If I’d tell you there is a tool out there that gets students to write more, read more, do more quality work & improve their spelling what would you do? What if I told this same tool gets students to connect more, gives parents the opportunity to be more involved & informed, gets students to deepen their knowledge, ask questions and display their work with pride. What if I told you furthermore that this tool recognises the process, gives students an even bigger purpose, creates a portfolio of student work and it’s FREE.
What is this tool: Blogging with your students.
I have been interested in blogging since I started teaching but not until last year was I able to start. My first step was taken last year by replacing our monthly newsletter with our awesome class blog.
“A connected educator is constantly saying; I do it this way right now, but is there a better way out there somewhere?” -Ben Kuhlman @bkuhl2you
What our class blog did was that it flattened the classroom walls & involved parents even better into what we were doing at school. We posted photos, videos, plots of books we were reading or even quotes every day, shared our knowledge with the world, asked questions and told our followers about upcoming events.
The class blog was amazing and I saw an instant change in how students acted, I noticed they wanted their work to be displayed on the class blog and parents told me about how their communication with their child about what was done at school changed dramatically. Instead of the answer: “It was fun but I don’t remember what we did.” to the regular question: “How was school today and what did you do?”… kids and parents had specific conversations about the school day based on what parents read on the blog right after school. But I’m not gonna tell you all about our AWESOME class blog… that’s a whole other post that you can read about here. This one is about blogging with your students.
When I saw the effect our class blog had, and I realised how easy it was to set up and manage, I decided to start a blog with every kid in my 3rd grade class.
Like I said earlier I had been interested in blogging with my students since I started teaching but was never able to do it. Why? Because our computer lab has only 14 computers, each requires students to sign in, put in a long password and wait for updates to install. The problem also was that if we were to post our work to our blog we would have to have a separate camera, import the photos into the computers (which isn’t allowed on the shared computers). Also students would have to sign in every time they log into their blog (tumblr.com) and discussion platform (disqus.com) and I could go on and on. All in all a big hassle.
Enter the iPad… (my students all got 1:1 iPads this year and that gave us the power to blog easily)…I couldn’t have done it as effectively and seamlessly without this great mobile devices where students are logged into their accounts instantly, have their devices when they need them, can take photos and post them straight from the iPad and so on… It’s so easy and just works.
I wanted my students to blog because I had seen my students do fantastic projects over and over and put them straight into their binder when they finished and didn’t get a chance to display their work the way they deserved. I wanted them to connect and have an audience bigger than just their classmates and myself. I wanted them to think about what we did in school after school, discuss with their parents, maybe watch a video again they didn’t quite get or wanted to show their siblings or parents. I wanted them to learn how to give constructive criticism and learn how to receive compliments and constructive comments from others. Also to learn about internet safety and rules on what we share and what we say online. For that I used a video (among other things) from the Think before you post campaign.
I started by talking to the parents about the idea of blogging at a parent-teacher conference to build the foundation. Then I sent a (pretty long) e-mail to the parents explaining to them why I wanted to start blogging and what I believed it would do. I sent them further reading (for example this & this) and asked them to comment if they had any questions, concern or add-ons. Believe it or not…. all were aboard and excited (my students parents are probably the most awesome people ever). So on we went.
The next thing was to get all the parents to set up e-mail accounts for their kid. I thought this might be difficult…. but hey 2 weeks later, all my 8 year olds had their own e-mail accounts set up. I set up an individual account for every student on Tumblr and downloaded the Tumblr app on their iPads. Then I signed them all up on Disqus which is a great discussion site that Tumblr supports.
Then I made videos, which I posted on our class blog and sent via e-mail to the parents, about how to blog and how to comment (in Icelandic of course) so every student, parent and grandparent could be involved. Because you can’t expect parents to participate and help their child if they can’t help themselves.
When we got going the blog project went better than I ever imagined. My students wrote more, quiet students had a louder voice and expressed themselves more. Kids read more and were thinking about spelling and asking each other how to spell words. Kids that had a hard time writing recorded their answers or questions on Croak.it. There was more quality work being done and kids displayed their favorites on their blog. Parents were more involved & informed, grandparents were commenting. It was AWESOME.
It made it so much easier for me to track student progress as well because at parent-teacher conferences we’d just look at their online portfolios (blogs) and see their best work and how they’ve improved over a period of time. My students are even blogging and commenting during this summer. Sharing their experiences, writing, reading and recoding… I’M LOVIN’IT.
I believe every class should have a class blog… no question and no excuses.
If you have mobile devices or easy access to the computer lab, there is no question you should set up individual blogs for your students as well. It will make learning so much more fun. Try it. I promise you won’t regret it!
Ingvi Hrannar Ómarsson