I spent some time over the summer brainstorming ways to incorporate blogging in my classroom. After a bit of goal setting and planning, I’m excited to share that we’ve made great progress this week! To get the most bang for our buck, I’ve decided to teach my students about reflective blogging. Teaching students to reflect and process their learning while also setting their own learning goals is a great way to increase student agency.
I recently read an excerpt from Larissa Pahomov’s book, Authentic Learning in the Digital Age: Engaging Students Through Inquiry. It explained that relevant student reflection must be metacognitive, applicable, and shared. I’ve incorporated Pahomov’s example guiding questions to teach my students metacognitive reflection. I think this will help my students to slow down and actually process their learning, rather than simply complete their work. Their reflections will be applicable because we will reflect each week, rather than only at the end of grading periods, so students will have the opportunity to think about their learning, set goals, and make changes. Finally, student reflections will be shared through student blogs.
This week we explored how a blogging community interacts and communicates. I was inspired by the work that this teacher is doing with her class and followed her example of first practicing with “paper blogs” and post-it comments. We practiced reflecting on our learning and commenting on peer writing. By the end of the week, our classroom was abuzz with excitement and conversation as students published their first blog posts and began commenting with their peers. They took ownership and named their blogs things like Blog Boy, Learning Like a Boss, and Student Power.
Online communities are great for connecting individuals with similar interests who otherwise would not have met. They are also a wonderful way to build classroom community. I was amazed this week as I read through student blogs. My learners were open and vulnerable in their initial posts in ways that they wouldn’t have been in a typical classroom conversation, sharing about struggles that they faced this week and how they wanted to improve next time. Even better, the comments that their friends made built up our learning community! One of my students had a particularly rough morning and chose to blog about it. Her classmates were so positive and supportive in their comments that she left her disappointment behind and had a terrific afternoon. That’s the power of a great community!
My students took a great deal of pride in their writing when their blogs were published for their peers to read. They were motivated to create interesting content because their peers are serving as an authentic audience. They were so excited to hear that we would be blogging each week because they found a sense of purpose in the work I was asking them to do. They took ownership of their work and wanted it to be their very best.
One of the greatest benefits for using online blogging is that my struggling writers can use Google Read and Write to create interesting writing and respond to their peers. They are not left out of our community due to difficulties they might face when writing with paper and pencil. Technology gives all my learners full access to our class blogs.
Blogging allows open conversations to start between students allowing every student to have a voice. During a typical classroom sharing activity, students usually would only have time to share with one or two friends. With a blog, though, students aren’t limited in that way. They can comment anytime and anywhere, extending student voice beyond our face-to-face interactions.
Avoiding Possible Issues
Most blogging sites are blocked by our filter for a good reason. Both privacy and safety are major concerns when young students participate in an online community. While my fourth graders are learning digital citizenship concepts, we need a safe space to put our learning into practice. For these reasons, I’ve created a sheltered blogging experience for my students using Google Docs. Our class homepage acts as a directory, linking each student’s blog, so that our writing is easily shared within our safe environment.
In order for students to benefit fully from participating in an online learning community, they must learn the purpose for online commenting. Rather than simply commenting “Me too!” or giving shout outs to friends, online commenting can allow students to engage the writer through connections and questions. In order to avoid shallow comments, I’ve taught a series of lessons building upon our peer-feedback skills. We first explored examples of real blogs and their comments and then practiced making strong comments in response to student projects published on our learning hub.
Static vs. Dynamic Environment
I really want engaged learners in our online community. It would be so disappointing for students to lose interest in blogging because they feel like no one is reading or commenting on their blog. For this reason, I’ve taught my students the playground analogy that I read about on Dean Shareski’s blog. He teaches students that in order to make a friend, you must first be a friend. In other words, if students want their peers to read and comment on their blog, they must also read and comment on other blogs. This can lead to a dynamic online environment in which student comments build upon each other, ensuring that every student can remain engaged and connected.
For the rest of this grading period, I plan to take time each week to teach mini lessons about blogging and self reflection while also applying digital citizenship principles that we have learned. My main goals with this project are to foster a love for writing, deeply process learning tasks while and develop a positive classroom community. I think we are off to a great start!