Forum Friday – Are your students blogging?

Every Friday I pick a resource or interesting post from the forum and hare it with the wider community here on the blog. As many people out there aren’t aware that there is a larger community and discussion that takes place in the Tech Savvy Forum, many gems, valuable resources, and thought-provoking posts go unnoticed. Today’s post is an oldie, but a goodie, posted by one of the original members; Todd Seal (aka tsguitar). Todd is a dedicated and highly reflective secondary Literature and English teacher in California, and often looks for ways to improve both the way his students write, and how he evaluates that writing. In the original post Todd outlines his first explorations of student blogs.

This year, instead of collecting notebooks every 2 weeks and having an entire weekend where I read for 23 hours each day in order to get through them all, I’m having my students keep journals of their independent reading through a Blogger blog. Right now, I just want students to write and post every week, though I’ll soon require students to post at least one comment on a peer’s blog each week as well. I’m hoping that seeing writing “in the wild” will bring a new dimension and dynamic to the class. I’m already seeing writing that’s excellent and writing that’s terrible.

Since Blogger has just added comment moderation, I can have all students turn that on and then start leaving my evaluation of blogs as a comment, which students will then moderate and just not make public so that evaluation is private.

Still, I have them accountable for putting in 5 entries and most students have done it. I’ve had them register for blogs (again, I think I have about 5 who have not registered out of 130 kids, so most students have done this initial step) and I had them write their username and password and URL on a piece of paper that I collected and keep in a binder. It’s been a hassle to go through the blogs and get them working (for some reason, Blogger often needs you to go in a reselect a template after the blog has first been created; I can give more detail if folks are interested, but it’s a pain) and to make sure that no one is using a last name. I’ve had to log in as students and make changes to their profile or template.

Now, keep in mind that this post was made nearly 2 years ago, June 2005 to be exact. Todd has since successfully had many students writing and critiquing each other’s works “in the wild” which he talks about from time to time on his own blog. I used Todd’s ideas in his post to successfully implement blogging in my classroom last year (sadly, I’m in a computer lab this year, and don’t have the amount of contact time I need to get students blogging). While I didn’t give my students any requirements on the number of comments they had to leave, I would assign them periodic writings to their blogs based on Social Studies reading or Science reflections. I even managed to get all of the blogs subscribed in Bloglines, so all I had to do was check them in one place rather than visit all of their blogs.

I had similar successes as Todd did; some students that put some rather deep thought into posts, and got more creative as they realized other students enjoyed reading their posts. I also has some students that would do the bare minimum of the assignment, or reluctantly leave a brief “great post” comment on someone else’s post when I gave them time to class to read each other’s writings and leave comments. Since I wasn’t their Writing teacher, I didn’t push any formal pre-writing or composition strategies. Instead, I just let the wind take them where they may to see what sort of discussions I could start. While the project was fun for the kids; they loved changing their templates on a daily basis and seeing what other kids had written, very few of my 6th graders latched onto the idea of starting a discussion, or broadening their own horizons via communication with others.

So my question is, if you’re blogging with your students right now, what kind of realizations or moments of discovery do you notice? Are your students any more inclined to write because they’re blogging, or do you think that blogging is just the natural progression of journaling and if students aren’t into personal reflection, then blogging just isn’t going to get them excited? OR, do we need a few more years, and plenty more “trials” to see where blogging really fits into the social and constructivist learning styles used in many schools?