” a topic each week, publishing posts and moderating comments. Topics will be based on students’ interests such as school games, hobbies, food, local environment etc. The other classes will read the posts, possibly publish their own posts, and students will leave blog comments.

    The learning

    Through the blog comments, students from the different classes will have conversations. Students will gain an understanding of different countries and cultures. They will make comparisons and contrasts between their lives and other students’ lives.

    The students will reflect on their own experiences and hopefully develop a curiosity about other students’ stories. They will develop a voice to share their own stories.

    Concluding the project

    Stayed tuned for a culminating celebration in December!

    If you want to keep up to date with how the fun and learning unfolds, there is a “subscribe via email” box on the right hand side of the Our World, Our Stories blog.

    I have received a number of questions about how to organise your own global project so I will be posting a guide on this blog soon. Stay tuned!

    Team Teaching

    This post isn’t about technology but it is about something I am asked about often – team teaching.

    This is the second year that Kelly Jordan and I have team taught and we find it to be hugely successful and rewarding. In this post I will explain how it works for us.

    Physical Environment

    We work in a large open classroom which is basically two classroom with folding doors that stay open. There are a small number of classrooms with this set up in our school.

    2KM 2KJ classroom

    We have a small withdrawal room which we use regularly for different groups and activities. We also have a number of special needs students who often require one-on-one support, so integration aides take advantage of this quiet space to work with these students.

    DSC05871

    Kelly and I are extremely lucky to have two interactive whiteboards (IWBs) – one in each classroom. We alternate which IWB we use for our introductions and usually have both in operation during small group work.

    IWB

    This year we were fortunate enough to acquire 20 netbooks and an iPad to add to our 10 desktop computers and four iPod Touches. It goes without saying, we use these tools constantly!

    KJ iPad

    Students

    For administrative purposes, we have two separate classes (2KM and 2KJ) however we work together for every session except for two hours of the week when one class is at a specialist (eg. Art, Music, P.E. etc).

    Like all classes, our students have a mixture of abilities, needs, interests and personalities.

    There are 22 students in each class who are all aged seven or eight years old.

    Planning

    Kelly and I plan everything collaboratively. This usually (officially) begins early in the week when we sit down and discuss what we think our students need to work on and draft out a plan for the following week. During this planning time, we write down many of the things we have been discussing informally as we have been observing and working with our students.

    From there, we often share out tasks and source different resources and activities separately. For example, I might look for some reading activities and Kelly might look for some maths resources. We then get together and discuss what we’ve found, tweak our ideas and finalise our planning.

    We have three hours per week of specialist classes which also provides time release for teachers. 2KM and 2KJ has one of their specialist classes at the same time which allows Kelly and me one hour planning time. The rest of our planning is done before school, online at night, at lunchtimes etc.

    The planning process never stops and we are continually teaching, assessing, reflecting, planning. It is an ongoing and efficient cycle.

    Our Day

    We begin each day by marking the roll separately with our classes. We then join together for blogging, then literacy and then the rest of our program. The first ten minutes of the day is the only time we work separately.

    Kelly and I do all of our whole class teaching together. Our introductions and explanations bounce off each other and can almost seem scripted at times! Contrary to what some people have asked in the past, it is certainly not “tag-teaching” where one person teaches and the other person rests!

    Following our whole class explanations, we teach small groups or individuals separately. This provides real advantages for meeting students’ needs as the children can be flexibly grouped together.

    KM reading

    Our Blog

    Most readers will know that the 2KM and 2KJ blog is a huge part of our classroom. In 2010 we had two separate blogs however we find it much more efficient and effective to have one joint blog this year. This also has the advantage of cutting down the work load for Kelly and me.

    Every day we start with 20 minutes of blogging and also work on the blog at other times during the day. A day without blogging would be unheard of. Read more about that here.

    Our blog is a way for our students to improve their literacy skills, collaborate globally, connect with parents, learn about internet safety, work for an authentic audience and develop the classroom community, among other things.

    In 2KM and 2KJ, we love blogging and it has opened up the world to our young students. Our students don’t just learn from their teachers and classmates, they have children and educators from all around the world who impact on their development daily.

    Benefits

    My opinion is that our team teaching is hugely successful. Kelly and I feel like our students’ learning outcomes are greater overall when compared to when we used to teach separately.

    Most people would agree that in order to continually learn and improve, individuals need to engage in regular reflection. This includes teachers.

    Team teaching allows for such rich reflection almost every hour of the day (and night!). When we’re not teaching, Kelly and I find ourselves talking non-stop about what our students need to work on, what ideas we could use and how our teaching is going. Our ideas just seem to bounce off each other proving that ‘two heads are better than one’!

    I simply can’t compare how valuable team teaching is as opposed to teaching  individually and working in a grade level ‘team’. Discussing my students with someone who is never in my classroom rarely works for me – the inside knowledge and vested interest just isn’t there. Kelly and I are still part of a great team and it is fantastic for sharing general ideas and strategies etc, but for specific, individual professional dialogues, I prefer to talk to someone who is in my classroom.

    Why it Works

    I think the main reason our team teaching is so successful is our compatibility. I strongly believe that that two teachers cannot be just put together and told to team teach.

    Kelly and I chose to embark on our collaborative teaching. We have almost identical views on discipline, organisation, work ethic, student expectations, teaching philosophies and even smaller things like noise tolerance and how we like our classroom to look. Our partnership is harmonious and productive.

    Obviously we are not clones of each other and despite many similarities, our personal strengths in different areas also complement each other. I believe this helps to provide a rounded education for our students.

    Student Response

    Our students respond extremely well to our team teaching situation. 2KM and 2KJ has developed a great community atmosphere with students having the chance to work with a wide range of their peers. If Kelly or I are ever absent and the doors are closed, the students are very quick to complain!

    At the end of 2010 we surveyed parents about having their student in a team teaching/open classroom. All parents responded positively and said that they felt it had benefited their child.

    What Next?

    Kelly and I would love to be able to teach the same cohort of students for two years and see where we can take them. As Chris Bradbeer said in his recent post

    In setting up learning hubs where children stay with the teachers for certainly two years, there was a feeling that learners wouldn’t experience that ‘dip’ of lost learning that is always evidence post summer holidays, as teachers and children get to know one another.”

    We just know we’d be able to help our students achieve even greater success if we had more time! We hope we are given the opportunity to try this at some stage.

    KM, KJ and Leo

    Have you been involved in a team teaching situation? How did you find it?

    Do you have any other questions or thoughts on team teaching?

    RSCON3 – Collaborating with Global Blogging Buddies

    Want to learn about how my students and I have connected with blogging buddies around the world?

    As I have blogged about here, RSCON3 is the third Reform Symposium e-conference for educators.

    It is 100% free and is scheduled to be held on July 30th – August 1st, 2011.

    My presentation – Connecting with Global Blogging Buddies

    Time – 10:30am Saturday 30th July (GMT+10 Melbourne time). Click here to find out what time this is for you.

    Where – The session will be held online in Elluminate. Don’t worry if you haven’t used Elluminate before, it’s very straightforward and we’ll help you out. Click on this link to join the room.

    Summary – One of the most exciting aspects of educational blogging is making global connections. In this presentation I will discuss how my grade two class came to have many blogging buddies around the world who we collaborate with regularly.

    Please spread the word about RSCON3! You can find out about all the other fabulous sessions being held this weekend here.

    RSCON3

    Will you be attending RSCON3?