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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

This year, I admitted a hard truth to myself. I wasn't having my students write enough. In an attempt to follow Kelly Gallagher’s advice that students should write more than we can assess, I decided to have them blog weekly.

One Assignment, Many Objectives

After giving students some practice and solidifying my ideas by talking to a colleague and past student, I developed this assignment. I tried to ensure that the assignment would:

  • Address multiple Common Core standards
  • Hold students accountable while minimizing stress
  • Be structured enough to provide clarity while giving freedom to experiment
  • Be varied enough to keep students engaged
  • Get students to write for multiple purposes

I introduced blogging to my juniors, reminding them to keep an open mind about this experiment (they could relate to that; I teach in a STEM school that focuses on life science and experimental research). We spent one period creating profiles and writing ungraded posts to get to know the interface. (Side note: students are allowed to make blogs private as long as they provide access to me. As far as I know, no one has chosen this option.) After that, I let them loose.

It. Is. Awesome.

Skill and Enthusiasm

First and foremost, student writing is improving by leaps and bounds. When I read their blogs (which, by the way, are mature, insightful, funny and engaging), I don't find myself pulling my hair out over the careless mistakes they make in formal papers. Not every post is perfect, but the majority are well written and free of grammar and usage issues that I am so familiar with seeing in their other work. If they become sloppy, all I need to do is politely comment about it on their blog, and I don't see it again.

Their improved skills transfer to formal work. Integrating quotations in literary papers has become simple now that we have so much practice with smoothly embedding hyperlinks. Additionally, student response to texts has improved; some of the posts they must write are based on stimulus texts of their choice. Once a student blogs about archetypes in Kim Possible, tackling Pride and Prejudice becomes that much easier.

Students' persuasive writing is improving, too. A mini-lesson and quick in-class prompt using rhetorical questions has resulted not only in well-argued blog posts, but also in students excitedly telling me how they used that technique for their HSPA persuasive task.

Benefits extend beyond the classroom. Introverted students tend to share more online than they do in person; blogging is an invaluable way for me to get to know them better as people and students. It's also great to see reserved students garnering attention from their peers. Furthermore, students understand the importance of hearing many voices. One recently noted that she enjoys the blogs because "[s]ome of the quieter folks during discussion can talk about their opinions too, so we finally get to hear them."

Less Agonizing Pain

It’s no secret that students value an authentic audience for their writing. One student enthusiastically posted on my class Facebook wall that his blog post turned his friend into a Dave Matthews Band fan. As the new fan says, it's "the power of the pen (or the keyboard in this case)"! Additionally, I post exemplars on a student showcase, and students are visibly proud when I ask for permission to share their work with a broader audience.

I surveyed students for feedback, and the majority of responses were favorable. Here are a few:

  • "[I]t forces me to write. I usually try to write a couple times a month on my own but that is pushed to the side when I have too much homework."
  • "It is a good way to have us write without it being formal or full of pressure. I also like the fact that I have control over what I write about, and that definitely makes the assignment easier."
  • (my personal favorite) "I don't like any assignments in general. However, I feel like the loose nature of the structure of the assignment makes it less agonizingly painful to do than most other assignments."

If making my homework "less agonizingly painful" than other assignments isn't a success, I don't know what is!

Of course, some students aren't enamored by blogging, expressing frustration with the class-related response (one of the required posts). I can understand their point, though I keep the assignment as written because I want to provide them with different levels of challenge. If the passion and free-choice posts are easy, the class-related responses should be more difficult. This reinforces the fact that writers need to have a broad repertoire when they encounter more challenging tasks.

I believe this assignment can be adapted to every grade and subject area. Encouraging students to blog about topics from other classes helps them see connections among subjects and realize that writing is a worthwhile skill in any field. As an added bonus, blogging addresses many of the Common Core literacy standards that most teachers now need to address.

Have you tried blogging in the classroom? Or will you? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Comments (48)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Ellen Kowalchu's picture

I think blogging is an ingenious method for engaging students in the art of writing. Although it is still important to be able to write a formal paper, blogging provides a happy medium that incorporates the draw of the Digital Age of abounding technology with a freedom to express one's voice via the clicks of a keyboard. I particularly like the fact that blogging helps liberate those students that lean on the introverted side of the personality scale. As an introvert that has slowly come out of her shell, I remember full and well the pain of group classroom discussion and the intimidation and even fear that oftentimes came with it. Blogging provides all students with an even playing field in which to openly express their ideas among their peers. Great idea for increasing classroom writing training!

Barbara SwansonDonahue-Hinkley's picture

I love the idea of blogging. I used kid blog briefly last year in my reading intervention class, as reinforcement of comprehension skills. This year I am teaching science and want to figure out how to use it. Whether it be in response to informational texts, or labs or just something "sci-ency" that they find on the internet??

C.S. Stone's picture
C.S. Stone
8th grade Science, Hammond, Indiana

I blogged a couple of years ago with 6th graders. It was great! Last year, I just used the LMS for discussion board responses, but I think I"ll be going back to blogging (we use My Big Campus which has a blog page embedded in each student's profile) so I can have students (I have 8th grade this year) work on more varied topics.

The reading and language arts teachers love how I integrate writing into my science classes and see the improvement overall in the students.

Barbara's picture
Barbara
Language Arts Teacher

Can you provide some examples of things your students have blogged about? Do you provide a prompt or a topic? Do you require a certain amount of writing? How do you grade the blogs?
Sorry for so many questions. I tried it once with my middle school students and didn't find it as productive as your program. I'd like to try it again, but think I need to set up a little more structure at the start.

Brian Sztabnik's picture
Brian Sztabnik
AP Literature teacher from Miller Place, NY
Blogger

Barbara,

I have blogged with great success with my hs English classes. I achieve this by flipping the classroom -- students read an independent book of substantial literary merit during the class period and then they blog about their reading experience at home. When I survey students at the end of the year, repeatedly, blogging is their favorite unit in the course.

As far as topics go, I encourage them to use their writing as a means of learning. By this I mean that the blog is their chance to think through the key literary concepts and developments of their novels. Students have freedom to write what they want and they have the ability to do it in their own voice. While they find this flexibility scary at first -- because they have always been told what to write about -- eventually they grow to love the absolute freedom it entails. They begin to realize that their thoughts -- not a prescribed topic's narrow confines -- are what matter. I can't begin to tell you what their does for a student's voice and intellectual confidence!

RachelSunshine's picture

I want to set up a classroom blog this year for my split class of 5/6 graders. Does anybody have experience with Edmodo? How would that be different than using KidBlog or similar site? Also, does anybody have experience with their students blogging with other students from a different state? I am interested in trying to set something up so my students will be able to discuss similar academic topics with other students from around the country. I really like the idea of implementing technology into the classroom and think it would be a great way to capitalize on many different learning opportunities for students.

Barbara SwansonDonahue-Hinkley's picture

my blog is still set up Kidblog-Ms.Hinkley's class- you should be able to read any of it, but not respond, only invited people can make comments, I gave a prompt but did not require a certain amount of a response, I wish I had, I did not grade, it was participation only, this was my first time to try it. This year I have 6th grade Science and not sure what I will do.

Brian Sztabnik's picture
Brian Sztabnik
AP Literature teacher from Miller Place, NY
Blogger

Rachel,
I am a high school English teacher that has used Edublogs with great success the past two years. It is free for students, although I pay about $7 a month to have complete control of their content as well as access to more advanced themes. While I have not had students blog with other students, I have had other English teachers from around the country read and comment on their blogs. I prefer the adult audience and like the maturity of voice and perspective an adult can provide for my students.

RachelSunshine's picture

Thank you Barbara, I appreciate your feedback. I see the many possibilities, it is just a matter of which way to approach it. I will take your advice and require a minimum response for participation points. Perhaps for science, your students can showcase an experiment they did, using the scientific method.

RachelSunshine's picture

Brian,
I actually just set up an Edublog the other day, I have not set up any of my students yet. I am still learning how to navigate around the site. I like the idea of having control of their content. I also like the idea of an adult audience, which is not something I thought of. I appreciate your feedback!

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