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

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Kamisah McFadden's picture
Kamisah McFadden
OCS Teacher

Thank you for posting your blog. I have been contenplating about doing the same with my OCS students. I did subscribe to Teen Tribune and put all my students in but I have not intoduced them to it yet. I like it because they read articles of their choice and respond to it. Im able to go in and read it. From reading your blog I think this will be a good way to get my students into not only reading, but writing as well since both are challenges for my students.

Deborah Owen's picture
Deborah Owen
High School Library Teacher in Massachusetts

Thank you for writing this post. I have been part of a literacy book group this year, studying Doug Buehl's, "Developing Readers in the Academic Disciplines" and it has been eye-opening. One of the things that he discusses is how we read through a particular "lens" based on how we self-identify. What your assignment does is give the students permission to self-identify and then write about their interests. Not only that, but it validates their personal interests, which in turn, boosts their intrinsic motivation to learn. I am definitely passing this on to my colleagues.

Also, if anyone is interested, I have posted about some of these issues in my blog, Convergence In the Commons. I have a post about honoring student interests through inquiry, and here is one about reading lenses: http://convergenceinthecommons.com/2013/03/14/reading-lenses/ .

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

Hi Deborah,
Thanks for your comment! You are so right that motivation increases when students write about their own interests. I try to give them some level of choice even when doing more formal assignments. I get much less resistance when every detail of the topic is not prescribed for them.

Thanks also for the link to your blog; I'll check it out!

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

Hi Kamisah,
Thanks for your comment! I'm glad this has given you a push to get your kids blogging; they'll love it! It does force them to really look closely at any text, written or visual. My kids tend to do a lot of their text-based responses on YouTube videos and TV shows; I love seeing them analyze videos they are passionate about!

Boon Yih Mah's picture
Boon Yih Mah
University lecturer from Malaysia

Hi. Thanks for posting this informative article and I am totally agree with your points. I have devoted my time and effort to designing, developing, and investigating the pedagogical as well as commercial potentials of blog, and its acceptance in different demographic contexts. My research on blogs is not only to bring awareness to, but also to cultivate the interest of blogging for both instructors and learners in order to maximize language teaching and learning capacities.

To sum up, based on my previous studies as shown in the links below, blogs are perceived to be more useful rather than easy-to-use for online journal writing among Malaysian undergraduates with and without hands-on experience. The same findings also appear in Malaysian university diploma students, who have been exposed to using blogs for journal writing and CV writing in different studies.

Related Links:
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/234113543_Writing_web_logs_in_t...

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/234113544_Bringing_blogs_into_E...

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/234113548_Developing_a_mobile_c...

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/234113530_Publishing_curriculum...

Besides, I have created a Facebook page entitled "Web-based Cognitive Writing Instruction" to promote the use of blog as the instructional platform in ELT. Welcome to my page at https://www.facebook.com/WebbasedCognitiveWritingInstruction

William J. Grischow's picture
William J. Grischow
8th grade science teacher from Ohio

Thank you for the post. I am relatively new at blogging myself but I already can see the advantages of participating in them, and I do think my students can benefit from an activity like this. I will make sure to pass the word on to other teachers in my school that are not aware. I think this is great for the students because they have an audience, and because they know that, they will try their best and pay attention to detail while posting.

BeenSchooled's picture

Thanks so much for taking the time to share this. Would you mind writing a bit on how you graded so many blogs? Sounds like most of it was informal and an opportunity to learn as opposed to assess. Is that right?
Thanks!

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

[quote]Thanks so much for taking the time to share this. Would you mind writing a bit on how you graded so many blogs? Sounds like most of it was informal and an opportunity to learn as opposed to assess. Is that right?

Thanks![/quote]

Thank you for your comment! You are correct in that this is a more informal assignment, and grading is much more lax on student blogs than it is for formal assignments like literary analysis and research papers.

Each post is worth 10 points (a formal writing assignment is typically worth 100 points, so blog posts are only worth 1/10 of one formal paper).

Students have a list of everything they need to do in order to get full credit (the majority of them are 10/10, though I do take a point off here and there for grammar or not following instructions).

This is what I have written on the assignment sheet for them:

You will get full credit if your posts:
are written in your own personal style/voice
are engaging
are informative, persuasive, and/or reflective (depending on type of post)
are well organized
are free of grammatical/typographical errors (compositional risks are an exception)
are formatted according to the directions (compositional risks are an exception)
include smoothly-embedded links
include the acronym for type of post in each post's title or tag

Additionally, I take 1 point off for lateness, and they get a 0/10 if they do not post.

I like this system because it's manageable for me, it gives them freedom to experiment and not worry about being "perfect," and even if they lose a point or skip a post, it doesn't affect their grade too severely. They get plenty of comments and rubric-driven grades on work that is more summative in nature, so I don't mind having this assignment built in to add some freedom for them. As you mentioned in your comment, this helps them focus on the learning rather than the grade.

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

[quote]Thanks so much for taking the time to share this. Would you mind writing a bit on how you graded so many blogs? Sounds like most of it was informal and an opportunity to learn as opposed to assess. Is that right?

Thanks![/quote]

Thank you for your comment! You are correct in that this is a more informal assignment, and grading is much more lax on student blogs than it is for formal assignments like literary analysis and research papers.

Each post is worth 10 points (a formal writing assignment is typically worth 100 points, so blog posts are only worth 1/10 of one formal paper).

Students have a list of everything they need to do in order to get full credit (the majority of them are 10/10, though I do take a point off here and there for grammar or not following instructions).

This is what I have written on the assignment sheet for them:

You will get full credit if your posts:
are written in your own personal style/voice
are engaging
are informative, persuasive, and/or reflective (depending on type of post)
are well organized
are free of grammatical/typographical errors (compositional risks are an exception)
are formatted according to the directions (compositional risks are an exception)
include smoothly-embedded links
include the acronym for type of post in each post's title or tag

Additionally, I take 1 point off for lateness, and they get a 0/10 if they do not post.

I like this system because it's manageable for me, it gives them freedom to experiment and not worry about being "perfect," and even if they lose a point or skip a post, it doesn't affect their grade too severely. They get plenty of comments and rubric-driven grades on work that is more summative in nature, so I don't mind having this assignment built in to add some freedom for them. As you mentioned in your comment, this helps them focus on the learning rather than the grade.

Libby Joekel's picture

Love this post! As an education major, I just created a lesson plan incorporating blogging into the class cirriculum. I would love to know more about how it went for you. I wish to have my future students create their own blogs. I agree that it relieves so much pressure that formal writing places on students. It's important to help students enjoy, or even just tolerate writing as so much in college and beyond is focused on some sort of writing.

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