Reading and writing Blogs to build your PLN – Part III

“A blog is merely a tool that lets you do anything from change the world to share your shopping list”
~Unknown


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Educators blog for many different reasons. They blog about their experiences teaching, their philosophies, and their methodologies.  They share projects their students are working on or use their blog to organize collaborative projects.  Some blog to process something they’ve read or heard about at a conference session.

Steve Hargadon writes, “blogs are about communicating. You observe your experience, reflect on it, and then write about it. Other people read your reflections, respond from their perspectives by commenting or writing their own blog article. You read their perspectives, often learn something through their eyes, and write some more.

HOW TO USE IT TO BUILD YOUR PLN:

  • Start out by subscribing to educational blogs using RSS and your favorite blog aggregator – like Google Reader.  Following and reading posts in your reader is like reading the newspaper everyday.  You get a feel for what’s going in the world and sometimes it sparks your interests.
  • When you discover a post that speaks to you, add a comment to further the conversation.  Often, the author of the blog will respond to blog comments.
  • There are NO rules that you MUST have your own educational blog.  Many social networking sites like Classroom 2.0 give you your own space where you can post your own thoughts.
  • If you feel like you have something to share, consider setting up your own blog using Blogger, WordPress or EduBlogs.
  • A blog can be whatever you want it to be:  resource sharing, learning reflection, photo sharing, book reviews podcasts — whatever is your passion.
  • Share that you have new blog posts on Twitter or other social networks to encourage comments on your posts – but do moderate all comments because of spammers.

REAL STORIES:

  • ISTE newbie projecthttp://bethstill.edublogs.org/newbie-project – Beth Still used her blog to promote the ISTE newbie project. She wanted see if it was possible for a regular classroom teacher from Nebraska to leverage the power of Twitter to accomplish a goal. She wanted to see if her PLN could work together to raise $1500 to send a teacher to NECC.
  • I cannot believe how many times I am talking to a teacher and I mention an idea, tool or resource and I find myself going back to my own blog or pulling up a post that I just read to share with the teacher.  Blogging is like recording collective memory.  So useful – especially if the authors tag their posts. ~Colette Cassinelli

ADVANTAGES:

  • Bloggers appreciate it when people make the effort to comment on blog posts.
  • Some interesting debates have occur in the comments sections of blog posts.  Asynchronous commenting give people time to craft their  message and polish up the writing before it is public to the world.
  • You control the message and purpose of your blog.
  • Tagging your posts is like creating a directory of all of the posts.

DISADVANTAGES:

  • Some people are blogging less because they are spending more time on other networks – like Twitter.
  • Hard to build up an audience of readers
  • Takes time to read and compose blog posts.
  • If you find that you are not commenting to blog posts or are bored by the posts in your Google Reader – unsubscribe – and find some new blogs to follow.  You need to keep it fresh

RESOURCES:

Please share your ideas of how reading a blog and/or writing a blog has helped you to build your PLN.  Thanks!

Join our 40-day blogging challenge

My 8th grade students are participating in a 40-day blog challenge.  Each day two different students post an idea on our Tread Lightly blog of how to be a good steward of the environment by recycling,  reducing emissions, using less packaging, planting trees, etc.  Our blog project was inspired by “Tread Lightly” a 40-day challenge sponsored by Taking It Global.  Go to:  http://treadlightly.me/challenge.html and read about their challenge.

From October 24 to December 2, we will join others around the world in blogging about our commitments and encouraging others to do the same on our class blog located at:  http://ccassinelli.edublogs.org

tread_lightly
http://ccassinelli.edublogs.org

Since I only see the 8th graders twice a week I needed them to work on this project outside of class.  I divided the students into teams of four.  Each member has a specific job to assist their teammates with their blog posts.  Here are the roles:

  • Production editor – Your job will be to make sure your teammates post their entries on the correct date.  You will also be in charge of moderating any blog comments on your posts and assign someone to respond to the comment.
  • Technical editor – Your job is to help your teammates with how to post their blog entry.  You should be pretty good with computers and willing to spend some time learning about Edublogs.
  • Creative editor – Your job will be to assist your teammates in selecting images, media or creative entries to go along with their blog post.
  • Communications editor – Your job will be to check the spelling and grammar of your teammates blog posts and maintain communication between group members.

Each teammate drafts their blog post in a shared Google Document and we maintain the 40 day schedule on a shared spreadsheet.  Writing on a shared document allowed the students to write and edit their post and see what their teammates were planning.  I wasn’t too concerned about duplicate ideas – I just encouraged the students to put their spin on their idea or support it with different facts.

Students are required to support their writing with facts and citations and give credit for images used.  Some students are planning on making motivational posts using Big Huge Labs and comics with ToonDoo to post along their writing. Towards the end of the 40 days each team will add an embedded Google Form to survey their readers or check their knowledge.

One of the ways to be successful whenever you start a blogging project is to make sure someone is reading the blog and students are receiving comments.  I signed up our class with Comments4Kids http://comments4kids.wikispaces.com/.  Teachers list their class blogs on this wiki and I direct my student to visit those student blogs and leave comments and have them invite those students to follow our 40day challenge.

We’ve received comments from a variety of classes – like students from Gary Bertoia’s 9th grade class at Saigon South International School in Vietnam and Russ Goerend’s 6th Grade Language Arts and Social Studies classes.  Having other students read and comment on their blog post have motivated our class and raised the quality of writing.  Students are teaching each other and moving forward with this project with little teacher intervention though I do moderate all incoming comments.

Please consider joining our 40-day challenge and tell us your idea for reducing your carbon footprint on the environment at http://ccassinelli.edublogs.org

Blogging in an educational setting

What is a blog?

A blog is a type of website maintained by an individual or a class with written entries or embedded items such as graphics or videos. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse-chronological order.

Blogging can be used for reading and writing, conversations around topics, communicating with a larger audience or sharing examples from learning portfolios. It can be an effective venue for networked learning. Reading and commenting to one another creates a dialogue that requires persuasive writing and critical thinking.

Blogging Websites

There are many different platforms you can use to set your classroom blog. The most popular options for FREE classroom blogs are:

All of the sites have step-by-step instructions for signing up for a blog.  You will need to register with an email address and password and choose a name for your blog.  There will be a choice of themes and page layouts but these can be changed anytime.  Be mindful of your school’s policy about posting student work/images online or blogs that contain advertisements.  Consider having your students sign a “Blogging Agreement” and receive administrator/parent approval first.

Educational Objective

The first step is to decide the purpose of the student blog.  How will writing, sharing and posting comments to classmates meet the standards or educational objectives of the lesson? Some other questions to answer are:

  • What would you like students to understand?
  • What kind of authentic task can you design for your students to demonstrate their understanding?
  • What supporting activities or tasks need to be completed to help your students construct their understanding?

Once the objective is determined, the next step is to decide whether each student is going to have their own individual blog or are they going to share one class blog with each student as a contributor (recommended for new bloggers).

User Accounts

Once the blog account is set up, you will need to create additional users for each one of your students. Enter a username for each new user. Remember that the username is visible on the blog when posting or commenting.  Consider only using first names to protect your student’s privacy.  Understand that many of the blog websites require an email address* and password.

(*Hint:  Create a teacher email account using Gmail. If the teacher account is teacher@gmail.com, all you have to do is add a “+studentname” before the @ symbol to make a linked account. Therefore mail sent to teacher+studentname@gmail.com will go straight to teacher@gmail.com and students will not need their own email accounts).

With Edublogs and WordPress you can have different roles assigned to individual users.

  • Administrator – has access to all the administration features – usually the teacher.
  • Editor – can publish posts, as well as manage other people’s posts.
  • Author – can publish and manage their own posts.
  • Contributor – can write and manage their posts but not publish posts.
  • Subscriber – can read comments and receive newsletters.

Consider assigning younger students as Contributors so Editors or Administrators can preview and approve the posts before publishing to the general public.

With all of these blogging platforms you can restrict your blog to only readers you choose if you need additional privacy. However, these readers will need to log in before reading the blog, adding an extra step.

Posting and Commenting

The basic logistics of formatting a blog post are similar among the various blogging platforms.  Below is a sample of a typical post.

1.  Choose a descriptive blog post title – keep it short.

2.  Write your post in the body area.  Consider writing your post offline first so you have time to edit, revise and check spelling.  Use the “Paste from Word” icon to remove any type of previous formatting. Sometimes Microsoft Word adds extra code that will be hard to edit in your post.

3.  You can format your blog with color, bold, italic, numbering, bullets and alignment.  Consider using headings and keep your paragraphs short.  Insert hyperlinks to connect to other websites and resources.

4.  Most blogging platforms will allow you to embed a variety of media:  images, audio, video, polls, etc.  You can always edit the HTML code directly to embed other media formats.

5.  You can “tag” each blog post with a several words to indicate the topic.  Separate tags with commas.

6.  For a shared class blog, consider creating a category name for each student so you can sort the blogs posts by student name.

7.  Publish the blog entry or send it for review.

Encourage your students to maintain high standards of writing since blogs usually have a public audience.  Student writing should be organized and written with a strong voice.  The work should be edited for spelling, capitalization, punctuation and grammar.  Cite any sources used.

Media projects like PowerPoint assignments might need to be uploaded to a file sharing site like www.slideshare.com and then embedded into the blog for viewing.

Commenting

The type of commenting you want to encourage with a academic or educational blog should be related to the content of the blog post.  Blogging is a conversation.  Comments in a blog should encourage further discussion and be connected to the author’s point of view.  Comments can have a variety of ideas: sharing additional links or resources, making a connection with a new idea, sharing a new perspective or even challenging or debating a topic.
Encourage students to avoid dead-end comments or write something just for the sake of commenting with replies like “good job” or “I like your post”.  Teach your students comment starters like:

  • This reminds me of ..
  • I noticed that you said …
  • I would like to know more about …
  • I’m not sure that …

Consider gouping your students into “learning circles”.  The 4-5 members of the group read and comment on each other’s blogs before the rest of the class. This ensures everyone receives comments – not just some students.

Moderate and approve all comments before allowing them to be published.  This prevents inappropriate comments being posted on the blog – especially from spammers.  Remember: comments make by classmates are public to everyone.  They should be written with proper spelling and grammar too.

Online Safety

Blogging is great opportunity to teach about digital citizenship.  Teach students to only first names and refrain from identifying their school or location.  Have students use avatars or use creative filters with Photoshop for personal images to protect identities.  Encourage students to be kind when commenting and to take blog writing seriously.  Remember to write for your intended audience especially if the blog is set to public.

Blogging Resources

Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms by Will Richardson. Published by Corwin Press, 2008.  ISBN-13:  978-1412959728

Classroom Blogging by David Warlick.  Published by Lulu.com, 2005.  ISBN-13: 978-1411629035

SupportBlogging! Website to support and promote an understanding of the benefits of educational blogging.  http://www.supportblogging.com/