Blogging 2010

by Dean Mattson

Although we haven’t quite got blogging right at my school, I continue to believe it’s the most important tool a school can use for students starting in about fourth grade.

The reason why is it’s so versatile. If you use a blogging platform like WordPress like we do, you can post images, video and audio as well as text. Students can post their artwork, poems, songs, pictures, stories, videos, screencasts, maps, animations, designs – any or all of the above. It can be interactive as you want it to be and as open or closed as you want it to be. It can be a portfolio of multimedia projects, a literature response journal, an collection of published writings, a research project, a way for students to submit homework assignments and so much more.

There are some hurdles. It takes awhile to get them set up and then someone needs to regularly go through the blogs to approve posts and comments. Students are also slow typists and it takes them a long time to finish even a medium-length blog post at the beginning. (This also raises the question of how much time you should reserve for teaching students proper keyboarding.) Also, somewhat surprisingly, students need to be taught how to participate in the interactive opportunities blogs open up. They need to be taught how to properly respond to other students’ ideas and pushed to comment on other students’ blogs. They love to get comments, but they often don’t want to go to the trouble of commenting on other students’ posts. Well, you can’t get one if no one wants to do the other! Finally there’s the age-old difficulty of getting students to use proper spelling, punctuation and grammar.

To hopefully push us in the right direction, we’re going to have every class come to the computer lab every two weeks for regular non-blogging technology instruction. That will open it up so every two weeks fourth and fifth grade students will come to the computer only to do blogging. A Friday will also open up so students can finish up a blogging assignment they didn’t finish during the first period or work on a special blogging-related project. (The guiding motto for these projects will be: If they can post it or embed it into a blog, they can come to the computer lab and work on it on this day.)

Some other ideas:

* At the beginning, I’m going to try to have shorter assignments that won’t require a lot of typing. That will give us time to have a little keyboarding practice before and will also give students time to comment on other students’ blogs.

* I’m going to give students the opportunity to start multi-author topic blogs. Instead of only writing for their personal blog, they could also contribute to a blog in which they have a special interest, like the Dallas Cowboys or U.S. Presidents or their favorite TV show or comic book series, etc.

* I’m not totally certain this is a good idea or not, but here it is: For students who prove themselves to be trustworthy and demonstrate a reasonable command of the conventions of good writing, they would be given more control over their blog. Specifically they would be able to publish posts without getting teacher approval in advance. (Teachers would still approve comments.) We’d have a special meeting with the parents beforehand to explain the process and get them involved. What do you think?

Up to know, we’ve dipped our toe in the water when it’s come to blogging at our school. Now it’s time to jump in and see if we can start swimming. I think we can!

YouTube Preview Image

image credit: Silvia Tolisano