Facebook
Edutopia on Facebook
Twitter
Edutopia on Twitter
Google+
Edutopia on Google+
Pinterest
Edutopia on Pinterest Follow Me on Pinterest
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 (49)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Simon Reigh's picture
Simon Reigh
Director of Faculty, and teacher of Philosophy

I have been using blogs with my sixth form students for a few years now. The most significant reason why I think this is valuable is that I can give them instant feedback on their understanding of topics we have just covered. They blog in class and I walk around reading the posts as they write them. Mistakes in their understanding are corrected immediately rather than with essays they write at home. I can't teach without them! Check out a presentation I gave to colleagues about using blogs in teaching:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/60433164/Blogs-in-Teaching

Elektra Sipars's picture
Elektra Sipars
11 AP EnlglishTeacher High Tech High School North Bergen NJ

I heard Weebly was a good blogging site for security reasons. I have not checked to see if it is blocked by my school yet or not but does anyone know anything about it? I have wanted to start this with my students next year and am looking for the best way to go about it and my school does not use Google Apps.
Elektra

kosterberg123's picture
kosterberg123
I teach at the Writing Lab at Mineral Area College in Park Hills, MO.

I'm a grad student working on an MA in Educational Technology, and this sounds like a wonderful approach to blended learning. It seems almost too good to be true, though. What pitfalls and problems (if any) did you run into getting the blogs up and running? Do you have recommendations of potential snags to anticipate?

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

Thanks for your comment! I didn't really have too many technical issues in getting the blogs set up. We use Google Apps, so it was just a matter of taking students to the computer lab and walking them through the registration process on blogger.com (they used their school accounts for this). The biggest issue in the beginning was that 2/3 of one class had to miss class for NHS induction practice on the day I reviewed the assignment sheet. However, I screencasted class that day and posted a link to me reviewing the assignment. I got a lot of questions from students who missed class, but it was because they hadn't watched the video or read the assignment sheet on their own time.
The biggest issue was students forgetting to do their posts each week; for some reason, a few of them had a mental block about the blogs and just forgot to post, despite the fact that all of the due dates were in the assignment sheet and on my homework blog. I'm sure this was also due to the fact that sometimes I'd forget to remind them in class or on the white board. My goal is to be better at reminding them next year. Sometimes students wrote their posts and forgot to publish them, so they didn't realize they were late. That was unfortunate, but because I accounted for it in the written instructions, I didn't give too much leeway there. The good thing is that once they did it once, they never did it again!
Other snags could certainly be tech related...all of my students have some way to access the Internet and write their blogs, but I know that is not the case everywhere. I strongly recommend reviewing the assignment and doing the first post or two in class, so access to a computer lab could also be an issue.
Other than that, I didn't have too many problems with the process. Of course not all students loved the assignment, but that'll be the case with anything they're required to do just by the nature of the fact that they have to do it. Giving as much freedom with topic choices seemed to help with this.

Laurie Goodale's picture
Laurie Goodale
5th grade teacher

I have not tried blogging but I am anxious to see how blogging will impact student learning and well I will be able to implement 21st learning standards into the classroom.

kelly-ann bell's picture
kelly-ann bell
literacy teachering in trainig

I believe in the integration of technology in the classroom, because we are now living in the 21st century "the digital age".in order for us to get to our students we must use what interests our students or what is current since they are more concerned about those entities. I believe that technology adds to the learning experience and hence the learning experience, thus creating a more pleasurable learning environment .I like this approach for teaching Literacy and English Language even though I am a teacher in training I can see the benefits of the approach.
When it comes to English writing is an important aspect of acquiring competence. I support your point which states. Student will write and express themselves more on a blog rather than putting pen to paper. My reasons are that ,because the average student spends a lot of time on the computer it has some what become a comfort zone for them, Hence the environment is pleasurable and in their area of interest. I particularly find this approach will be more effective with our boys and male students since they tend to be manipulative learners, so this will definitely appeal to them. Whatever gets our young men participating in class activity we should do to ensure that they are not left behind!
Another good thing about the blog is that the teacher has access to the student's blog which can be used for assessment or evaluation.eg I taught my class subject verb agreement, but after reading several blogs from my students ,I notice that most of my students made errors in this area. It could serve to inform me that I might need to reteach this topic; in addition to that the blog allows the teacher to give feed back to the students. This is also good for meeting students were they are, and for teachers to capitalize on the teachable moments. In the standard classroom setting there is not much time for individual attention, but a blog can be useful to teachers for interacting and understanding each student weaknesses and strengths, as it relates to English and Literacy.

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

Agreed! Blogging definitely helps to meet students in the middle and help them thrive in their comfort zone. I also love that the skills transfer to their more formal and academic assignments, and over time, they become more comfortable with writing in general. I try to be sure to have a good balance between blogging and academic writing so they have a good variety and learn to write in a variety of contexts.

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

I'm so excited about this! I love blogging, and it is a great way to help students exercise their writing muscles in a more informal way, more frequently. With publication on the web, they can learn about everything from audience to digital citizenship.
Part of the problem my own kids seem to struggle with, with writing, is so much is proscribed, it gives them little freedom to really find their voice- instead, they are writing predictable, run of the mill essays that have to be as boring to read as they are to write. Loosening up the boundaries give kids a better chance at expression, and learning to like, if not love, writing.

Sign in and Join the Discussion! Not a member? Register to join the discussion.