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

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.

Ms. Trust's picture
Ms. Trust
Ph.D. Student in Education (Teaching & Learning)

I love the blog assignment document that you created. It's so well organized and easy to use. Excellent idea with blogging with a buddy/group as well. I look forward to hearing how this assignment turns out!

Andrew Bauer's picture
Andrew Bauer
High school English teacher from Kansas

The biggest issue our school would have would be security and choosing the right platform for blogging. Do you have any suggestions for what would work best? We use Google Docs as a district but our administration currently has the blog application blocked.

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

[quote]The biggest issue our school would have would be security and choosing the right platform for blogging. Do you have any suggestions for what would work best? We use Google Docs as a district but our administration currently has the blog application blocked.[/quote]

I'm glad you asked this question; I had more information about this in my original post but cut it because I was way over my word count. :)

Our district moved to Google Apps this year as well, so blogger is what I chose to use. I liked the "official" feel of having the students post from their school accounts. I can see how that would pose a problem if your district blocks the blogging feature. Perhaps talk to them and see if they'll open it up? Otherwise you could check out kidblog.org or ning. I haven't used either but have heard good things about both. Your kids can then blog privately, and I think there's some sort of newsfeed or notification system so you can see when your students post.

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

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

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

[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! :)

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