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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

RebeccaB.'s picture

I like the idea of blogging to get hesitant students to "speak." I think that having a question posted on a blog would be more motivating than having the students answer a question using pencil and paper. The only worry I have is that some of my students are not capable of writing coherent sentences independently. I worry that they might experience some ridicule as a result.

Nel's picture

The idea of blogging is intriguing. I like the idea very much. It seems like it's an easy way to share ideas and get student feedback without the stress of feeling like I have to grade it for spelling etc. I think it's a good idea to allow the kids to post without worrying about "doing it wrong." Thanks for sharing your ideas!

Kevin Jarrett's picture
Kevin Jarrett
K-4 Technology Facilitator from Northfield, New Jersey
Facilitator 2014

Blogging, done well, has the potential to do three things:

1) Get students to write for pleasure
2) Prepare them for PARCC's online writing component
3) Improve keyboarding skills

Blogs are so easy to set up (I administer the WordPress blogging server at our school) and so easy to use (the gentle learning curve starts with teaching them how to comment) that teachers everywhere should be considering them even more than they have in the past.

This article does a fine job explaining the curricular connections and potential classroom/standards impact but it does not really explore the awesome power of helping students find their online voice. Many are already doing so in other places online. Why not as part of school, too?

Here, as I type this, I am writing and rewriting, reviewing the passage for ideas, entering text into a teeny little box with minimal (no!) formatting capability - exactly as you do on a blog, and exactly as they will on the PARCC test. See the connection?

All of this makes no sense however if it's "just another homework assignment" - kids have to be intrinsically motivated - and have permission to write about things they love. How else can you write for pleasure?

If we can pull that off, I'm convinced we'd see a corresponding increase in online writing ability, keyboarding skill, and PARCC test readiness.

Just my $0.02!

-kj-

Kevin Jarrett's picture
Kevin Jarrett
K-4 Technology Facilitator from Northfield, New Jersey
Facilitator 2014

[quote]The only worry I have is that some of my students are not capable of writing coherent sentences independently. I worry that they might experience some ridicule as a result.[/quote]

Set up a private blog that only you and your students see. Most decent blogging systems like Wordpress allow you to see everything before it's posted. Work with your kids to develop their online writing skills, coaching them, and finally encouraging them to comment on things publicly. They'll love the attention and the chance to shine for all the world to see!

Michelle Lampinen, NBCT's picture
Michelle Lampinen, NBCT
High school English teacher at Biotechnology High School in Freehold, NJ
Blogger 2014

Yes, absolutely! I may not have addressed it specifically here, but I definitely believe that the #1 reason their posts are so good is that they have quite a bit of choice in what they write about. Last year I gave them different types of posts, and they had to do a variety, but this year I backed off and pretty much gave them free reign. It's going really well for year two.

I also think that the less formal style of a blog is freeing for many students; when they learn that they don't have to adhere to a formula or formal tone, they take lots more risks and experiment to find their own style. For my students, that can sometimes take a while, as they are extremely grade driven. It takes them a while to figure out that I pretty much just give them full credit for their blog as long as they take it seriously and follow the basic instructions regarding logistics. But once they realize that their grade doesn't hang in the balance, they start getting bolder. It's so fun to watch!

Here are two of my favorites:
http://humansofbiotech.tumblr.com/
http://14strangers.wordpress.com/

I love seeing them use the assignment to come up with meaningful projects that enable them to find out who they are!

I hadn't thought about the connection to PARCC readiness...good point! Thanks for your thoughts. :)

Michelle Lampinen, NBCT's picture
Michelle Lampinen, NBCT
High school English teacher at Biotechnology High School in Freehold, NJ
Blogger 2014

I use kidblog with my freshmen (my juniors blog publicly), and I've never once had an issue with kids teaching each other for their writing. If anything, I find them super encouraging! And for the kids who do struggle the most, having a real audience motivates them to push their skills even more. Like Kevin said, you can start smaller and more privately- I make sure that I read and give specific feedback for posts before they start blogging for real. This helps set expectations and guide students to improve their skills.

Dan Callahan's picture
Dan Callahan
K-5 Instructional Technology Specialist, Edcamper, Graduate Professor

[quote]I like the idea of blogging to get hesitant students to "speak." I think that having a question posted on a blog would be more motivating than having the students answer a question using pencil and paper. The only worry I have is that some of my students are not capable of writing coherent sentences independently. I worry that they might experience some ridicule as a result.[/quote]
I think they key here is that blogging doesn't mean that you give up on the writing process that you'll assist your students with. There's going to be editing and revision as a part of the process, and that's going to include your help. You can review all student posts before they go public to help them put their best work forward.

Alternately, you could look at video or audio blogs as a way for students to share their ideas. Don't limit yourself to the typed word.

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Media teacher

Yes, blogging rocks the classroom! I saw many of the same benefits you mention. Next year I will add reflection writing to their blogging, giving them lots of opportunities to connect the work they do with the end results. I am grading their portfolios right now, and I can see that they need lots of practice with reflection writing. My hope is that time to write short reflections on their work during the year will help them become citizens who see the links between what they do and how it affects their (and others') lives. Thanks for sharing your blogging successes!

Betsy Hope's picture
Betsy Hope
8th grade English teacher

Hi Michelle,

Thank you so much for sharing your hard work! I am so excited to discover your blogging assignment because I have been hemming and hawing about how to set up a blogging program with my 8th graders in the fall. I will be lucky enough to have ChromeBooks in the classroom on a daily basis--a perfect opportunity to start blogging!

I have a few questions regarding structure and tools:

* The assignment states that students can choose to host their blog from various blogging sites. Did this present any issues? Would you recommend that 8th graders have more private blogs? I want them to have a highly-personalized digital space--something unattainable in GoogleSites.

* How did you set up a list of links to peer blogs?

* You talk about a dropbox for submitting blog posts--what did you use for a dropbox? Was it helpful?

* I will have ~70 students--is that too many blogs to manage? Any pieces of advice on how to manage that many blogs?

Thank you so much for all of these great resources! I have been stalking your internet presence--I am so impressed and inspired! I am starting my 2nd year teaching in the fall and I really want to step-up my technology game :)

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