Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Let Your Students Blog!


Let Your Students Blog!







by Deborah C. White


Yesterday's Guest Blogger, Patrick Larkin - Principal Burlington High School (MA) , wrote about the need for administrators to blog regularly and often in order to draw attention to the positive activities of the school, to communicate within and beyond the school community, and to foster dialogue among the stakeholders about the applications of best practices in learning. I am also going to talk about online writing but with two differences:

1) Using student blogs to teach and practice literacy skills,
2) Using those applications with elementary school students - specifically second graders.

Blogs provide students with authentic writing experiences and teachers with powerful tools to help students improve writing skills. Elementary school students can effectively use blogs to improve their literacy skills. These tools facilitate the learning of:
writing concisely,
editing,
revising,
writing for an authentic purpose,
writing for an authentic audience.
reading,
responding to the written word,
and how to provide effective feedback.

Yes, these skills can be taught without using blogs but learning how to use blogs and other online writing applications is equally important for today's students. Providing multiple opportunities for learning and practicing literacy skills in multiple formats allows students to generalize those skills across settings. And the gravy, the icing on the cake, the cherry on top, is that using online applications motivates and engages students. Motivated and engaged students will learn.

There are many blogging tools available for teachers to use with their students. Each one has its strengths and weaknesses. My current favorite is Kidblog.org. I learned about Kidblog via my personal/professional Twitter account. It is an extraordinarily easy and free tool to use. I set up the class account and the sub-accounts for each member of my class during snack time. The privacy settings are optional and complete. The support via email is timely, explicit, and patient.

In the 'olden days', I would not have published any student work on a blog (or any other way) unless it was edited to perfection. I would have insisted that my students correct what they could, copy what they didn't know yet, and produce 'final products'. On a blog or other application, that meant that I spent a lot of time typing. Eventually I asked myself, "How does this improve student learning?" The answer is obvious - it doesn't. Now, I only edit the student blog entry if it is especially difficult to read. In those cases, I don't touch the student's work, I merely rewrite the entry in conventional form underneath the student passage and publish my part in italics. When students are working within Kidblog, the infamous squiggly red line shows up under perceived misspelled words. That reminds my students that they need to take another close look at what they typed. Is it a misspelling or is it a word the program doesn't recognize like the name of our town - Orono? That little squiggly red line reminds students to stop and think and it's much more powerful than my reminders because it is unfailingly consistent. Student blog entries encourage revision as readers comment and ask questions about each piece. Class discussions revolve around readers' responses. Students comment on each others work. Entries become more detailed as students respond to comments.
Since the entries are dated, students, teachers, and parents can look at writing development over time. The student blog becomes an assessment tool to measure written communication skills, comprehension across the curriculum, and appropriate online social skills.

Using online applications to practice literacy skills is an effective technology integration method.
Kidblog is easy enough that even digital immigrants (aka teachers) have no excuse not to try it with their students. Let your students blog! Let yourself blog, too!


Deborah C. White is amazed at her good fortune to have been chosen to be a guest blogger for this great resource.. She is currently a 2nd grade classroom teacher at the
Asa C. Adams School in Orono, Maine. She is also the 2009 ACTEM Educator of the Year, K-5 Tech Lead, and Student Council Advisor. Formerly, she was a 1st and 2nd grade looping teacher, multiage teacher, and Museum Educator. She is an advocate for the use of Open Source tools and wants folks to think about attending FOSSed 2010. Her Twitter name is: debwhite and she can be found online at:
http://kidblog.org/room8isgreat/student-blogs/
http://sites.google.com/site/makingtheenvelopebigger/home
http://classblogmeister.com/blog.php?blogger_id=223065&blog_id=&listclass=26752
http://www.asa-adams.u87.k12.me.us/
http://learningwithlinux.blogspot.com/