Ever Feel Daunted by the Thought of Trying Blogging with Your Students?

Where It All Began

I still remember my first introduction to blogging when I read about it during a grad. class a few years ago.  It sounded intriguing.  But where to begin?  It’s one thing for a textbook or website to define blogging and point you toward some recommended blogging platforms, but it’s a whole other animal to figure out how to make blogging work for your students in school, let alone how to teach it to them.

So my research began.  Surely someone out there has put together a great introduction to blogging with students I can use.  (Nope!  Not that I found anyway.  If you run across any great resources, please share them with me as I am always looking to improve what I have to work with.)  Instead, I found myself locating sites about blogging, blogging platforms, and those of some teachers who have incorporated blogging in their instruction.  Each site had something valuable to offer, but they weren’t housed in one place or in a way that would really help me to introduce blogging to my students.

Instructing My Students

Blogging Page
My Blogging Page in Mr. Meckley’s Classroom

All of this led to the creation of a blogging section of my classroom website.  I use this to introduce the blogging experience to my students.  Feel free to use it with your students if it suits your needs or to use it as a starting point the way I did with so many other sources. As you can see, it includes an introduction to blogging, then talks about how to make a quality post, commenting skills, blogging safety, my blogging rules, how to deal with trolls, and finally provides information about Kin Blog.  Kin Blog is a new blog I am working to establish that provides the family members of our class with an opportunity to fully participate in our blogging community.

Blogging Platforms

I use Kidblog for virtually all of the blogging my students do.  It’s easy to set up and to manage, but most importantly it has a lot of features to keep blogging safe for my students.  You have complete control over who can view or comment on the blogs so they can be just for your class, or you can share them with other classes, parents, or the world at large.  The features built into this platform also enable you to approve posts and comments before they appear to others if you wish.  Although Kidblog comes with a lot of neat features for customizing the appearance and contents of individual posts, the downside is that the appearance of the site itself can’t be altered to a large extent.  There are a variety of themes available, but the basic structure is the same regardless of the theme selected.

For these reasons, I prefer WordPress for my other blogging needs.  Wordpress is highly customizable and very professional looking by comparison.  There are so many options to choose from that it can meet almost any need.  On the other hand, all of the possibilities make setting up and running a WordPress blog a bit more daunting.  The good news is that you can really keep it simple if you wish.  Themes can be used with only minimal customizations and you can be blogging for free in a matter of minutes.  They also offer a lot of assistance to folks who want to learn more about their platform.  In addition to using it to run my own blogs, I am working on setting up a student newspaper for next year on WordPress.  I believe it will meet our expectations and am hopeful that we will be able to share access to it with our student writers, though that is the one part I’m still working on.  You should also know that there are many other choices available for running blogs.  Feel free to explore your options, but Kidblog and WordPress remain my blogging platforms of choice.

So, Now You Have a Blog.  What’s Next?

Why I Dislike Emoji Post
My Voice Blog Post by Caleb

Without a doubt, this is the aspect of blogging with students I find the most challenging.  How can you make blogs a valuable part of the work you do with kids, especially with all of the testing mania still driving educational decisions today?  As I described in my previous post, Student Blogs – Exhilarating & Slightly Terrifying, my most popular use of blogs has been to provide students with an opportunity to write about topics of personal interest on the My Voice Blog.  I was taken aback by the enthusiasm so many students displayed for writing their blog posts.  While not every student chose to participate, it was honestly a struggle to get many of them to spend time on their other academic work because they wanted to blog.

Along with our My Voice Blog, I maintained separate blogs for the Orange and Green Groups which focused on academic assignments.  I used these primarily for social studies and science.  The directions for these blogs vary, but they generally require my students to describe a learning experience we had and their reaction to it.  While I like a lot of the enthusiasm and creativity involved in many of the posts, my concern is that in many ways they tend to be very repetitive.  They do a fabulous job of showcasing the work my students do, but I am still looking for a way to make them more than what they are.  I’m not even sure of more what exactly.  I just know that I would like them to be more individualized, less repetitive, and to make them likely to spark more conversations through comments the way our My Voice Blog does.  Suggestions regarding quality blogging assignments are most welcome.

I should also mention that for next year I am looking to streamline the blogs I am running.  I plan to maintain the My Voice Blog, but I am working with my partner teacher to run one academic blog that we will share for all of our students.  This should save set up time for us and reduce the hassle for our kids who will no longer need to switch between so many different blogs.  Categories and tags can be used to easily separate out the work we are asking them to perform.

My Inspiration

While there were many sites I explored as I set out to learn about blogging with my students, there were three educators in particular whose work greatly shaped my thinking.

Linda Yollis, a third grade teacher, has blogged with her students for a number of years now.  She provides links to information about blogging with students along with a very positive take on blogging in school.

Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano runs a blog, Langwitches, containing a lot of posts relating to the subject you may find helpful.  While she currently works as a consultant and coach, she formerly served as a world language teacher and as a technology integration facilitator, along with a number of other positions.

Pernille Ripp now teaches seventh grade English and is a major advocate for blogging along with other aspects of education she is passionate about.

Student Blogs – Exhilarating & Slightly Terrifying

BACKGROUND

Although I dabbled with blogs a bit in the past, they have really taken off with the changes I made this year.  The key to this transformation has been providing students with a blog where they can write about whatever interests them, as long as it is school appropriate of course.  You should also know that we are very fortunate in two ways.  We have a period at the end of the day in which the students are expected to work on both math and ELA (English Language Arts), and our school began a one-to-one iPad initiative this year.  This combination provides us with both the means and the time to vastly expand our work with blogging.

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THE EXHILARATING

What has astounded me the most is watching the students at work on the blog.  Many of them read the blog instead of an SSR book whenever they have a spare moment, and an astonishing number of students spend the vast majority of the time they have available working on creating new posts and commenting on others.  It is actually getting to the point where I may have to limit the opportunities students have to work on their blogs because they are ignoring opportunities to study in favor of writing.  The synergy in the work produced is amazing as one post or comment leads to the next, or inspires the writing efforts of readers.

An unexpected benefit is the insight the blog provides into the lives of my students.  I have never been a teacher who has devoted a lot of time to personal conversations with students, and while I will occasionally pick up on things they may be interested in, the blogs have opened up a whole new world in this regard.  It is fascinating to be able to get a glimpse into what my students find interesting and exciting.  This makes it so much easier to remember the wonderful individuality of each child and what makes each of them special, when it is so easy to simply label them as students while I focus on my work.  Finally,  for me this experience has been a lot like watching The Voice on NBC.  While watching the show I have been exposed to a lot of different kinds of music I wouldn’t have encountered on my own because in many cases it isn’t what I might hear on the radio stations I listen to, but I find myself enjoying that in many cases.  Similarly, I am discovering things I never knew about by reading the posts and comments and by discussing them with the students.

THE SLIGHTLY TERRIFYING

Without a doubt, the scariest thing about the blog is not knowing what students are going to say.  This week marks the second time this year we have taken time out to review the posts and comments students have authored, both the good and the bad, in light of our blogging guidelines.  Earlier this year the primary focus of the discussion was getting the students to put more effort into posts so that they were more detailed.

This time the issues are a little more serious, but the posts and comments have also improved tremendously in many ways at the same time.  Sixth graders will to some extent be sixth graders, and I wasn’t properly prepared to deal with the darker side of blogging that cropped up.  Most of this was simply students trying to be funny.  Unfortunately, sometimes they don’t know exactly where to draw the line with humor and feelings get hurt.  In a few instances, some of the posts and comments went beyond humor and showed a tendency to target a student or ridicule their ideas.  While it didn’t reach a level I would regard as cyberbullying, it does need to be halted and energies need to be redirected into more positive expressions.

After doing some additional research I added a new page on the blogging section of my website about trolls.  We reviewed comments and posts and talked about how they contribute to our blogging community in positive and negative ways.  I was extremely proud of my students during these discussions.  In both of my classes I had students who quickly made the connection and pointed out that some of what people think is funny takes away from the serious work others are doing and might also make them feel bad. Next we took a look at the information I found about trolls and how to deal with them.  I am hopeful that this will lead to another quantum improvement in our blogging, though I am also concerned that the serious nature of our discussion may slow the enthusiasm students have demonstrated for our blog.  This will be a telling experience for finding out what the students are really getting out of the blogging experience and whether or not they are willing to exhibit the same level of interest and dedication without the silliness.  Especially since the scariest part is still to come.  I have recently been working with our administration regarding opening up our blog for public viewing and in order to allow my students’ relatives to comment on our blog and possibly even post on a blog of their own which our students would then be able to comment on.