I toyed with student blogging earlier this year, but I quickly got overwhelmed with grading and ended the experiment. However, with my students doing “Build-A-Unit” (a quarter where they propose, build, learn, and present information from a choice of “units”), I wanted a way for them to reflect, but to also practice real-world writing. So, I took another look at student blogs.
I already had an Edublogs account that was sitting there just waiting for students to use it, but I didn’t want to limit my students to one platform. I ended up giving them the choice of using Edublogs or WordPress.com. Edublogs has the advantage of giving them premium features (if they link up to my class). Wordpress has the advantage of portability after college (and not being linked to my class).
Before setting them loose in the wild world of websites and blogging, we did a little bit of foundation setting. We talked about smart posting, safety, key blog elements, and the difference between an essay and a blog post. I also gave them very particular guidelines for what I wanted them posting each week (I gave them a series of questions to answer).
To make checking and managing things easier, I created a Google Form and had each student put their blog’s URL, their real name, the name they were posting under (pseudonym), and their Build-A-Unit Area of Study.
Then I copied each blog’s URL and added it to my Feedly.com account (I created a special category for my students so they would all be grouped together). Each week when my students post, Feedly moves their blog to the top of the category list and tells me how many new posts they’ve created. This makes checking, grading, and managing super easy! I love Feedly!
I love that my students are getting to write “in the wild” and not in the enclosed environment of the class. Knowing that their parents or friends can read what they’re writing helps to create a desire to write a little better.
Because I’ve given them a lot of structure for posting, it’s helping them to think about organization. This is really good.
My students are learning a skill that they can use throughout their lives. This blog (especially if done on WordPress.com) can be transformed into a student portfolio if they want to add exemplary work to it. It could also be used to create their own personal “brand” to sell themselves to a college or a potential employer.
The Not-So-Good (and Changes I’ll Make Next Time)
I want my students to have a little more freedom in what they write and how they present it. I’m thinking about asking them to connect their learning to something they enjoy (like a sport or gaming or movie or something). You can read a little about my inspiration from the Re:Framed Project.
Starting so late in the year with these students meant that I didn’t get a change to look at good and bad blog design and really delve into the bits and pieces that make a blog really work (like widgets and style choices). In the future, I’d start sooner in the year and really spend some time on the basics. This is especially important if my students decide to keep the blog past the end of the school year. Some things I’d draw more attention to are the use of headers and changing the font face/style to create emphasis and help with organization, adding images and media (and giving credit) and why these are important, pull quotes and how they can be helpful, using widgets to pull in outside content and add a little “spice” to their blogs, and commenting.
Although I love WordPress as a platform, and I think it’s a great thing for students to learn, I may offer them other platforms (like Tumblr) as a blogging option. Yes, I know that Google offers Blogger, but more often than not, those sites end up looking so amateurish (I realize this is a gross generalization, but they’re not as easy for students to customize and make pretty – and pretty is important).
Overall, I really like student blogging. At my current school, we’re blessed to part of a larger, international network of schools, so I’m even playing with the idea of doing Quad Blogging. This would give them an even broader audience. Starting earlier in the year and giving students more flexibility and ownership will make the blogs even better, I hope.
I know blogging can seem intimidating and overwhelming to a lot of teachers, but in reality, it’s not. Sure, there’s some work involved up front, but once the students get started, it’s pretty cool to see things come together.
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Check Out a Couple of Student Blogs