Saturday, July 20, 2013

Of course my students are blogging...

Photo Credit: Jen Roberts
Let me see, I'd like to find a way to get my students writing more, about authentic topics, for a real audience; something that would let them document their learning over time, a place they could showcase their work, leave each other comments, and even interact with others interested in the same topic. Perhaps this could also be something that might represent them well on the internet? What would do that? Well, probably not a series of pieces of notebook paper turned into me.

Why do I teach my students about blogging? Why not?

I've done a variety of different blogging projects with students over the years. The first was probably in 2000 or 2001, when I set up a single web page for my 7th grade class on our school server. The idea was to have a different student everyday write an entry at the top of the page about our class that day. I didn't even know this was a blog. I told the computer lab teacher about it and she said, "Oh yeah, that's a web log or a blog." It had none of the features of a blog today, not comments, no archive, and most likely no actual audience.

By 2006 I had moved to a high school and started a blog for my class with Blogger (still my platform of choice). It was just a weekly recap of what we had been doing in class that week and I was the only author. In the spring of 2008 my classroom went 1:1 and I was ready to try a blogging project with students, but there were so many students. I found a way to break it down.

For our last unit of the year we did a blogging project about issues facing the world. Students generated a list of the typical pressing issues, global warming, terrorism, water shortages etc. I asked each student to list their top three issues of interest and then used their interest cards to group them into teams. Each team started a blog about their topic and added posts as they did their research. It worked pretty well. By using group blogs I had fewer blogs to keep up with. Students collaborated well and went much deeper than ever before into the research on their topics. But the year ended all too soon.

Photo Credit: Jen Roberts
In the 2012-2013 school year a few things came together in a good way. My curriculum team agreed to do an "Expert Project". Each student would develop a research question to become an expert about and I suggested they could keep blogs to track their learning. This was the end of short term blogging projects and the beginning of a year long, sustained, effort. Blogging their research about their chosen topic was not a magic bullet that suddenly made all my students care about writing. Most of them didn't get any amazing reactions from the wider internet audience.  They did however, find out that a sustained effort builds a body of work, that looking back on what you wrote months ago could show how your thinking has changed, that searching for your topic might mean finding your own blog in the results.

I wish I had great stories to tell about miraculous things that happened because my students are blogging. Perhaps that will come in time. But, I also don't have any horror stories about bad things that happened either. I get my students blogging because it's a great and purposeful way of getting them writing. I hope blogging might be something that will help them in the future. I know that experience writing about their research and their thinking is something that they will need, so why not do some of it on a blog.

Now please excuse me while I go write this out on notebook paper, so I can give it to my teacher.