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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 (43)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Michelle Poulter's picture
Michelle Poulter
Pre-service Teacher

What a fabulous blog. As a pre-service teacher it is wonderful to read and see how blogging can benefit the students. I can't wait to implement blogging for my students when I start teaching.

Rachell Weiss's picture
Rachell Weiss
High School Science Teacher from Oak Grove, Missouri

A few of my kids chose a informational blog to show off their projects for my Mastery Level Lesson Plans and I shared them with the class via QR Codes - check it out here: http://tinyurl.com/cxx7ag2

GaryJohnston1's picture
GaryJohnston1
Grade 6 and 7 Science Teacher

I too have been blogging with my students for math and science tasks and I find it really fun. There is a huge divide on interest and quality and I've started to explore this a bit at:

http://teachingaheadofthecurve.blogspot.com/2013/02/6-tips-for-quality-s...

I think that teachers are very instrumental in getting readers to student's blogs. My sixth graders feel that the only readers that they get are other sixth graders in other science classes, so communities like Twitter and Edmodo are great for connecting to other teachers with "connectivist" goals. Will share more later!

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

Hi Gary,

Thanks for your comment! I love that you have your students blog math and science topics. I agree that it's largely up to us to find an audience for our students. I don't remember where, but once I heard of parents serving as "virtual volunteers," spending time reading/commenting on student blogs. I thought that was a great idea to help engage parents in the learning process and give students an opportunity to get a real sense of audience. I hope to try it soon!

Loved your post about quality blogs...I may steal some of your ideas if that's ok! :)

[quote]I too have been blogging with my students for math and science tasks and I find it really fun. There is a huge divide on interest and quality and I've started to explore this a bit at:

http://teachingaheadofthecurve.blogspot.com/2013/02/6-tips-for-quality-s... think that teachers are very instrumental in getting readers to student's blogs. My sixth graders feel that the only readers that they get are other sixth graders in other science classes, so communities like Twitter and Edmodo are great for connecting to other teachers with "connectivist" goals. Will share more later![/quote]

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

Hi Gary,

Thanks for your comment! I love that you have your students blog math and science topics. I agree that it's largely up to us to find an audience for our students. I don't remember where, but once I heard of parents serving as "virtual volunteers," spending time reading/commenting on student blogs. I thought that was a great idea to help engage parents in the learning process and give students an opportunity to get a real sense of audience. I hope to try it soon!

Loved your post about quality blogs...I may steal some of your ideas if that's ok! :)

[quote]I too have been blogging with my students for math and science tasks and I find it really fun. There is a huge divide on interest and quality and I've started to explore this a bit at:

http://teachingaheadofthecurve.blogspot.com/2013/02/6-tips-for-quality-s... think that teachers are very instrumental in getting readers to student's blogs. My sixth graders feel that the only readers that they get are other sixth graders in other science classes, so communities like Twitter and Edmodo are great for connecting to other teachers with "connectivist" goals. Will share more later![/quote]

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

[quote]A few of my kids chose a informational blog to show off their projects for my Mastery Level Lesson Plans and I shared them with the class via QR Codes - check it out here: http://tinyurl.com/cxx7ag2[/quote]

I LOVE LOVE LOVE the ideas of sharing student work with QR codes! What an awesome idea! I think I will steal it if that's ok with you. Your bulletin board looks great! :)

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?

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