Creating a class blog has been an undertaking of mine for the past several months. Blogs provide students a meaningful context for writing, opportunities for engaging in interactive online dialogue, justifying their thinking with supporting reasons and practicing their keyboarding skills with an authentic writing task.
What is a Blog?
A blog is a combination of the words “web” and “log.” Originally, blogs were websites that provided information or allowed for online discussion groups via the Internet. They became increasingly popular during the 1990’s, and now there are literally millions of them on the Web. Increasingly, blogs are a common form of sharing information and have edged into readership once dominated by newspapers and magazines.
The Class Blog That Wasn’t
Through my training as an eMINTS teacher, I was taught how to set up and use a class blog through Blogspot. I tried it because I not only enjoy trying new instructional methods with my students, but am also firmly convinced that such experimentation is a powerful way for teachers to grow in their knowledge and skill development. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long because I neglected to address some key issues that would have gone a long way to successfully using a blog with my students.
Clearly Defined Purpose
What’s different about how I use my class blog now? Well, it turns out that a lot of small changes add up to make a really big difference in how I manage my time and implement the use of blogs. Previously, my use of a blog was one more thing I squeezed into an already overcrowded schedule. Also, I lacked a clearly defined purpose for their use. Other than it was the latest trend to do with students, I hadn’t determined a legitimate reason for its use.
There are many reasons why I am having my students blog more and more. Taken individually they may seem insignificant. It’s their sum total, synergistic power that results in effective implementation with my students. Here are 8 reasons why I think you should consider using a class blog…and why I will continue to use one in mine.
- Power packed sentences. In the real world, not all writing is a 5-paragraph essay. In fact, a lot of it is short and focused. Blogs are a perfect way to have students write briefly and concisely for an authentic purpose.
- Interdisciplinary applications. Class blogs can fit into any subject within the curriculum. I’ve had my students write about responses to literature, conclusions drawn from a science project and current events.
- Practice communicating their ideas to an audience. Since our blog is read by everyone in our class, there’s an immediate audience. As other teachers in my building begin to use them, we can also share our ideas with students beyond the walls of our classroom.
- Have a reason. A lot of nonfiction writing involves stating a main idea and backing it up with relevant supporting reasons. In many of my blog posts, I require students to not only state their answer, but to include at least one reason to justify their response. The ability to express your arguments clearly in writing will become even more important once we transition to the Common Core State Standards.
- Employs the valid use of technology. I am fortunate to teach in a computer-based classroom, but I want my students to use the technology to accomplish legitimate learning goals. I’ve recently learned that our future state assessments based on the Common Core will be done on computers. Now more than ever, our students need to be very familiar with how to communicate their thoughts via technology.
- Squeeze instructional value out of every day. Sometimes there are events at school that are scheduled without a teacher’s input. Perhaps its an assembly, art/music event, holiday celebration or a field trip. I used to be frustrated by the loss of instructional time these activities represented to my schedule. Not any more. Now these types of special events become inspiration for blog posts, and my students know that they will be expected to share their comments so they are more engaged than in previous years.
- Skills that go beyond 4th grade. As someone who has taught 4th grade for 11 years now, it can be all too easy to narrow my vision down to this single grade. However, students’ lives go on for many years to come. Many of them will take online courses in which they will need many of the same skills they learned from our class blog. Nearly all of them will use social media, which also uses similar skills and knowledge.
- Ties into the Common Core State Standards. One of the writing standards in the Common Core for 4th grade states in part: “…use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others…” (4.W.6) While not the only means of meeting this standard, class blogs could provide a starting point to address this in our classrooms.
More to Come
By using a blog in my classroom, I’m not only preparing my students for their immediate future, but also far beyond their years in the public school. That’s an investment in time and resources that I can easily support. In the coming weeks, I will write more about the finer points and details of using a class blog, topics to write about and assessment strategies.