“Gary, so much of what students blog about is crap and not worth reading. It seems like the emphasis is on creating content, but not quality content.” my coworker Tara commented last week.
Her point is so important, and one that educators are struggling with around the world. As schools are moving towards student blogging platforms such as kidblogs, edublogs and WordPress, the question is: “How do we use blogs to compliment classroom activities and serve as a portfolio of learning?”
The war cry of 21st century educator is that students be content creators. While I agree with this, we must be careful not to sacrifice quality before fully embracing digital learning platforms like blogs and wikis. The internet is so littered with poor quality writing, that we now have to teach students how to evaluate the reliability of their source, rate for bias, and thoroughly check references.
Depending on where you are with blogging in your classroom, consider these tips to make student blogging more meaningful, more creative, and more fun.
How do we use blogs to compliment classroom activities and serve as a portfolio of learning?
Tips for Quality Student Blogging
1. A Great Title
A good title is the first impression and “curb side” appeal that readers will look at before even clicking a post to be read. Often, titles are very uninspired with examples like “My Project Reflection”. If you’re having blogs visible on a feed within your schools website, you wouldn’t want 100 students all with the same title anyways. The writing skill of “summarizing” is so handy here and consider using this as a method for making an original title. Titles can be questions as well, with engaging hooks to draw in a reader.
Embedding media can be a chore, but any piece of text is spiced up with videos and images that connect the writing to tangible examples. One thing I like to do is take images and videos of students doing activities which I then make available on our server. Our school has a Flickr, Picassa, and YouTube site that I can upload images to so students may include media of themselves in their post. As my students evolve into high school, they’ll have a digital record of themselves doing experiments back in middle school. I can’t remember a single thing I did back in middle school and have no pictures for reference!
I find that teaching a writers “voice” is difficult, but one that blogs are so good for. For science, I try to teach an objective voice as students analyze their conclusions. However, a language arts teacher after having read Huck Finn or Holden Caufield may ask students to write a piece as if they themselves were the protagonists. Changing the voice of the writing will also make for a fresh activity as students are challenged to try and emulate the point of view of a villain, hero, victim, perpetrator, loner, butterfly, champion or has-been.
4. Tags and Categories
Make sure your students tag their post with a half dozen tag words or phrases. It will make it easier to find through a key-word search. If you feel a little self-indulgent, you might also have students tag your name (the teacher) if students are doing a project within a curriculum for which you are responsible.
5. Punctuation and Grammar
This is an easy one to overlook. But when the nitty gritty details of punctuation are sacrificed, a piece starts to look a bit low-brow. Seriously, don’t we tend to lose respect for writers that don’t know how to capitalize? Don’t be in such a rush to have students publish a writing piece. Peer editing and review of drafts before final publication is just as applicable to blogging as it is to writers workshop or preparing a final draft. It’s OK to have posts in a “draft” stage.
6. Staff Teaming for All The Above
Our teams have recently started allocating our meeting time to improve the quality of student blogging. Most teachers use them here and there, but usually for summative projects. We have found that revisiting their use allows us to share successes, negotiate pitfalls and incorporate writing traits across the curriculum. Even as a math and science teacher, I find opportunities to support the language arts teachers by addressing and honing writing traits such as summarizing, paragraphing and organization, varying sentence fluency, and incorporating dynamic, engaging words. Simply taking a few minutes to share what is on the language arts agenda this week at your next team meeting can give teaching teams common purpose and collective buy in.
Wherever you or your school is with student blogging, it use certainly merits some time for deprivatization within your school or team. Teachers are starting to do some collaborative things with blogs, such as asking for comments through social media sites such as Ning and Edmodo and having students grow their readership and site visitors through Twitter.
The bottom line, is that students can now write for the entire world, not just their classroom or hallway bulletin board. If students can now have the world read their writing, shouldn’t we help them write for the world?
Image courtesy of Flickr, Oxymoronical.