Saturday, July 21, 2012

Student Blogging: Rudimentary Structures and Thoughts


Like so many other flip class folks, Crystal Kirch’s blog is kind of a must-read for me: she does a great job of making her thinking and teaching transparent, giving me a jumping off point to think about my practice – all this despite the fact that she teaches math and I teach history. So when I saw her post last Friday morning about student blogging, I was very interested to read her thoughts. I started writing a comment about her post, and it was becoming a blog post in itself.

There are a lot of concerns about student blogging, and understandably so. First and foremost, issues regarding digital citizenship need to be dealt with in order for teachers, administrators, and parents/guardians in order to feel comfortable with students writing and interacting in such a public forum. The logistical issues for the teachers involved, detailed below, must be sorted out. What will the kids blog about? Will there be an audience for these blogs? There are a myriad of others. Here are a few thoughts.

My Setup for Student Blogs

Students will have individual blogs that will be utilized for my class (history) and their English class. (I share a common group of students with a math, science, and English teacher.) Students may do some blogging in their math and science classes, though I haven’t spoken with the math and science teacher on my team about their plans in this area. In regards to content, these blogs will contain more than just posts they write based on work they do in my class.

I have created a student blogs page on my class website that will contain a link to all student blogs so that they are accessible to my students, but also to parents/guardians, my administrators, and other teachers that want to check out what my students are blogging about.

Content of Student Blogs

Students will blog about several things. I am going to ask students to revisit their definition of history and of a history class several times (I foresee about five) over the two-year loop I have them as students. I hope to institute regular opportunities for students to connect current events to historical content we have covered, though I am a bit more fuzzy on what this would look like or who the audience would be. Students will also be blogging about their test-taking strategies after tests. I plan on asking students to reflect on what allowed them to be successful (or unsuccessful) on individual test questions and then look holistically at each test and figure out what test preparation strategies seem to be working for them and what strategies seem to be less useful (test reflection stolen from Jen Gray). Hopefully, over two years of reflecting on how they successfully (and unsuccessfully) prepare for history tests, my students will develop more metacognitive skills about how they prepare for tests.

Additionally, students will blog about their writing process throughout their time with me. We (myself and the English teacher that I share students with) plan on asking students to reflect on how they attack the writing process in the drafting phase – how they use classtime, office hours, outside of class time, and peer feedback (to be done through shared Google docs) – of their papers. Then, when their final drafts have been completed they will reflect on aspects of the paper they are satisfied with – and what led to this satisfaction – as well as areas of their writing that they want to improve on.

The goal of all of the last two blogging topics (test preparation strategies and the writing process) is to get thoughts down on paper, so to speak, and have tangible evidence of growth over the two years that students spend with me.

Audience for Student Blogs

Who will these student blog posts be targeted towards? Well, hopefully several people. I hope that parents and guardians find them interesting and informative. I am hoping, though, to build a student audience, composed initially of their peers, for these posts. I envision sending students out to read over the blog posts of their peers’ to gain insight into the writing or test-taking process. Hopefully, a culture of reading and commenting on each other’s posts can be created this way. To help build this commenting culture around the writing process, we (myself and the English teacher I partner with) are going to create writing groups for our students. These are the people that rough drafts will be shared with. Also, there will be follow-up assignments after the initial and final writing blog posts to go and read and comment on the posts of your writing group. Though this is a somewhat forced audience, I am hopeful that this will help to ritualize reading the blogs of others.

Additionally, the folks who have undertaken the Blank White Page (BWP) project have discussed using a shared hashtag for use to alert our students to blog posts written around the project as well as for answered BWP questions. There have also been discussions around joint blogging.

These are only a few rough ideas. I do know that building readership among student blogs is important, particularly fostering a space for students to comment on the ideas of their peers. I am hopeful that I’ll stumble across more ideas on the intermawebs or the twitterz as well to help find ideas to increase readership for my students’ blogs, whether from their peers or from outside audiences.

Digital Citizenship

Finally, the elephant in the room: digital citizenship. ‘But with non-moderated blogs, how can you be sure that students’ posts are appropriate?” Great question. The short answer is I can’t. Here’s what I can do. I can make sure my students know that their blog’s URL will be linked in a very public place (my website) that will be accessible to the world. I am hopeful that this authentic audience will push students to moderate their inappropriate leanings and post in ways that will help them grow as students, not push the limits of common decency. I will also be doing work in class around building an understanding of the importance of digital citizenship as well as necessity for being responsible with your digital footprint. Then, I’ll cross my fingers and tell students that I trust them to be mature, responsible young adults.

Logistical Issues/Moderation of Blogs

Given the setup I outlined above – individual student blogs – I don’t plan on moderating content of comments on my students’ blogs. Will I peruse student blogs? Yes. Will I grade some – not all – student posts? Yes. If issues of poor judgment arise, they will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. I do believe, though, that given the instruction my students will receive around digital citizenship, I will have a small number of (and hopefully no) incidents.

How will I know if students have done the blog posts? Google Forms to the rescue! I will create a Google form for each blog post that my student write with the following things: Lastname, Firstname, period, URL of the new post (not of their blog – this will require some direction), and the most interesting/important 3-5 sentences of each post. This accountability measure is easy to maintain, and the collected 3-5 sentence snippets of student posts could lead to some cool lessons – Wordle comes immediately to mind.



However, I am by no means an expert on any of this. What’d I forget? What have you tried that has worked for you? Where am I going to run into trouble?