Student blogging, a new form of literacy?

Student Blogging. Sometimes I feel like I am living in a real life Star Trek episode, going where “no ONE has gone before”. Setting up individual blogs for students, is not new, however, allowing access to the outside world is. And it tends to scare people at the thought that someone, somewhere just might read a student blog and might comment. As a result, many schools (maybe yours?) and districts block access to blogs or moderate using a login/username. But the real question that we grapple with is whether or not blogs are improving student learning and if so, how?

First, we need have a clear understanding of blogging and why we are using it for our students.  I am constantly reflecting on the following questions:

  • Is the purpose to improve spelling and grammar?
  • Are we trying to get students to feel more comfortable about writing ‘their’ connections about a topic or issue?
  • Do we want students to read, reflect and comment on a variety of perspectives and point of views?
  • Are we trying to encourage student collaboration?
  • Are we trying to get students to view the world with a more open mind?
  • How about teaching children that blogging is a way to teach others, and thus, also learn from others?
  • Are we encouraging students to share their work and participate in an “open-source” culture?
  • Can blogging help students synthesize their understanding in a written, visual or audio form?

When I review the above questions, I tend to think that the first bullet – to improve spelling and grammar – is a given, but it is not the purpose for blogging. Students blog to get their voices heard and as a result, they edit, then re-edit, then edit again (just like most adults). They are quite aware of the world wide web and they take pride that their work will be added to it. So, no – it is not about the spelling and grammar. It is about the engagement in writing, reading, sharing, collaborating and commenting. It is about the engagement and motivation in sharing your ideas and that what you say might just possibly be read by others.

Think back when you were a kid – you completed an assignment that either went home (up on the fridge), on a bulletin board or back in your desk. You repeated this all year until you took your work home at the end of the school year, it disappeared into some box. For some, this was fine – they would write and read and change the world without any  prompting from anyone, not even a teacher. But for other students, and we all know them, they did not care. They had no reason to care. They struggled. Words did not come easy – and why put all that effort into something when no one would read it anyway? They didn’t see the big picture  (that it was for practice, for learning, that they would need it someday).

Those are the students that we need to focus are attention. Those are the students that will benefit MOST from blogging.

Student motivation and desire to write and read needs purpose and authenticity. When they write for a global audience, they are giving their voice meaning.  I recently asked my students if they would blog as frequently and as passionately as they do if they did not have a global audience, if their blogs were secured to ‘classroom only’. I was surprised by the response (and a little proud) – they replied that they would just copy and paste their blog to a ‘new – personal’ blog, one that can’t be  blocked – one that can’t be moderated (they are aware that I moderate what is posted and I approve comments). I asked my students what I we should do in June when school is over. Should the blog be deleted? They laughed. They didn’t really even understand my question. Why would I delete their blog?

Please share your experiences with student blogging. Why are you blogging with your students? Are their blogs accessible by a wider audience? Is this a new form of literacy or is this simply a new tool?

A few example student blogs:

  • http://allison213.edublogs.org/
  • http://213angela.edublogs.org/ (student talking creative commons)
  • http://leah213.edublogs.org/ (student talking about creative commons)
  • http://jacob213.edublogs.org/ (student talking about Olympics – concerns)

Consider getting your students involved and commenting these Sixth Grader Blogs as well as sharing your blogs with us.

The video below is by two of my students presenting to teachers about blogging.

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2 Replies to “Student blogging, a new form of literacy?”

  1. Hi Zoe,
    I think what you are doing with your blogging is awesome! From my experience there is a little fear when starting out with blogging…although in my case that didn’t come from the parents or my students, but from other teachers who were questioning it. I started blogging with Grade 2’s back in 2005 and after reassuring my parents that I would be moderating the comments we were good to go. Since I didn’t have a network of fellow blogging educators at the time, I felt that Grade 2’s were a bit young for their own accounts (didn’t know about Blogmeister in those days!), so we made our postings at school and they were free to comment from home or on their spare time.
    This was a new way to do something that I have always been doing during my 22 years as a classroom teacher – connecting kids to other people around the world for authentic writing experiences…the web makes this way easier now! LOL As you mention above, the fact that students know that they are doing the real work of writing for a real audience is most powerful.
    I love your comment about the potential for teaching and learning with others…imagine if you had started building your online PLN at age nine or so! Wow! 🙂

    http://www.mrssherry.blogspot.com

    As Barbara McLaughlin says “the tools change, the learning remains”.

  2. Zoe, you’re one of the main reasons that I started blogging with my students. I saw the success of your student blogs, and I wanted to give blogging a try with my Grade 1’s. I was looking for a platform where I could ensure that work was edited before being posted, as I do teach younger students. @mrjarbenne suggested Posterous to me, and I set up our Grade 1 student blog (http://dunsiger.posterous.com). Anyone can comment on our blog, and I think that this is a really important aspect of our blog. My students want these global connections: this is a large part of what inspires them to write. My students are now at the point that they can do their own blogging, and I’ve set up blogs for each of them through Kidblog. My students will start their personal blogs next week. I’ve changed the settings so that I can moderate all posts and comments before they’re posted (I again think that this is important because of the age of my students), but anyone can comment on these blog posts. My students were thrilled today when I said that they would be getting their own blog next week: writing should be meaningful and fun, and blogging allows this to be the case, while still allowing for improved conventions too! Thank you for introducing me to the world of blogs!

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