What Teachers Need to Know about Student Blogging

Yesterday, my administrator and I had a great one-on-one chat about student blogging. I think it has 3 clear advantages:

Image Courtesy of CC

Student Portfolios 
A blog's content is versatile. Image courtesy of CC

It can serve as a beautiful portfolio of learning. I cringe when I hand back paper assignments to the students to see them dumped in the trash after class; never to be seen again. What if students kept all their work? Wouldn't it be so awesome for students to be able to "look back" over all their learning over the years to see how far they've come as learners? I for one, cannot remember any projects I did back in middle school.In this capacity, so blogs can serve as great mementos of work from a variety of classes.

Writing for an Audience 
Schools place an emphasis on reading. They also place an emphasis on writing. What I see many schools not doing though, is placing an emphasis on students reading what other students write. All too often, writing pieces are published or handed in and given some "hallway bulletin board time" before being taken down. Maybe a small handful of the better written works are circulated by the teacher. Usually, the pieces are handed in, assessed and then handed back. A blog gives students a place for not only the teacher to read student work, but other students and the rest of the world as well.

Better Quality Writing 
Research has supported that content and quality are supported by computers. It should come as no surprise. Students can move text around. Words can be spell-checked, and word processing gives a great line to thesauri. Internet access gives an immediate tab to links, quotes from authors, research studies and writing can mix and mingle with visual media giving a writing piece much more to look at.

"With all this, it would seem like student blogging is a natural compliment to learning. So why don't more teachers utilize this tool? Frankly, because the strength of blogging is also its weakness."

Students Can Create Portfolios, But What Should be Included?
There is a huge divide with what teachers are doing in this regard. Many use the blogs for only summative tasks and projects. Some use them for formative tasks. With the formative tasks, there tends to be less revision and peer editing prior to publication so the work may be of a lower quality. If it is low quality, why publish it for everyone to see?  These questions are particularly relevant when discussing what to publish for the world. I tend to use blogs for summative projects where students can show their "best" work.

Writing for an Audience That Isn't There
Video book talks on our school's Youtube page with few views
A couple of years ago, I polled my students in class and asked them some questions about their blogging prior to coming to my class for the new school year. The results were really interesting and explain why many adults blogs are abandoned after a few months. They were

  • 98% of my students felt that their work was not being read as indicated by lack of comments and their site visitor widgets. 
  • Only 10% of students were writing on their blogs for "fun" or on topics not related anyway to classes or the behest of the teachers. 

With the emphasis on "content creation" as being part of the emerging 21st century classroom, I think there is now a danger on creating beautiful student work, but it's still work created for the purposes of assessment. On our school's youtube page (pictured above) I have found dozens of videos uploaded many months ago, with no views at all. In a more real sense, students are now presenting not to their peers, but to a device. They're creating content, but not learning from one another.

Image Courtesy of CC

Is It Better Quality Writing Through Plagerism?
Sites like turnitin are thriving from the problems of students not citing resources correctly. With a wealth of information easy to access, why should students write when it has been written before and is a "Control-C" away? All educators have raised an eyebrow when a sentence or paragraph suddenly appears with words that the students could not define and language with a clearly different voice. Also, writers workshop may be easier to conduct simply be passing paper around in small groups rather than pass a hefty machine around when posts are in draft form. 

 "Is student blogging a passing fad in education?"

This was the question posed by my administrator and it's a very good one. Blogging is not a fad, but merely another publishing tool for student created work. I think the question is not "Should students blog?" but "Is this work that they should put on their blogs?" No educator would belittle the importance of writing in the classroom, but we must ask: who are the students writing for? To combat these challenges, there are solutions:

  • Teachers need to explore blogging as a professional practice. We can't teach this tool if we don't know how to use it ourselves. Instead, teachers are devoting much of their time to how to meet state standards and pass high stakes tests. While teachers are doing this, "students are embracing the building blocks of one of the more powerful tools for learning ever invented, and most don't even know about it." -Will Richardson
  • Give students the freedom to differentiate their writing. They will enjoy reading what their peers write if there is a greater variety of topics, titles and styles.
  • We need to develop opportunities for students to read each others work. Next week, my science students are having a "publishing party" for a biological study as the culminating activity for biology. We're devoting a whole period for reading and commenting on each others writing. Peer review is essential.
  • Provide assignments that can't be plagiarized. If your assignment is to "report on George Washington's accomplishments", it should come as no surprise that students grab text off of wikipedia. However, you can have students remix and apply knowledge in ways that are are not so easily copied with a little bit of creativity. Some options for the above:
    • Compare George Washington's and Barrack Obama's style of leadership and/or voting record.
    • Based on George Washington's political history, how would he lead our present day Senate and House of Representatives?
  • Schools need to explore Professional Development of social networking. Many administrators feel that a smart board is the most innovative technology being used in the modern classroom. Will Richardson also comments "In our experience, the reason most educators don't see a place for these tools in schools is because many have not had the time to figure out the roles these networks have in their own lives". 

Personal Learning Networks-Richardson and Mancabelli pg. 39, 41 (Copyright 2011)


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