According to Wikipedia, as of February 16, 2014, Tumbler had around 172 million registered blogs, and WordPress had 75.8 million blogs in existence worldwide. These are only two of many blogging platforms available around the world, so you we can only imagine the true number of blogs being published on the Internet each day. A blog, short for web log, is basically a website updated periodically by the author that shares information, a person’s interests, or…well, anything really. Updates to the blog are called posts, and they’re arranged on the site in reverse chronological order. Blogs are powerful tools because they allow for discussion and collaboration through commenting features. Most blogging platforms will also allow you to add collaborators in order to create a shared knowledge base.
As many teachers are discovering around the world, blogging is not just for people looking to share what they know, it’s also a great tool for motivating students to write and for enhancing a student’s writing abilities. According to Alison Sawmiller, author of the 2010 article “Classroom Blogging: What is the Role in Science Learning?”, blogging has many benefits for students including giving the “silent student” a voice by providing a medium where they are not interrupted or talked over, encouraging critical thinking by requiring students to actively think about and reflect on what they’re learning in class, and allowing for differentiation of writing assignments.
As with any implementation of technology, the focus should be on sound pedagogical practices, not the technology itself, and this is true for blogging as well. Our students already know how to use the technology tools, they’re just not familiar with how it can change their learning and their understanding. That’s where we, as teachers, come in. “Well, what, Lauren, can I get my students to accomplish through blogging?” I’m so glad you asked!
The first thing we need to do is to make our learning activities and writing prompts are authentic and meaningful. If our students can’t connect what they’re learning and doing to their real life, we’ve already lost them. Allowing our students to become invested in what they’re writing by providing them with an opportunity to share what’s meaningful to them, we’re creating in them an interest and motivation to do more and learn more. Next, we need to give them a real-world audience…other than you, Mom, and Dad. Publishing a blog to the Internet does that! Share your students’ blogs with colleagues at other schools. Get them to share the blogs with colleagues in other states and countries even. Encourage those readers to comment by posting feedback and asking probing questions. As soon as your students know that they’re writing to a broader audience, they’ll begin to pay more attention to spelling and grammar. You’ll also begin to witness them experiment with developing their own voice as an author. Eventually, through consistent and structured blogging, you’ll notice a shift from self-centered writing to audience-centered writing. They’ll remember a comment and tie it in to a new post, or let a conversation spark an idea for a new topic. Everyday experiences now become spring boards for new posts, your students actually become excited about writing, and you’ll see their abilities begin to bloom. Encourage your students to take risks, explore using humor, and share their own opinions, not just the facts that they’re learning.
What are some ways to get your feet wet without diving into the deep end of blogging? Start by creating a class blog rather than having all of your students blog individually. Post questions about a book you all are reading, an experiment you’re conducting, or where students are using the math they’re learning in the classroom in the real world. Have your students blog by commenting on your questions and responding to other students’ comments. Just get the conversation started!
Reciprocal teaching is a great instructional strategy to use with blogging! Mainly used as a guided reading strategy in elementary school, students follow a series of activities before, during, and after reading. A different student is responsible for each step in the series. The activities are 1.) Questioning, 2.) Clarifying, 3.) Summarizing, and 4.) Predicting. Why not designate students to blog specifically about one of the processes above. It doesn’t even have to be about a book you’re reading. You could use the four steps of Reciprocal Teaching with any subject area! That gives your students a leadership role in the classroom by making them responsible for consulting the class before making their post. Also, classmates will be responding to their (the student’s) posts, not just the teacher’s, which will also give them a sense of importance and purpose.
My point in writing this post (other than the fact it’s a grad school assignment 🙂 ) is to get you to think about blogging as something other than just students jotting down their thoughts of the day. Get them involved in research, give them a specific purpose, and give them an authentic audience. If you’re strategically planning your blogging activities/projects, students will be able to learn about giving credit to other people’s work through citations and linking, they will be able to develop their own voice as an author, they’ll begin to understand what it means to write for a broader audience, and they’ll hopefully begin to understand the power of communicating to a global audience. When blogging, students are utilizing skills such as critical thinking, questioning, working with others, providing constructive feedback through commenting, and (hopefully) proofreading. So give it a try. Below I’ve linked to some easy-to-use blogging tools that will help you get started. Please consider leaving a comment below if you’re already blogging with your students, if you use a different tool than one listed below, or if you have any questions about how to get started!