Many teachers have started to experiment with blogs. For some, a blog is an electronic notebook -- one students can't lose (or claim the dog ate). For others, it's a forum where a class discussion can unfold 24/7. Either way, blogging can be a powerful educational tool. Suggestions for setting up a classroom blog follow. (Keep in mind that these ideas assume student access to computers and the Internet.)
Decide the Main Use for Your Blog
How you structure classroom blogs depends on their utility. Here are various approaches:
Classroom management: Use a blog to post assignments, handouts, and notices. You can also put up study notes and have students take turns summarizing what happened in school that day.
Learning journal: Patricia Harder, a seventh-grade teacher at Henley Middle School, in Crozet, Virginia, uses individual or small-group blogs as a place for students to "write reflectively" on what they learned from a particular assignment and how they might do better next time.
Online notebook: Limiting access to teacher and individual students only, you can use the blog as a way to track students' progress. Harder found using a blog this way particularly helpful when she suspected one of her students had a learning disability. "I went to the committee that evaluates students for learning disabilities and was able to present them with a record of the sentence structure my student had used," she explains.
Class discussion: Assign blogs to small groups, or set up a single blog for the whole class. You may post entries for discussion, or have individual students and guest bloggers post entries.
Personal expression: Give students individual blogs for posting whatever they want. This might seem like a recipe for disaster, but Konrad Glogowski, who teaches grades 7-9 at Fern Hill School, in Oakville, Ontario, Canada, and is the creator of the Blog of Proximal Development Web site, found this format to be a huge success. Inspired by an audience of their peers, his students posted poetry, journal entries, and reactions to articles they had read, as well as prolific comments on the blogs of fellow students.
Decide How to Grade Work
Use blogs to post homework for traditional evaluation. "An assignment might be, 'After discussing a short story in class, post an entry on your blog, commenting either on the class discussion or the story itself,'" Glogowski says. Although he does not grade the personal entries, he adds, they "help me assess a student's engagement and effort, which I might mention when conferencing with parents."
Set Up Your Blog(s)
At one of the free blog-hosting sites, such as Blogger, setting up a blog takes only a few minutes. Just follow the instructions (create an account, and choose a name and template). If you want to limit accessibility, list the email addresses of those allowed to see it. However, some schools have blocks on Internet access, so you may want to subscribe to a service such as Edublogs or Class Blogmeister, which have additional features.
Protect Your Students
If your classroom blog is publicly accessible, make sure students use first names only and do not provide personal identifying details. You will also have to set clear guidelines on what is appropriate regarding content and comments.
Bring the Blog into the Classroom
When Glogowski's students began blogging, their enthusiasm delighted him. Then he realized that what they were writing had little to do with their curriculum. "The question was, how could I help them channel that energy into academic work?" he asks. His solution: Discuss the blogs in class so students could understand that the confidence and creativity they showed in their blogs had a place in the classroom, too.
Helena Echlin is a freelance writer in San Francisco.
Constructing Constructiveness: A Sample Blogging Lesson Plan
Following is a suggested lesson plan teacher Konrad Glogowski created for eighth-grade students on constructive blogging procedures.
Grade level: Eight Subject: Language arts Lesson title: "Writing Constructive Comments in a Blogging Community."
To help students identify the main characteristics of a constructive blog response and allow them to compose such responses.
Student comments (short and constructive) posted in the classroom blogging community.
Procedure: Inquiry approach, Socratic approach, class discussion
The teacher will spark a discussion on blog responses by using specific, constructive, student-generated examples from the classroom blogging community. Using the Socratic method, the teacher will guide a discussion on what makes these comments helpful.
The teacher will also use short, congratulatory comments from the class blogosphere to initiate discussion about how these types of responses compare to other, more constructive, comments. The teacher will ask students who received mostly congratulatory comments to speak to the class about the effectiveness of these types of comments, and how this kind of feedback made them feel.
Checking for understanding, guided practice:
The teacher will instruct the students to write a short response to any student entry posted online. Students will then choose an entry and compose their responses directly online or in their notebooks. The teacher will circulate the classroom to observe and guide students.
What do you think of this lesson plan? Your (constructive) comments would be greatly appreciated!