There’s Blogging and There’s Blogging…

Blogging is becoming increasingly common in schools, but are all blogging programs helping to improve student learning outcomes?

This is an issue I was discussing with a member of my professional learning network recently.

There seems to be two main schools of thought on educational blogging programs:

  • The unrestricted program: this may involve all students being given a blog and the aim is for them to express themselves in any way they like. This program may be largely student centred from the start.
  • The structured program: blogging is integrated into a literacy program, momentum is built and high standards are set. This program may be teacher centred before becoming increasingly student centred.

When it comes to classroom blogging, I am an advocate of a program that:

  • begins with a class blog before allowing students to work on their own blogs
  • is integrated into a literacy program on a regular basis (while incorporating other curriculum areas)
  • sets high standards for writing, design, netiquette etc.
  • is regularly maintained and is an evolving space
  • allows students to express themselves while improving their educational outcomes
  • provides feedback and explicit teaching to students
  • begins with a high level of teacher guidance, before increasingly offering students more responsibility.
Through this sort of a program I have seen students achieve the many educational benefits of blogging.

If students practise a poor standard of writing over and over, unhelpful habits are formed and the scope for improvement is limited.

I believe blogging can help students become exceptional writers when the following parameters are put into place.

When I first began blogging in 2008, my program was haphazard and I didn’t set high standards. Needless to say, my students didn’t get all that much out of our program.

One of the biggest mistakes I made was lack of momentum. Because blogging wasn’t integrated into my work program, I had to find time in a busy curriculum to work on the blog. This led to low student interest and lack of opportunities for explicit teaching.

When it came to posts and comments, I accepted almost anything and didn’t take the time to scaffold the students’ writing on the blog.

In reflection, my original blogging program was also too student centred from the beginning. I have since learnt that beginning with a more teacher centred program before giving students more responsibilities has provided my class with the most rewarding outcomes.

Through learning from and with exceptional educators, such as Linda Yollis, my blogging program has continued to evolve and improve.

Even now, I have to regularly stop and take stock of my own classroom blogging program to:

There can be a natural ebb and flow to a quality blogging program.

I encourage educators to think about these things when establishing or evolving their blogging programs.

I’ve heard many people comment that they have “done” blogging or they “do” blogging, but what is it that is really being done?

How has your blogging program evolved?

What other advice do you have about quality blogging programs?

Quality 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 over Quantity

I’ve been thinking about how important quality over quantity often is when it comes to effective teaching and learning with blogging, global collaboration and technology.

Here are some thoughts…

It’s not about how many blogging buddies your class has but about having deep and ongoing connections with classes that you can learn with and from.

It’s not about how many Twitter followers you have but about forming connections with educators who inspire you, challenge you, share ideas and are interested in getting to know you.

It’s not about how many different web 2.0 tools you use but about using tools well that meet your students learning needs and your learning intentions.

It’s not about how many student blogs you have but about developing student bloggers who are responsible, supported by families and progressively creating high quality content.

It’s not about how many computers and devices you have in your classroom but about how well you’re using them to amplify your teaching and increase student learning.

It’s not about how many blog comments students write but about how they use comments to reflect, question, offer feedback, make a connection or develop a relationship.

It’s not about keeping up with the plethora of information flying around the internet but about finding the important, reliable and useful information that you need.

Some of these things I have definitely realised over time. Enthusiasm and quantity can sometimes go hand in hand and mask the need for high quality teaching and learning. I have sometimes found that when I take time to reflect I realise the power of quality.

Image: ‘There goes the neighborhood’
http://www.flickr.com/photos/27109792@N00/2475530616

Where else do you think quality over quantity is important in education?

Sometimes quantity has a place too. Can you think of any examples?

Quality Blogging and Commenting Meme

If you are interested in educational blogging, Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano has written an outstanding series of posts on her Langwitches Blog.

It is called Learning About Blogs FOR Your Students and covers seven areas:

Part I: Reading
Part II A: Writing
Part II B: Student Writing
Part III: Commenting
Part IV: Connecting
Part V: Reciprocating
Part VI: Consistency
Part VII: Quality

This guide is ideal for both beginners and those more advanced with blogging. Silvia really articulates my beliefs about blogging so well. I wish I had have read this series four or five years ago instead of finding out the long way that this is the best way to blog! Click here to find links to the whole guide.

***

TEACHING AND ASSESSING QUALITY

In Silvia’s latest post, she is requesting more samples of blog posts and comments for teachers to practice recognizing, evaluating and assessing various levels of quality work. She invited me to take part in a meme. If you haven’t heard of a meme before, you can read more about it here on Wikipedia. It is basically just an idea that spreads from blog to blog.

Last year, I wrote a guest post for the Edublogs Teacher Challenge about how I teach quality commenting. Teacher and blogger, Linda Yollis gets full credit for mentoring and inspiring me to instil a culture of quality commenting in my class.

I tend to use a process for classroom blogging as outlined in the diagram below. I start the year by doing a lot of working on explicitly teaching quality commenting skills. From there, students become more involved in writing blogs posts until they earn the right to have their own blog. This post explains my system for earning student blogs – another idea from Linda Yollis!

Blogging progression K Morris

During 2011, I focussed more on step one and four, than two and three, however, it still demonstrates a model that I have found to be effective.

In terms of what constitutes quality, Silvia published some useful blogging rubrics on her blog. As I have been teaching seven and eight year olds, I have found the poster below more useful as a simple guideline. Next year I am teaching grade four students so I might look into adopting a rubric for these older children, some of who have blogged before.

Commenting Poster 2011

***

MY EVALUATIONS

One of the biggest points I’d like to make about quality is that higher quality comments and posts do not automatically come with age. Time and I time again, I have seen my grade two students write at a more advanced level, in terms of writing conventions, than students and adults who are much older.

Quality Writing K Morris

Every day in my class we look at some blog comments and talk about things that have been done well, as well as having “on the spot” mini lessons on a range of writing conventions. This depends on what comes up in comments.

In the images below, I have have annotated some comments from students who range in age, with some mini lesson ideas and some modelling points. Generally, when evaluating student comments, I like to give both positive feedback to reinforce and constructive feedback to help students improve.

Tip: click on images if you want to make them larger.

Grade Five

***

Grade Three

***

Grade One

***

Grade Two

***

Grade Four

***

Obviously, there is tact involved in creating mini lessons based on student errors. We don’t focus on the same student all the time and we don’t focus on every mistake that a certain student has made. The discussion is started in a positive way and if the comment needs a lot of work, feedback would be provided privately, rather than in a whole class lesson.

You can also find some examples of how some of my individual students have progressed with their writing over ten months, here.

***

YOUR TURN

I’d like to tag three teachers/bloggers to complete their own audit:

Sue Wyatt (aka Miss W, aka @tasteach). Read Sue’s post here.

Tracy Watanabe (@tracywatanabe). Read Tracy’s post here.

Stef Galvin (@stefgalvin). Read Stef’s post here.

Anyone else is very welcome to write their own post evaluating blog posts or comments. Check out the post on the Langwitches Blog here for more information.

Bec Spink (@MissB6_2) has written her audit here and Kathryn Trask (@KathrynTrask) has completed an audit here.

Leave a comment if you have some thoughts about teaching and assessing quality writing on blogs.