Don’t you love the ‘Sound of Music’ teacher memes? Julie Andrews, arms flung open, embracing the beauty of the Alps, making us chuckle at the absurdities of a teacher’s life? Well, that was me, eyes sparkling, arms stretched to embrace the wonders of student blogging. I may even have been singing a little as I stood by the SMART Board waxing lyrical about blogging to my 10th and 11th grade English class students. Not only did I tell them about the benefits of blogging for writers, I showed them.
My students, children of the internet, live on Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram. However, these grade 10 and 11 students had limited opportunities for online academic experiences. Our school system is making efforts to have students engage in technology for learning but there is a gap. So when the 10th graders come to me it seems that the most they had done, by way of technology based learning, was to conduct some internet based research and type the resulting essays using a word processing program. They would leave these essays on the desk and hope that they would never have to do another research paper again . . . until the next time they were presented a research assignment. What a dismal writing cycle!
Digital classroom annex
Getting down to the business of teaching, I utilized the interactive board to display blogs and students would evaluate the writing. Over several sessions, we discussed the writer-audience connection. One student signed up, demonstrating each step of the very simple process. Then, I shared the join codes, sat back, tired but ecstatic and braced myself for the onslaught of student signups. Six o’clock – maybe they had not reached home yet; nine o’clock – little activity; the next day – only 3 or 4 model students. And my friend and fellow classroom-blogging-novice experienced the same. We were disheartened.
We had committed to utilizing blogs in our classes and once we realized what was happening, we met to work out ways to get our students to take their first tentative steps towards digital authorship. We were determined that our students should experience the benefits of blogging.
We created a ‘digital classroom annex’, in which using the blog had measurable benefits for students. The blog site provided access to:
- ‘Inside information’ – We posted every document that could assist their quest for academic success; rubrics, grade weightings , etc. (Bonus: significantly less copying of class sets of documents)
- Organizational and time-management assistance – We posted detailed outlines that listed daily topics and activities, quiz and test dates and due dates for key assignments.
- Supplemental material – We posted links to helpful supplemental material and embedded YouTube videos in our blogs.
- Sample essays – We posted exemplars for the more tricky types of writing that our students encounter, summary examples and simple reports.
But our blogs were simply too teacher centered. They were mostly us. There was little digital evidence that our students even existed!
How could we facilitate a student-centered, digital writing environment, a place where student writers flourished? For the 11th graders – a blog writing competition: students posted their short stories on the blog and their classmates commented on and voted for the best narrative. At first, only the best writers were brave enough to participate and everyone was cautioned that their comments should be made in the spirit of helpfulness (the teacher approval feature on Kidblog was especially helpful). And then, a few more students posted. Soon, more than half of the class had posted and more than three-fourths of them had commented. These were the 11th graders’ baby steps in to the world of blogging. The benefits? Audience interactions and the winner got a slice of cake.
The grade 10 students, had been grouped for literature circles, each group member having a specific role. The blog was a way to compile all of their creative interactions with their assigned texts; illustrations, newsletters, vocabulary games and more. As I listened in on their group discussions, I realized they had moved beyond limiting themselves to written content and were contemplating the aesthetics of their blog submissions. They were aware that the audience was larger than just one teacher and they wanted to impress. To encourage online interaction with this class, I offered extra credit points for those who commented on the work posted by groups other than their own. Students began interacting with one another and I saw my students small, hesitant steps into blogging become more bold. This was progress.
Read the final article in this series: