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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Digital Discussion: Take Your Class to the Internet

How to set up a blog in your classroom.
By Helena Echlin
Credit: Mystic Aquarium
This is a multipart article. Go to the beginning.

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.
 

Comments (60)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Joshua Hanke's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

There is a great new product out that allows students to communicate through blogs, wiki's, and other forms of social networking in a safe controlled environment. Check out RM Honeycomb!

V.Steele's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think you have great ideas for the art class - the prompts, having student critiques. I suggest you also post a rubric or outline for how to do the critiques so there's a standard too (judge/analyze/interpret/judge) I think you could have them individually post their work throughout the semester or year for their portfolio-- and then also all of them could "jury" all the works to make a class
portfolio. The best work, juried by everyone, would be in the 'final' class one. I have had my high school students put their work up online at www.coroflot.com. There are many free portfolio sites. This is for professionals and I think it is a good place. There can be no private info in their profile for safety etc. I get parent permission, give parents access, tell the students I have access to their password until the class is over and then they can change it if they want to keep their work there. It is a great way to get them to take their work seriously and create a well done portfolio. I give them the parameters of what is needed for each slide -- listing dimensions, media, title, name, and to write "copyright 2008 V. Steele" (with their names) and to show a detail shot of each work as well.

V.Steele's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think you have great ideas for the art class - the prompts, having student critiques. I suggest you also post a rubric or outline for how to do the critiques so there's a standard too (judge/analyze/interpret/judge) I think you could have them individually post their work throughout the semester or year for their portfolio-- and then also all of them could "jury" all the works to make a class
portfolio. The best work, juried by everyone, would be in the 'final' class one. I have had my high school students put their work up online at www.coroflot.com. There are many free portfolio sites. This is for professionals and I think it is a good place. There can be no private info in their profile for safety etc. I get parent permission, give parents access, tell the students I have access to their password until the class is over and then they can change it if they want to keep their work there. It is a great way to get them to take their work seriously and create a well done portfolio. I give them the parameters of what is needed for each slide -- listing dimensions, media, title, name, and to write "copyright 2008 V. Steele" (with their names) and to show a detail shot of each work as well.

Jennifer Conrad's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think that starting a blog with my class is a great way to get my students actively writing. I have some reservations though. I teach students in primary grades (1-3), and I want to make sure that they are protected from harmful comments. I also teach in a low income area where a lot of my students do not have a computer at home. If they do have a computer, they don't have internet access. Would blogging be an effective tool if only used within the classroom? What other options are out there? If you have any advise I would love to hear it!

Tian's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I like one of your other users use pbwiki with my sophomore Biology classes. It's a great tool for them! They post ejournals ( lab reports submitted electronically). I have nothing in my hands to bring home to grade except for the occasional workhseet which seems to keep it's relevance. The wiki allows my students to submit alternative assignments like projects. This also allows them to complete some surfing on the internet and use these to incorporate them into their projects. I also remind them about plaigarism and to look at each website to determine if it is a reputable reference to use for their project.
I also like using Blackboard with my uplevel students. Universities use this method as a teleport to posting grades, using discussion boards, post assignments and notes, and announcements. What I also like about Blackboard is that there is a digital blackboard that allows the student to submit ejournals. Students cannot see other student work which makes it less tempting to cheat.

Robert Zingg's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am intrigued by the blog concept. The possibilities seem to be varied and widely applicable to many teaching situations and classes.

My wife, also a teacher, recently set up a blog for several home schooled kids from our church to tutor in algebra. It took a bit of learning on her part to set it up, but it has started to pay off and the kids involved have started to show improvement and are actively participating in her program.

Rob Zingg

LaTonya Beacham's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This just happens to be my first time blogging and while reading some of the blogs several thoughts ran through my mind. Is this appropriate for first grade? What if they don't have access to a computer at home? Then I ran across your blog which just happened to be thinking the same thing. I'm curious to know how I can effectively use blogging in a first grade classroom. Looking for suggestions. I guess I'll be learning about bloggin as well as my students.

LaTonya Beacham's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I totally agree with each point you mentioned. I am or was the quiet kid in the class that never interacted with the classroom discussions. However, with the new technology it seems that kids that feel the way I did can now get involved and express themselves without being ridiculed. I have a 22 year old daughter and a 17 year old daughter. It bothered me at first with all of their texting, facebook, and my space. I couldn't understand why they just couldn't call and talk on the phone. Well, I guess it's a new age thing. Like you said, with proper monitoring this could be an awesome classroom addition.

Megale's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am taking "baby steps" to create a blog for my Literature classes. I am somewhat technically-intimidated, so this article was both helpful and encouraging. I've been unsure about how to use blogging in class, so I particularly value the section on structure. Blogger is a website that has been recommended, but I'll check out the other sites mentioned. Thanks for the information!!

Qualionna's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello, I can't understand how to add your blog in my rss reader
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