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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

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Caroline Morris's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach 6th grade computer technology in Decatur, Alabama at a low-performing high-poverty school. I use an e-mail system in my class called Gaggle. Students receive daily e-mails from me on their assignments. They are also able to post blogs and comment on mine. It is free "safe e-mail for students" with easy set-up. The only downfall is the advertisements which can become annoying. You can pay to have the service ad-free, but I've simply taught my kids about the ad banners and they know to avoid them.

Try it at www.gaggle.net

Barbara Richman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I had a terrific experience creating a "Colonial Blog" for my 7th graders. Students chose identities of an imaginary colonial American. They wrote entries about their experience in pre-Revolutionary War days. Using a pseudonym liberated some students to be very creative without worrying about being judged. Of course, I, as the teacher knew who was who, so I could assess individual progress. It's important to keep the blog community small so that students can get to know individual characters, so I assigned students randomly to their blog community. Students were expected to keep passwords secret. I used the "i-note" feature of my e-board so it really wasn't a true blog, but access could be limited to only those in my classes who knew how to get in.

George Shimer's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am new to blogging and I actually found this article by surfing. I like the idea of your GAGGLE to be able to communicate with parents on a daily basis. I hope to give it a try. Thanks.

George

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I would like to start a blog for my students where they can share internet resources for research on assignments. Has this been done? What was the response? Any other Media Center blog suggestions would be helpful.

Margaret's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think blogging for education is an excellent idea. It's great to hear of students being guided on how to write constructive comments online too! As it turns out, the more media literate the youth are, the smarter they become and they become more active participants in our society. Learning to share their organized thoughts as well as to provide feedback to others is such a great skill. The lesson plan is great and I'll try using it or a version of it in one of my after school sessions.

Here's a link for a study proving that media literacy, such as blogging, can create more educated youth with higher test scores among other benefits:
http://www.justthink.org/about/meal-release

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Allowing my students to blog is an interesting idea that really caught my eye! Using technology is a huge motivational tool at my school. My students are very interested in myspace and putting things about themselves on the internet...this is very scary for me because I teach them about being safe on the internet but I have no control over their internet use at home..I had not thought of creating a "safe place" at school in which they could express themselves, use technology, and apply the curriculum to an assignment they see as fun. I will definately have to visit www.gaggle.net and get more information. Thank you for the GREAT IDEA!

~Amy

Lisa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think this is a great idea. I am also thinking of introducing this idea to my school district administrators. Our inititive to support teachers in differentiation in the classroom may benefit from this idea. Teachers could follow these same guidelines to discuss, find ideas, and ask questions about things that are happening in their classroom.

Aaron Wiens's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Currently, I use Blackboard with my students, an online discussion board, to post ELA responses and products. I have been quite interested in venturing into blogs, but I have run into problems because our students do not have individual email accounts. Do any of the sites mentioned above allow students full access without an email address? Thank you.

Bonnie Swanson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am presently in a Web 2.0 class and exploring the world of blogs and wikis. I love the possibilites it can bring into a classroom, but due to the age group I teach, 3rd grade special education, I wonder about its usefulness as a tool. After all they are just beginning at keyboarding and writing is in its preliminary stages. If you (the writer) or anyone else has any suggestions, I would love to hear them.

Bonnie

Jim R. Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Bonnie -

As a former Grade Three teacher in a rural elementary school, I hear your voice clearly...

As I talk about in my Spiral Notebook post here it is critically important to balance the technical tool with a developmental or educational need. So... what if you took a topic that you are studying in Grade 3 - be it regions of the US, countries around the world, biomes, etc. - and then used a blog as a place to pull together all of the students' evidence of learning. In other words, you, the teacher, can build a collection of their published writing online.

Now you are, of course, going to treat confidentiality seriously, but what a great chance to discuss this important 21st century skill openly and with purpose! And the best part is that your kids will be writing for a real audience - not only family at home but also relatives who live in another city or state will be able to share in the excitement of seeing their niece or nephew's work online!

It gives lots of reasons to "get it right" and work harder to be the best writer one can be.

I would think a blog could also be a great place for you to post information and resources for your students. Look closely at the ideas given in the column above, and then scale them to your kids... Use the ideas to get inspired, use your experience to make the real... To get more ideas I would head here.

This tool will give your kids a chance to be involved as players in the online world. As far as making use of them, think evlutionary steps, not revolutionary... Start small, real small. The most important step, just as in your students' progress, is the first step! Good luck!

Jim

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