by John T. Spencer, EducationRethink.com
This is my seventh year of having students create their own blogs. Initially, the student blogs were nothing more than a class journal posted online. However, over time, they became a place for student voice. They evolved as my thinking about blogging evolved. So, here is what I’ve learned along the way:
- Encourage Discourse: It may feel a little contrived, but I’ve found that providing discourse stems and sample questions helps students figure out how to leave and respond to comments.
- Consider the Platform: I use Blogger, because we have Google accounts and setting up blogs is pretty easy. However, teachers with younger students might want to use Kid Blog or Edublogs.
- Communicate with Parents: Explain to parents what a blog is and why it can be a powerful tool. Ask for their feedback on safety issues and let them choose layers of safety (name only, first name only, pictures/no pictures, etc.) based upon their own beliefs about what’s necessary.
- Ask Students to Name Their Blogs: Right now, my students have blogs with their own names and while “This Is Seth’s Blog” might work well for Seth Godin, I want to see my students create a blog title that conveys a little more creativity.
- Think About Audience and Privacy: I’ve had years when students created private and public blogs. I’ve had years when students created blogs that were viewable only by the students in the classroom. This year, all blogs are public, because I want students to get a chance to speak to a larger audience.
- Treat Blogging as a Format and as a Genre: William Chamberlain encouraged me to think about blogging as more than simply a medium where people post their writing. It has become its own genre, limited and enhanced by the features of the medium.
- Teach Kids How Blogs Work: Let them understand how blog feeds, comments and embedded media work. I’ve learned that students won’t add labels, pictures or links unless they see it modeled. For all the talk of Digital Natives, students don’t initially get blogging and they aren’t quick to go explore it themselves.
- Teach Copyright: Typically, I teach copyright with a concept of intellectual property and why one would want to protect their work. We then get into Creative Commons and I tell students to check out sites like Morguefile (a bit cumbersome) and PhotoPin (a phenomenal site). I later show them the Creative Commons options on Flickr and Google Images.
- Make it Authentic: It makes me sad to see how student blogs are often nothing like real blogs. I try and avoid having students reflect on assignments or answer very direct prompts on their blogs. I’d rather use Google Forms, e-mail or Google Plus for that. Blogs are a place where they write their stories and persuasive pieces. In other words, I want students to write something that someone would actually find interesting.
- Push for Autonomy: I realize that we are limited by the subject standards. However, blogs can be a place where students have a little more agency in their learning. So, in social studies, it becomes a place where students write about current events or get a little more philosophical with history. It becomes a place where they post community needs assessments or living history interviews they conduct. In writing, the blog becomes a place to write about any topic they want. In math, it becomes a place where they can show the real context of applied mathematics.
- Let It Evolve: I allow students to form blogging cadres later in the school year. A few blogging cadres are still posting their own work now that the school year is over. On the other hand, very few individual bloggers are writing on their own after school ended.
- Use Visual Prompts: I’ve found a lot of success in letting students choose from the prompts I’ve created along with those of Luke Neff.
- Collaborate: Partner with another class in the building or another class around the world. I hope to have blog partners set up with a teacher in Singapore within the next few weeks.
- Eight Ways To Build An Audience For Your Blog (larryferlazzo.edublogs.org)
- Blogging to Flatten Digital Classrooms (a collection of blogging classrooms around the world)
- A Collection of Blogging Resources (engagingeducators.com)
- Using blogging and Twitter to connect! (annmic.wordpress.com)
- 5 Steps to Help Students Connect with Real Audiences (The Innovative Educator)