Do Classroom Blogs belong in Elementary Schools?

I’m still amazed at how I ended up in the world of blogging and web 2.0 tools coming from a background in experiential and outdoor education. As I reflect on it, there are more similarities in both disciplines that I originally thought. Both emphasize social interaction and collaboration, risk-taking, and personal reflection. Although one takes place in remote lakes in the wilderness in a canoe and the other in the depths of cyberspace, the learning experience is very similar. Both involve going from the known to the unknown.

Blogging evolved in my classroom out of a question that I’m sure many teachers face in education. How do we allow students to read and write for an authentic purpose? I was probably into my 4th week of teaching my students narrative writing. We had been focusing on the several traits from the 6 Traits Writing program which were sentence fluency and word choice and my Grade 2 students were absolutely loving it. I had created a culture of writers in the classroom in which students craved time to work on their imaginative stories. How did I create this culture? Through a very simple idea that has been around in the world of pedagogy for years. By allowing students the opportunity to share their stories. Sometimes I would read them aloud or they would volunteer to do the same. This simple act of sharing was fundamental in creating this culture of writers (and readers!). We as teachers sometimes forget how powerful this part of the learning process.

All too often, we rush to finish up final assessments, throw their work in their portfolio if we are lucky and quickly start gathering resources and planning for the next unit. I would argue that this sharing and presenting is vital to the learning process and doesn’t necessarily have to happen at the end. Feedback is a powerful learning tool is essential. Moreover, feedback doesn’t need to always come from the teacher.  True, we need to model what good feedback looks like but the feedback from their peers can reaffirm things that they are doing well as well as areas to improve on.

So here are my top 5 reasons to set up a classroom blog:

1. Motivation/Enthusiasm-As soon as you introduce technology and being able to showcase their writing, students are very motivated to write as it gives their writing an authentic audience and purpose. Publishing their writing digitally allows students who are kinesthetic or visual and helps differentiate writing tasks. Even my ESL students can’t wait to blog. I have seen a dramatic increase in the quality and quantity of their writing

2. Feedback-we all know how vital feedback is for the learning process. Classroom blogging has allowed me the chance to give feedback on students work more regularly than if it was hand-written. Why? Perhaps it is the ease of it all and being able to read their blogs at my own time and comment (I’m a much faster typer than writer). Also, it is convieniently organized online and I don’t have to worry about bringing home 17 writing notebooks. Not only does it give me the chance to give feedback but more importantly, their peers get a chance to give feedback. This all takes higher-order thinking skills that are so important for life long learning.

3. Flattens Classroom Walls-all too often as teachers, we keep everything inside the classroom. There could be amazing ideas and learning happening in your classroom but how often do we get to share this with other students, parents and colleagues? Some of these ideas do trickle out to grade teams/departments but rarely beyond that. We as teachers always complain that we are “reinventing the wheel”. Through classroom blogs, you can share and celebrate these great things with other students, colleagues and parents.

4. Multimedia tools-With the explosion of Web 2.0 tools, most blogs allow you to publish music, photos and videos. Now blogs don’t even have to have traditional text but students can share work through digital storytelling, podcasts, and video

5. Differentiation-This allows students to engage through both their learning style and interest. How often do we have students who simply don’t want to write through a traditional method? Blogging allows for those students (sometimes ESL) who are sometimes not interested or engaged in writing. ESL students are given the opportunity to write through a digital medium or through podcasting software. Also, students who enjoy through technology are suddenly motivated. The writing I get as a whole class-level is amazing!

you will learn a whole host of new technology skills that you can share with your colleagues. This can help revitalize your interest in learning and teaching with something exciting and new.

So where to from here?

There are so many amazing blogs out there that I have read, podcasts that I have listened to and online conferences that I have partipated in that have furthered my understanding in blogging.

I would recommend that you as a professional have your own blog to actually see the benefits of it. If you haven’t experienced it yourself, then you won’t understand the learning that your students are going through.

Here are some great resources to get your started:

Rachel Boyd has a great site about the “how to” of blogging using Blogger.

This wiki goes over some of the rational for blogging as well as many examples of elementary blogging sites.

This Moving forward wiki again has a wealth of information and resource

So are there any arguments against using blogging in the classroom?

Despite all these great reasons and benefits to student learning, there are some teachers or administrators that might have some concerns.

1. It is not developmentally appropriate to younger students- This argument as it relates to education stems from Piaget’s work in developmental education. Educators then took this theory and said, well if Student A is not understanding a concept, therefore it is not developmentally appropriate. Since then, many cognitive psychologists have proved that this theory is fundamentally flawed.

Willingham (2008) states:

If a child, or even the whole class, does not understand something, you should not assume that the task you posed was not developmentally appropriate. Maybe the students are missing the necessary background knowledge. Or maybe a different presentation of the same material would make it easier to understand.

Willingham (2008) has an excellent article about “What is developmentally appropriate practice?”

Furthermore, Jay Matthews discusses this article in his blog post, he writes:

This, I think, is the largest flaw of many of the common education memes like developmentally inappropriate practice. It provides a convenient excuse to focus the student’s failure to learn on the student himself rather than on how the material was presented to the student. If the student has failed to understand, there is often an underlying reason which needs to be discovered, analyzed, and the presentation remedied to avoid the confusion preventing the student from learning. Labelling the task as developmentally inappropriate allows the teacher to avoid this difficult task. Being able to remedy the presentation to avoid students’ failures of understand is one of the reasons why we pay for highly-educated professionals, and not merely trained technicians. Yet, oddly, educators are often reluctant to engage in this difficult activity, preferring the recourse of a myriad of labels that shift the blame for failing to learn to the students.

It is frustrating to hear this excuse from teachers or administrators who have not read recent brain research that contradicts this old theory. So when I hear this concern, I wonder, do my students actually understand what blogging is? Here is one student’s response.

Clearly, she has no trouble understanding what blogs are. So then I think, maybe blogging is such a difficult skill that it is developmentally inappropriate. Just because some teachers do not understand what blogging is, does not make it developmentally appropriate. Instead, we need to be advocating blogging for teachers so they can personally see the benefits of blogging.

What skills do students need?

  • How to click save and post-if we even expect students to use computers, this is a much easier skill then playing Club Penguin online
  • How to type-Students who are 7 years old are not the fastest typers but neither is my mom. So maybe computers are not developmentally appropriate for my mom. Arguebly, my 7/8 year old students are not fast handwriters and some of them could barely write a complete sentence at the beginning of the year but we still expect students to write stories right? I would argue that typing is a much more useful skill to learn then handwriting in today’s digital world anyway. Count how many times per day that you write a handwrittern letter versus typing an email. Guess what? If we don’t allow students to practice these skills, they are not going to get better.

Furthermore, blogging does not require extensive writing. Most of my students posts range from a couple of sentences to a paragraph. Hardly time consuming. In addition, blog posts can take the form of video or photos. Students can quickly reflect on an idea, capture it using PhotoBooth and upload it all in the span of 20 minutes. I get much more information assessment-wise as a teacher then I would if I asked them to write a handwritten reflection about it.

If blog posts are too long, we could be having students Twitter which limits them to 140 characters, but that’s a post for another day…

2. It takes time from other areas of the curriculum

This is just simply untrue. Any teacher who has their students blog will tell you otherwise. It actually does the opposite and enhances the curriculum as it combines learning outcomes from reading, writing, speaking, listening and science or social studies (not to mention technology). This is integration at its best. If anything, we should be recognizing the amazing work done by teachers and students and note this as best practice. Students are motivated, do extension activities on blogs, and since tasks are set up with a real audience and purpose, it is deeply meaningful. We preach about differentiation and blogging is differentiation at its best! Why? Because you are differentiating to ability, interest and learning style. Ability-wise, students are extending their writing skills at home and at school. From an interest standpoint, students are writing about topics they are interested in. Students who blog, are very visual and kinesthetic learners.

If you are still not convinced that many students are blogging in elementary, look at this extensive list

For me, the benefits seem obvious. We need to be responsible for responding to the needs of a new digital learner and era, sooner rather than later.