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?

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?

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'

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!

Setting up Student Blogs

I’ve been asked a few questions lately about setting up student blogs so I thought it would be timely to update my post from 2010 about the process I use.

2012 will be the fifth year that I have been blogging with my class and the fourth year that I have had some student blogs. I have learnt a lot along the way and, of course, I am still learning all the time.

My involvement in educational blogging began with setting up my own professional blog, then starting a class blog and finally moving into student blogs.

While having a professional blog is optional for teachers who want to blog with their students, I do recommend having a class blog before moving on to student blogs. A class blog is the ideal avenue for the students to learn about the blogging process.

Early in the year we always do a lot of work on quality commenting, creative commons and copyright, internet safety, netiquette, typing, writing styles and more.

This diagram, which I have shared a number of times, outlines the general process I implement in my class.

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

At the start of the year, we let the students know that they may have the opportunity to earn their own blog from about Term Two onwards.

The idea of earning a blog is one of the many blogging tips I got from my Californian friend, Linda Yollis.

To earn a blog the students have to…

  • Write quality comments on our class blog on a regular basis.
  • Reply to comments on our class blog regularly. Our class blog is a team effort.
  • Show an interest in others’ blogs (eg. leave some comments on our blogging buddies’ blogs).
  • Demonstrate an understanding of cyber safety and netiquette when writing blog comments and using the internet.
  • Show a general enthusiasm for learning about blogging.
  • Demonstrate support from family. Students will not be chosen for a blog without family support.

This isn’t a clear-cut checklist, but more of a guide as to what we’re looking for.

Why haven’t all of my students had blogs?

Up until this year, I have been working with seven and eight year old students. Blogging is a big responsibility for children of this age (or individuals of any age for that matter!). The students need to be ready and committed. The support of parents is also essential.

I have seen far too many blogs that have been set up enthusiastically but not maintained regularly or simply abandoned after a very short time. While my students are not locked in to blogging forever if they find it is not for them, I want them to be committed to giving it a good shot.

I also need to be able to assist and monitor all of my student bloggers. I know I could not do this effectively if all of my students had blogs, however, in 2012 I want to look into ways to have more students blogging.

How I set up the blogs

I use the platform Global2 for my class blog. This is an Edublogs Campus Subscription offered by DEECD (Victorian Education Department).

To set up the student blogs, in the dashboard of my class blog I went to Users and then Blog and User Creator. In the set up process I added myself as an administrator which is crucial because I need to be able to access the dashboard of my students’ blogs in case any editing is ever needed.

The students have their own usernames and passwords for their blogs. Students require an email address to set up their blog which I generate through our school website.

The process I followed

1. I asked the students who I thought had earnt their blog if they would like a blog (probably a silly question, it is always a yes).

2. I sent a detailed email to the students’ parents explaining how the blog will work, responsibilities and support. I asked them to reply via email so I had their permission in writing. Here is a sample email in PDF format (tip: right click and open in new tab/window) K Morris Sample Student Blog Permission 2012

3. Once permission was obtained, I set up a school email address for each student and set up their blog.

4. I sat down with the students and discussed their ideas for their blog. We talked about what they think they will post about and how often they will post. We also revised cyber safety tips and discussed what is and is not appropriate to post online. There are always a number of authentic opportunities to discuss internet safety issues as the students go through the blogging process.

5. The students stayed in for a couple of lunch times to get started on their blogs. I began by showing them things like how to change their password, how to change their theme, how to rename their blog, how to use basic widgets, how to add links, how to write a post, how to write a page and how to add hyperlinks in posts/pages. A lot of the time, the children figure things out for themselves and I encourage this. This is how I learnt to blog!

6. I typed and laminated a document with all the information the students needed to keep at home and school. This included their email address, blog address, usernames and passwords as well as the links to the Edublogs support site.

7. The students who start blogging first are always great mentors to the students who start blogging later in the year. Peer to peer tutoring has so many benefits!

8. After the initial set up sessions, the students just tended to ask me questions as they arose and we often had a “blogging club” one lunchtime a week. I subscribe via email or RSS to my student blogs to keep track of what they’re up to.

What will change in 2012?

I’m always reflecting on the way I do things and I’ve had a number of thoughts about 2012.

  • I’m moving from Grade Two to Grade Four. As the students are two years older, I am hoping I will have a lot more students blogging. If I had more students with blogs, I could integrate writing posts into the classroom curriculum, rather than it being an extra-curricula activity.
  • If I do have more students with blogs, I wonder how I will find the time to set up blogs, provide assistance, comment and monitor the blogs. In 2011 I had 9 out of 22 students blogging and it was a lot of work. In 2012 I will start the year with 27 students. Perhaps I will rely more on peer-to-peer mentoring and have parents become the primary administrator – as Linda Yollis does.
  • My “blogging club” in 2011 was an ad-hoc arrangement which worked really well. I am hoping it can become more of a timetabled event in 2012 where I can work with some of my current and former students.
  • Forming connections through our class blog has been a rewarding experience. I am hoping I can encourage more student-student blogging connections in 2012. Could there be QuadBlogging for students? Could students form their own personal learning networks (PLNs)?

Final thoughts

Blogging has an incredible number of benefits for students and, if they are ready and willing, having their own blog is a great privilege and learning opportunity. I won’t deny that it is a fair bit of work for you as a teacher but like all things in life and in teaching, the more you put in, the more you get out!

Further reading

Linda Yollis has an excellent system for student blogs. Read about it on her Educational Blogging wiki.

Check out the post Ronnie Burt wrote on The Edublogger blog recently. He links to interesting research about the benefits of student blogging.

Do you have any questions about blogging with students?

Do any of your students have blogs? How did you go about it?