How Should My Students Approach Blogging?

For about seven years now, I’ve had students use blogs in my classroom. At first, I social studies blogs and one class blog. However, I noticed that students in my class quit blogging when they left. I also noticed that the blogs looked nothing like the blogs I write or read. They weren’t authentic. They were mostly just a social studies journal project plopped online.

So, I decided to go with a blended approach:

  • Personal Learning Blog: This becomes their portfolio, their resource, their space to reflect on what their learning. This is a place for an ongoing dialogue between the student, the class and the teacher. It is, in this sense, semi-private. Note: In accordance with FERPA, I don’t “grade” anything here. That’s done on Google Docs and e-mail. This type of blog is more academic in nature.
  • Individual Public Blog: This is more like the kind of blog I would typically read or write. This is where students choose the topics, write, add personal podcasts or post their photography and artwork. Over time, these blogs typically become themed, though not necessarily on purpose.
  • Blogging Co-Op: Students work in small groups to blog about a particular topic or interest (an art blog, a social justice blog, a skateboarding blog). It becomes a mini-community.
  • Class Blog: This is a place where we showcase our work, where we put finished products and where we engage in class discussions that are also open to the public.

I got some interesting push-back on this idea when I brought it up on Twitter. People suggested having students write one blog and then do tags for different topics and concepts. Others said that students most likely wouldn’t continue to blog on their own anyway and that multiple blogs become confusing for students and teachers. However, my process continues to evolve.

If you enjoyed this post and your curious about this topic, feel free to consider the following:

 

John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.

More about John

31 responses

  1. I'm thinking through the same thing. I failed miserably with my class blog last year and it's one of the commitments that I want to make this year to increase my focus on it. I think I'm going to encourage my students to have a personal blog for their process posts, reflections, journals, projects, etc.–a learning portfolio if you will. I'm not sure if I'll make this a "requirement" or not, but I'll subscribe to these in my RSS. The class blog will be more of a showcase piece as you describe. As I find things that I want to amplify, I'll suggest the student polish/revise it for the class blog. Does that make sense?

    1. In our class, the blog will be sort-of a "hub" for learning. It's where they'll post videos, write posts, add podcasts, etc. So, on some level, it will be a requirement. That's why I thought about keeping the two separate blog types.

      Maybe I'll give them three models:

      1. An all-around semi-private blog that is both personal and academic and then they can still post on our class blog.
      2. A personal learning blog, a public blog and the class blog.
      3. A personal learning blog, a group blog and the class blog.
      4. A topic-based group blog, a personal learning blog, a personal public blog and the class blog.

    2. I think offering personal choice like this has merit.

  2. Hi John. Congrats on getting your students to blog! It's important.

    My students contribute to a public class blog and have their own blogs as well, much like the approach you've proposed at the end of this post. However, we don't make anything "semi-private", rather, everything is open. Students have a "showcase" page for their best work, and, most importantly, they have a Google Site ePortfolio which I encourage them to use across all their classes through graduation.

    Openness is what the web is about, and I've found that when my students know the audience is public, they take their blogging more seriously. We create a culture of respect around blogging, and give each other useful feedback. This way, students benefit from many readers, and the conversations make the ongoing posts richer.

    Good luck designing your blogging protocols. I'll be interested to hear what you decide.

    Cheers.

    Mike
    @MikeGwaltney

    1. I keep things semi-private for a few reasons:

      1. Many of my students are undocumented and this is Arizona. It makes things a little complicated for them. I wish they could feel the freedom to be open.

      2. Walls have their place. I want students to have private discourse on topics we talk about and I want students to feel free to ask me questions openly. If it's entirely public, they get a little shy.

      I still keep a public class blog and that tends to work well for showcasing their work.

    2. We are also planning on using Google Sites to build student portfolios. One advantage they have is that you can have different privacy settings for different pages (I don't know if other blog sites have this?). Then your students could have many options but all in one place. You also could have a class blog on top of that if you wanted too.

    3. I love Google Sites, but my students just didn't get into them as a portfolio platform. Wondering what I could do to make them more accessible somehow.

  3. This is a great post about classroom blogging. I am also approaching blogging this year with a blended approach. Students will have their individual, public blogs, and I will host a classroom blog on our classroom website where stand-out student posts will be featured. I don't intend to grade student blogs either, but am unsure about how to keep reluctant bloggers motivated to keep sharing their thoughts.

    1. I never grade blogs. That's been the fun of the academic blogs. They get feedback without grades. It's a place for a conversation. I'm just confused about whether I should try and get them to become bloggers (if that makes any sense).

  4. Thanks for clarifying what you do with your classes.

    This year I experimented with my students writing blog entries as means to respond to their Scoop.it! online magazine articles, with their responses then imbedded back into their magazines. I controlled the email addresses and sign-up process and the blogs themselves, giving each student an online "nickname" as a means to "get around" FIPPA. BC law, if followed literally, does not allow student information to be housed in servers in the US. I really liked the assignment as a means to engage students in something relevant while meeting course outcomes, but managing the names, emails, passwords, etc. for the whole class was a big nuisance and might be a deal-breaker for others.

    If you are not subject to these legal constraints, or you are working on a district-wide solution (next for us), I think blogging is the way to go. I like the idea of introducing students to these various form of information sharing, and getting them away from publishing on paper whenever possible.

    I think its important to stay streamlined, and having just two choices, a class blog to share themes, and a personal blog as a form of e-portfolio, is a clear division for students. The management still needs to stay under control though, doesn't it? If you had more tips around passwords and identity protection, I would like to hear about that.

    1. I've been blogging with students for about seven years (mentioned in the post) and I'm not subject to any of those constraints. Fortunately, they're really cool with letting me use the tools I want to use.

  5. Here is my recommendation: http://www.ryanbretag.com/blog/?p=3127

    It is important to remember how long it takes to develop a space, so establishing one blog horizontally and vertically for the length of time in your school provides that opportunity.

    1. Interesting concept. I've been having students use Blogger for awhile now. I think the big question is whether it should be one blog or two and whether there is a place for blog collectives.

  6. Thanks for posting your thinking on student blogging here, John. I began writing my comment in response, but after realizing I had more to say than I first thought (and that what I had to say fit in well within the context what I was thinking/blogging about), I posted my response to your post on my blog here.

    1. I enjoyed your response and posted my thoughts there.

    2. Thanks John, it was pretty cool reading them. I agree that blogging is a powerful platform, and I'm also thinking that your blogging co-op sounds interesting. I'd like to more about that. One of my colleagues in the Writing Project, Dr. Cindy Urbanski, saw my post in response to you, and this blog in responsewrote to my response post. We're still talking about the conversation on blogging with respect to making it authentic, sustainable, and in the context of the clasroom. I'm sure we'll keep blogging about it, and will keep you in the loop via twitter. Peace!

  7. The first thought that came to my mind was sustainability on the part of your students. The first approach has them maintaining, to some level, four different blogs. The second approach has them maintaining 2.

    How often would you expect them to post to each blog? Will they be able to maintain the work load of doing this on top of their other work? Also, will you be able to objectively hold in your mind that it's just not something that all of them will want to do?

    It's a great idea and I love incorporating regular blogging into my English courses, as long as it is scalable to my students' needs.

    1. The first one really doesn't require them to blog in group blogs or the class blogs. I would be the one posting to the class blogs. So, really, they would have two blogs that they post to (a learning blog and a personal blog – either in a group or individual format). The second approach would be one blog. I've found that it is easier to post the blogs myself on our class blog than to have students post it and mess with unsaved drafts, confusion on what day to post, etc.

    2. I really like your point that maybe some kids may just not be bloggers long-term and maybe that's okay.

  8. I keep thinking about the term "personal learning". Whenever I write, it's almost inherent that there will be reflections on what I've learned whether I intend it or not. I think the idea of having a cohesive place to look back on everything written is a learning experience that is pretty intense.

    1. I love that perspective, especially coming from a true writer like yourself. It is deeply personal and there is always learning.

  9. This is one of those instances where I have to step back and say…hmmm, what is the real question being asked. In your post you mention the lack of continuity or sustainability of student blogging after students leave class. Then you go on to suggest ways to monitor or manage blogs in the classroom. What is your desired outcome? A manageable blogging project or students writing beyond your classroom? Unfortunately, I think these are two very separate questions, because it sounds like you get your students blogging in school, but the desire/motivation to do so disappears after school is out.

    Here are a few things to consider:

    1. I have had several students, including my own daughter, lament how teachers take cool technology (blogs, podcasting, even Angry Birds) and make them "lame" when they try to incorporate their use in school.

    2. Blogging is a very introspective (mostly) and/or argumentative (in the rhetorical sense) writing activity. How many of your students write ANYTHING outside of school, besides text messages?

    3. Even adult bloggers lose focus and let their blogs go or re-imagine them into something new. I previously had the blog Teaching in the Twenty-First Century, which served its purpose for a few years as a place for reflection on my teaching processes, but with some personal upheavals, it got lost. I was reading through my posts last night (which I saved in book form) and remembered why I started it in the first place and am wondering if I should go back and revisit the concept. Because now I have the blog Reading After Bedtime, which is more about my reading (personal and professional) and includes random discussions of my teaching.

    4. An audience is everything in blogging. If students are writing and no one is reading and/or commenting, the desire to blog can easily fade away.

    I have no answers to either question. Blogging is a tool that can and probably should be used. But, to what end? Must we insist, expect, and/or encourage our students to share their writing through this platform once school is over? If so, why? What's the ultimate goal and/or motivation? So their voice is heard? So they feel a part of the larger world?

    1. Your first point is interesting. I'll have to consider that.

      I'm with you on your second point, but I'm wondering: Is that a good thing?

      Your third point was dead-on. I've changed the name of this blog many times. Maybe that's all part of the process.

      I think the audience piece is important. That's why I like the idea of at least one public blog that they post to.

  10. Great Blog! I hope you don't mind me putting a link to it on my website. I look forward to reading your thoughts in the future!

    Gary Johnston
    http://teachingaheadofthecurve.blogspot.com/

    1. Thanks!

  11. I may be a little different with how I'm having students use blogs. I teach world geography and cultures this year and students will be writing a travel blog as they basically imagine and dream up trips and adventures across the world. Students can make up their own person and persona but I'll follow everything from an RSS reader. It works well for my subject and has the students really being creative!

    1. I really like that idea as a learning activity. I think that's what I'm getting at, though. Is it possible to blog outside the genre of blogging?

  12. I appreciate your post because it mirrors my own wonderings about how to make our blogging more meaningful. So far my students have used their posterous blogs as a place to share their work and to post a weekly reflection. Their reflections have taken the form of Curiosity posts –'What has our novel made you curious about?" Research, hyperlink, and create meaning. They have also done "vlogs," which were more personal responses to our literature. It was a 6 week summer 8th grade English enrichment course, so I haven't instilled the value of blogging, yet 😛 I do want it to be more than a gallery of their work.

  13. I wanted my students to blog so during the 2010-11 school year, I set up their blogs on the kidblog.org platform. I teach 4th graders and for kidblog they didn't need an email account since their blogs were under my teacher dashboard. I could keep the blogs private, invite people by email to read and comment, or open them up to the world. I thought my students would use them as reflective math journals. I decided the blogs would be open so that my students could have an authentic global audience. I used the hashtag #comments4kids on Twitter to get over 1,900 comments on their blogs. I spent many hours each weekend moderating posts and comments. I loved the fact that my students were blogging but it was a lot work. (I also do not grade blogs.)

    Over that summer I reflected on the whole blogging experience. I couldn't keep up with almost 80 kids' blogs and do everything I needed to do to be prepared for my lessons. Plus my classroom blog was sorely neglected during that year.

    I reached out to Linda Yollis (@lindayollis) and through a Skype call she explained how she uses her classroom blog to teach her students about blogging and quality commenting. Her students can earn their own blogs by competing certain tasks on the classroom blog.

    I liked what I heard and thought I'd try it, but then a friend of mine convinced me to set up individual blogs again, but for just one of my classes. He wanted his class and my class to be blog buddies. I took the bait. Well, the whole thing fell apart because I was burned out on blogging.

    Again I spent much time reflecting how to use blogging in my classroom and have definitely decided that blogging will be done on my class blog first. If I have students who truly want their own blog them I will offer them one. I am hopeful that 2012-13 is a better blogging year for my students and me.

  14. I've found it helpful to separate the ePortfolio from the blog. The ePortfolio is a "school thing" while the blog is a choice they make based on a passion they have.

    As I spend the first couple of weeks letting students explore who they are as writers (http://wp.me/p1Dq2f-GA), some students veer toward writing eBooks on scientific topics. Others create movies and podcasts. Some write plays. Still others begin blogs with themes they are passionate about (music, life from the perspective of their dog, horse riding, cooking, etc.).

    Once students begin to discover "Who they are as writers", the next question for them is this: In what format will your writing be best expressed/shared?

    Just some food for thought.

    Janet | expateducator.com

  15. very much appreciated.|

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