Blogging with Students!

Monday, October 29, 2018
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: