Blogging with Students!

Monday, October 29, 2018 2 comments
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to speak at Gold Coast CUE's Techtober. The topic of my session was blogging with students.  I'm going to share my presentation content in this blog post, but before I do I NEED to tell you that the keynote speaker at Techtober was Jen Roberts and y'all she blew my mind.  I've been following her on twitter, in her book, and through her blog for years and it was still a fantastic learning experience to listen to her speak. I highly recommend you check her out for yourself when you get a chance. Now on to the topic at hand...

In my class, blogs are:

  • Student-generated digital writing with as much choice and individual agency as possible. Although I try to have voice and choice in my other curriculum, student blogs for me are a non-negotiable place where I must let go of the reins a bit and allow students to make many individual choices in style and content.  
  • Shareable and regularly updated. For me, blogs must have the ability to be shared among students and with their families. Eventually, I want to connect my bloggers with peers at other schools. Blogs are not a unit in my class, they are woven into every unit. I don't want to just teach a writing assignment.  I want my students to become writers.  
  • A conduit between my content and student voice. Students have feelings, experiences, and references to every unit we study. Blogs are a way for students to connect their own coming of age story with that of Scout Finch or pick apart the love at first sight scenario presented in both Romeo and Juliet as well as their favorite pop song. Blogs give me a reliable place to allow students to draw those connections. 

Why Blog: 

  • Authentic Audiences: Students blog knowing that their audience is much wider than just the teacher. They write for their peers, for their families, for themselves. They write expecting comments. Authentic audiences bring out the best in student writing in both form and substance. 
  • Peer Mentors: Reading strong blogs from peers inspires students to strive toward that achievable goal. When I point out a brilliant turn of phrase or when a student notices a clever organizational structure, my students become writing mentors for each other. This is really powerful stuff when moving writers. 
  • Digital Literacy: Blogs are where I teach quick skills, like how to add a hyperlink, how to format headings, and what the heck html means. While writing about our ELA unit, students are also getting contextualized lessons in digital literacy. 
  • Classroom Community and Relational Capacity: If you asked me for the #1 reason I blog with students, it will always come down to relationship. Blogs let me read into the lives of my students. I get to know all of them better through following their blogs!

      What do We Blog About?

      Whenever we blog, I usually give at least 3 choices and I try to make the content as relevant to students' everyday loves as possible. Here are just a few of the things we blog about:

      What skills do we have to teach when we are teaching students to blog?

      • How to use the Blogging Platform: We use blogger. On the first day, I create a step by step handout for setting up blogs and then I create a screencast of myself setting up a blog. I challenge all students to split their screen with my screencast on one side and their blog set-up on the other. They pause the screencast in intervals and use the handout to work on their own blog set-up at their own pace. Inevitably, a button looks a little different on their screens, or a menu has changed since I recorded the screencast, but we troubleshoot together as we get all set up. By the end of that period, everyone has a blog and we are ready to roll.
      • Commenting: Commenting is an art. We cannot let students learn that art in the vitriol under youtube videos. I start my lesson on commenting, with this adorable video that I got from Kristina Allison's blogging session at Spring CUE 2018.
      • Digital Footprints and Digital Citizenship: Before students start blogging, we have a conversation about what we want future universities, employers, and friends to find out about us when they google us. Even though students use pen names, we also have a conversation about adding to the collective understanding and treating everyone with respect. Here is a lesson idea from Scholastic.
      • Plagiarism and Image Rights: As an English teacher, I am very comfortable teaching students about avoiding plagiarism. Blogging with students has helped me grow as an educator in terms of image rights. I teach my students about creative commons, google images that are marked for reuse, and other image rights issues. Cult of Pedagogy wrote a great blog/podcast on the basics of image rights.

      Some Best Practices:

      • Use Mentor Blogs: I have found that it is very helpful for students to study professional well-written and well-organized blogs so they have some ideas of how to structure their writing. For example, if my students are writing a "Top 5" style blog, I will show them interesting listicle blogs and we will discuss how professionals emphasize titles, vary images, and leave off with a powerful message.
      • Blog Beside Them: I try to blog on the same topics as students so that they can see me struggle with them as part of the learning community.
      • Be Open to Student Trends: I am a planner. Even though I modify assignments based on student need, I like to have all of my major writing assignments planned out for the year so that I know they are hitting the standards. The blog is a place where I can be a lot more flexible. If I notice that students really want to talk about a particular topic, I throw it into the blog choice mix!

      Things to Consider Before You Blog with Students:

      • What are your district and school policies? Be sure to check with your board policy and principal before blogging!
      • How will you protect student privacy? We use pen names as part of our privacy settings. On blogger (and other blog platforms) you can also lock blogs down to certain email addresses if that is appropriate to your context.
      • How will you share them among students and how will you spread out the comment love? We use a spreadsheet in google classroom. Each week, I switch up mandatory commenting and allow students to comment on as many extras as they want. For example, I say, "comment on everyone in your desk pod and then any others you want to comment on" or "comment on the 2 people ahead of you and the 2 people after you on the spreadsheet plus any other blogs you want to comment on." Switching it up each week means that students read a wide selection of their peers throughout the year and no one gets left out.
      • How will you assess them? This is an area of growth for me. I'm still working on it, but here is a copy of my blogging single-point rubric.
      • How often will you blog? We try to blog about every other Friday.

      Here are a just a couple of screenshots of my students' blogs: 

      Use Google Sites to Organize Your Class!

      Monday, October 15, 2018 No comments
      I'm trying a new thing this year where I am using a google site to organize my classes. Here is a link to my very simple google site and here are the top 4 reasons I'm enjoying this new workflow! It is still very much a work in progress so I would love any questions. comments, suggestions, and teacher hacks you may have in the comment section!

      1. Easily Embed the Daily Agenda with a Google Slide Deck. 

      Each day, I add a new slide to the beginning of the slide deck with the agenda for the day. The google site automatically updates with the new slide.  Students and parents can use this as a reference when they are absent or curious about what is going on in the class. I like that the agenda is available to parents since it is on a site and not inside google classroom or an LMS.

      2. Include important documents and forms.  

      For me, these include my syllabi for each class and a google form that I use to organize and track my classroom library. I require my students to keep my site in their bookmark bar so that they can always quickly access these resources without searching around a classroom stream.

      3. Have a form where students can request a regrade.  

      Philosophically, this is probably the most important part of my website. It is important to my philosophy of education to give students lots of feedforward and chances to meet the standards. Using this link, students can request that I regrade their assignments by sharing a link to their work and reflecting on what they have done to improve the work/skill since the last time I graded it. I bookmark the spreadsheet that is generated from this form and check in on it once or twice a week.  I highlight the row once I have completed the re-grade so that I can track my make-up/redo work easily.  This makes it a lot easier for me to track assignments across multiple digital platforms; students submit google docs, screenshots from no red ink, Adobe Spark links and all kinds of other things that can all be managed on one spreadsheet.

      4. Easily Embed Padlets to Keep a Back Channel Open. 

      If you click over to my website, this padlet is password protected because it has some student information.  I use this page for students to communicate with me and with district personnel about our evolving tech situation. This is a clean way to hear students' voices and work on tech solutions, especially since we are a 1 to 1 school without any tech support on campus. I can see lots of ways I would like to embed resources like padlet into my google site in the future.

      Do you use google sites or another similar situation to organize your classroom? I'd love to hear your questions, comments, or concerns in the comment section below!  Have a great day. 

      Student Created Meme Lessons

      Monday, October 8, 2018 5 comments
      Student generated memes are a great way to bring a little fun into lessons while maintaining focus on content standards and student learning. I've seen some awesome student generated memes from classes around the district! Check out the student samples and info below then join the conversation in the comment section or on twitter. How do you or could you use memes in the classroom?

      Why To Have Students Create Memes: 

      • Memes are fun for most students and can hook them into the content you are teaching. I often use memes as a pre-writing hook to get students thinking and talking about something they will write about soon. 
      • Memes take a lot of creativity and critical thinking.  Students have to take a concept and distill it down to a few words that carry a lot of shared meaning.

      How to Have Students Create Memes: 

      • Share a link to a meme generator like this one. (Check in advance that it is not blocked on your wifi)
      • If you want to limit the meme options or if meme generators are blocked on your campus, create a "bank" of images for your students to use inside a google doc or slide and then have them copy/paste their selected image to their own google slide or google drawing.  Then, have them use the tools in G Suite to add text, speech bubbles, etc. 

      How to Have Students Share Memes: 

      Student Samples: 

      These first 3 are from a novel study of The Great Gastby. We were talking about the comment Fitzgerald is making about the American experience in the 1920s.

      These next 3 are from Natalie Dempsey's Science Class at HHS: 

      These final 3 are from an argument writing unit about the impact of technology on communication: