Blogs have the potential to expand student creativity, not to mention their writing skills. Language Arts and Reading specialists will love that, right? But how do I convince them that their students are thirsty for the knowledge they want to share but not the same way that they themselves obtained it? These kids are 21st century students and are adapting to a digital world that they are eager to learn from.
Fortunately for teachers, blogs are surprisingly easy to use. They require minimum technical knowledge and are quickly and easily created and maintained. Students will be able to pick up how to use blogging platforms with minimal technical assistance and teachers will enjoy the ease in the initial setup. Unlike many traditional Web sites, blogs are flexible in design and can be changed relatively easily. Best of all, students and teachers will find them convenient and accessible via any computer or mobile device.
Educators need to teach important materials in several ways because each one of our students learns differently. What’s more, we also need to provide students with multiple ways to engage with assignments, based on their individual talents. Blogging is one technique for doing so, as it can allow a quieter student, for example, to feel heard online. Those shy and quiet students feel less pressure when they need to “speak” in their blog or when giving peer feedback, as they are discussing the text on their own terms. Additionally, this journaling format works great with read-and-write learners as well as visual learners.
Blogging gives students an opportunity to become published authors and showcase their writing skills. In addition, blogs give students the ability to improve communication and collaboration through the commenting feature. Peer review and feedback become an invaluable part of the writing process. Students from other parts of the world can also comment and provide a new cultural perspective to our own students’ thoughts and opinions. Students’ writing skills are vastly improved through the blogging process, since they have to work harder to hold the readers’ attention. To do that, every word, phrase, sentence, and even punctuation mark must add something to the posting.
With the availability of blog apps, blogging has become very simple and accessible to our students. They can blog from anywhere about anything whenever they are in the mood to reflect. They are not tied down to a desk and feel more free using this writing media. Also, in the age where every person has a camera in their pocket, we have become a society that journals through photography and video. Along with other multimedia artifacts, blogs become more engaging and almost interactive for the readers.
When used as an in-class assignment, blogs can keep your students on task and focused. The more blogs students post, the more opportunities they have for others to comment on their blog. It’s an exciting feeling for students to see proof of someone reading their published work, taking time to reflect on it, and posting their opinion or question. Creating a classroom blog instead of individual blogs fosters an online community for your students to extend the classroom beyond the 4 walls. The learning continues wherever they go and their thoughts and conversations keep going. Blogging is a great tool to create student portfolios, as it can be used both as a “learning portfolio” and a “showcase portfolio”.
Look for popular classroom blogging apps that have been tested in classrooms and made simple even for early elementary students. Blogger is a Google app and is completely free. It is easy and simple to use if you have a Google account you can set up your blog in minutes from a computer or mobile device. Edublogs lets you easily create and manage student and teacher blogs, customize designs and include videos, photos and podcasts. Kidblog provides teachers with the tools to help students publish writing safely online. Students exercise digital citizenship within a secure classroom blogging space and teachers can monitor all student activity. Other great options include WordPress, Weebly, and Tumblr (for photoblogs).
If you’re beginning with a class rather than an individual blog, you’ll be responsible for those initial posts, while the students will respond in comments. As students demonstrate both keenness and responsibility, give them more freedom where they earn the right to write posts on the class blog and/or get their own student blog. You can start with Sentence Starters like “Today was the best day ever…” Image-based prompts that can also be incorporated into daily and/or creative writing activities whether they are pictures you took or random ones from a web site or app. You can also invite students to create prompts for the class and use these prompts whenever possible.
Providing detailed explanations of an assignment using a rubric can help students in both completing tasks and thinking about their performance. Be sure to include expectations for the first post as well as for commenting on another student’s post.
The audience makes the work matter to students as they have an opportunity to showcase their writing and respond to real feedback. Initially, the teacher and classroom peers are the major audience that provide the feedback. However, you may want to consider sharing the blog details with parents through the school website and newsletters to grow the audience to family members and other parents. This can have unexpected practical use. For instance, if a student is writing a piece on the topic of technology and one of the parents in the classroom is an engineer, that student may be eager to produce quality work to get real feedback — and they may find themselves a great interview source, too.
Tight, concise, easy-to-read pieces are ideal for most online readers. Long, complex, convoluted ones are just confusing. Very often, the longer a piece is, the less the writer holds a reader’s interest — all the more so on small screens. As such, your students would do well to get right to the point — a skill they’ll find valuable as they continue up the academic ladder
Educators know that students write better when they have a real audience. But with blogging any student can write for the world to see. Students have an authentic audience for their writing and that has an impact on the quality of their posts and comments. Encouraging students to blog about all sorts of topics helps them see connections among subjects and different aspects of their life and realize that writing is a worthwhile skill in any field.
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Editor’s note: This is an update to Hanna Shekter’s original post on this subject, which first ran on January 5th, 2013. A lot has changed since then, so we invited Hanna back to update her wonderful tips.