Blog Along With Me: The New Classroom Literacy
If you’re an English teacher, chances are you have used literary journals in your classroom. Maybe you have your students respond to journal prompts as a warm-up activity, or use notebooks for reader response after finishing a story or a chapter from a novel.
The literary journal is a fantastic teaching and learning tool, but it can also be a pain in the rear for a teacher to grade. Even if you only have one class using journals, you still have to try to balance 30 notebooks on your desk while you’re grading - or worse, lug those things home with you at night. Then, of course, there’s the problem of storage – if I used literary journals with all of my students, I would have to find room to house 150 notebooks in my classroom. Most of us just don’t have that kind of cabinet space.
What’s the solution to this problem? Take your literary journals to the next level. Integrate technology into your classroom by having your students create blogs instead of notebooks. Storage problems? Solved! Grading? Online! Classroom technology incorporation? Done!
Blogging is a skill that will teach your students several things at once. First, of course, they will learn the English content you want them to understand as a result of completing the assignments you give them. This hasn't changed from the traditional notebook format. In addition to those skills, your students will learn other valuable lessons from blogging. They will become familiar with web publishing; you can teach them all about writer's voice, and presenting themselves to the public through the forum of the Internet. They will learn about using tags and categories for their writing, which they can use in other fields as well. Additionally, if you ask your students to comment on the blogs of other students, they will learn about providing valuable feedback and Internet etiquette. They will need these skills if they ever take an online class (which, chances are, they will). Blogging has as many valuable qualities as journals do, but without all the paper. So what are you waiting for?
Before you jump into the world of classroom blogging, consider a few things:
How will your students use their blogs? Personal writing or academic responses to text?
How often will you want your students to add to blogs? Every day? Once a week? Once a quarter?
What kind of computer and Internet access do you have during class? Do you teach in a computer lab or have regular access to one?
What kind of computer and Internet access do your students have at home? How difficult would it be for them to get online outside of school?
Do you want students’ blogs to be something that only you view, or do you want them to be shared between students?
Come up with answers to these questions, and you’re on your way to designing a classroom blogging program that will fit your needs.
Blog Types and Usage
If you want your students to write personal items in their blogs, such as journal responses or creative writing, then you probably want to set them up a password protection on their blog account (this will ensure that no one without a password can read their blog). Then, of course, they’ll have to tell you what that password is. If you choose this option, remember that other students in the class will not be able to read their classmates’ blogs. Personally, I’d have them write less personal things so that the blogs can be shared among classmates.
If you use your blog for literary response, this can be a great tool. You can provide writing assignments and a time frame, and ask your students to post their responses online. Then, you can even make a requirement that every student in the class visit and comment on the blogs of at least two classmates. In order to accomplish this, you will need to provide the class with a list of web addresses for the class blogs.
You need to consider the access your students will have to blogging technology before you require them to make one. I have been very lucky that in my classrooms, I have always had several computers--this is the bonus you get for agreeing to be the Yearbook Adviser. So I could give my students time to work on Internet-based assignments during class without changing our routine at all.
If you are not as lucky as I have been, then consider your options. Can you take your students to a computer lab once per week to work on blogging? How about a portable laptop cart to bring into your classroom every week? Most schools offer regular computer access, so you can make blogging work. Even if you have to use this tool only once per month, it can still be a valuable skill for your students to learn.
You also need to think about how much Internet access your students have outside of school. If you can only get to a computer lab once per week or once per month, what will you do for the students who are absent on the day you have scheduled your computer time? Do most of your students have regular Internet access at home? How are the public library facilities in your area? The fact is, however, that most students do have a way to access the Internet.
Before you use blogs, you will need to spend a little time teaching students how to set them up. I recommend using a computer lab with an LCD projector set-up, so you can demonstrate how to sign up for and create a blog and have your students work together to build their blogs as they go.
Decide which format you will use for your classroom blogs. You should have all students use the same blog creation site, to avoid confusion. This way, you can show them how to create their blogs all at one time, and they will all do it the same way. Also, if a new student joins your class late in the year, you can create a “how-to” document to guide them through the process individually.
Show your students the web site and have them work with you, step by step, to create a blog. You may even want to use one student in each class for a “guinea pig,” and have that person create his or her blog on the projector screen as the rest of the class follows along on individual computers. You can also create your own blog and use that one for the example. Allow students to choose their own blog title, URL, and background decorations; but provide guidance so that they know you expect their blogs to be entirely school-appropriate.
When you finish your demonstration and all students have created a blog, you can pass around a sheet of paper and have them write down their blog’s URLs for you so you will be ready to grade, when the time comes. You may need to repeat this process using the projector when students are ready to create their first blog post, as they may be unfamiliar with the process of doing that.
Evaluation and Assessment
The best part about using blogging in the classroom is that it will be very easy for you to grade. You can set up a folder in your Internet web browsing “Favorites” for each of your classes, with links to individual student blogs. Now you don’t have to carry home notebooks or pile them up on your desk; your computer is all you need to assess your students’ journal work.
If you decide to use blogging in your classroom, you need to set up a grading policy for it the same way you would for any other assignment. Start with the system you used to evaluate journals in the past, and modernize it a little. Include in your requirements the following information:
How long do you want each blog post to be?
What type of content are you looking for – casual or formal? Personal or academic?
Will you require them to put feedback on other students’ blogs? How will you check to see that they have done it?
How long will they have to complete each assignment? How long will they have to comment on other students’ work?
Will you grade them on the appearance of their blog (uploading photos, design, etc.) or just the content?
Using a rubric would be a good place to start. That way, the grading will be fast for you and the students will know what to expect.
You will need to choose a forum for setting up your classroom blogs. Here are a few examples:
Class Blogmeister - This site is specifically dedicated to classroom blogs. You will need to have a school account before you can create a teacher account; however, signing up is free.
WordPress, Blogger, and LiveJournal - These are all public sites where your students can set up blogs. Choosing one is a matter of your personal taste and comfort level. Just remember that it will be easier for everyone if you require all of your students to create blogs using the same site, whichever you choose.