Organizing Student Blogs for Dynamite Conferences

This article first appeared in Fractus Learning on July 31st, 2013.

Next to standardized testings, there is no more contentious issue in education than the use of blogs. Should students use them? What is the proper age to start? Is it a passing fad? Do these really correlate to academic achievement? Of course, whether or not classroom teachers are bloggers themselves is a big factor in their use as well. Personally, I have cringed at the end of every year when I see students get handed back hard copies of their labs, investigations and writings and throw them straight into the trash, never to be seen again. From this standpoint, blogs can be a very powerful framework for preserving learning activities and showing a student's evolution and growth as they progress upward through the school. Furthermore, they give an audience to their work which they may not have in isolated classroom settings.


Image courtesy of CC
Image courtesy of CC-Traditional learning journeys are done out of a binder of custom made folder.
Many elementary teachers have student led conferences called "learning journeys" which chronicle these steps. As a parent myself, I find these vastly more interesting than sitting down with my child's teacher as they summarize their grade book which I can access anyways. I you're starting to use blogging within your school, blogs can be a just as versatile way of showing student understanding and achievement in a way that really shows creativity, inquiry and application rather than spreadsheets and data points on edline or powerschool. I'm not discrediting the importance of data as per student achievement, but rather advocating that blogs can be a great portfolio of work that many parents may not get a chance to see.
As a teacher who has been utilizing student blogs for the last few years and a person who manages 6 blogs myself, I've learned a lot on their use. If you're new to student blogging and are considering use them next year, here are some ways that you can showcase student learning at your next parent teacher conference:
Organize a Blogroll. A blogroll is a spreadsheet of set of hyperlinks that direct the user to each student's blog homepage. If your IT administrator has not set them up, it is easy to do it yourself on spreadsheet with hyperlinks. When parents walk in, their child's portfolio is only a click away.
Have your Name and Subject as Separate Categories. When students get their laptops and access their dashboard, instruct them to create categories for both you and your subjects. I still find a few errant posts that haven't been categorized from my students, but by categorizing their posts, they'll be able to filter their portfolio to find content or teacher specific work. This is especially handy for MS and HS teachers who share students with 8 other educators. If you teach the same child over a number of years, it is great to be able to look back at the improvement of their work over time!
Have students create categories for your name and subject.  
Have students create categories for your name and subject.
Have Quality Work on Blogs. I've read that a number of teachers use student blogs for everything. Formative, summative, you name it, it goes on the blogs. What I have found in the last year particularly, is that some students don't like to blog about any and everything. I think there was an assumption in thinking that because our digital native students are increasingly texting and tweeting they would naturally want to blog all the time. However, some of my students have confessed that some of them value their privacy and anonymity much like how someone writes in a journal only to themselves. Consider having students put their best work or a piece of work of their choosing as a blog post which exemplifies their skills.
There Are Ways to Show off Non-Core Subjects. For language arts teachers that teach word processing, a blog may seem like a natural extension to show writing abilities, but what about other subjects like PE, or performing arts? The PE teacher at my old school used writing in a very creative way when after a game, he had students write a summary of the game in the voice of a sports commentator. He also made short videos of major games so students could embed media around the text. If you're a performance arts teacher with Fall or Spring concerts or dances, consider taking some video or pictures so students may embed and reflect on the experience afterwards.
Don't Worry if You're New to Blogging. Try to have a least 1-2 pieces of work per semester that you think are worthy of publishing and hence showcasing at your upcoming parent teacher conference. If your school is in a stage of soft blog implementation, your experience in using student blogs as a learning portfolio will serve as an example for recalcitrant colleagues or administrators.
Image Courtesy of CC 
Image Courtesy of CC-Blog based portfolios don't diminish learning, but make learning products more accessible and interactive.
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