Getting started with classroom blogs

September 24th, 2008

Gresham Brown, a fourth-grade teacher in Greenville, South Carolina, knows a lot about classroom blogs. His students at the Stone Academy of the Communication Arts produce webcasts and podcasts, and keep parents and the rest of the school up to date on their classroom projects via an active blog.

So we asked Gresham to share his advice on how to get started — and keep going — with classroom blogs.

As a teacher, I am continually looking for ways to connect my classroom to the outside world.  Blogging has created that connection for my class.  Our classroom blog has created a space for students to share their work, a vehicle for parents to actually experience what goes happens in Room 241, and a medium for all participants to collaborate together.  A few years ago, blogs were a mystery to me.  But as I began reading and experiencing blogs on my own, I came to understand the powerful medium that this technology can provide the classroom.

A New Genre
The first step of my blogging journey was to actually sit down and read some blogs.  I was introduced to two educational blogs, A Year of Reading and Two Writing Teachers.   These two sites gave me an understanding of a blog’s features – as well as sharing incredible book reviews and writing ideas.  I was forced to develop new ways of thinking as I navigated my way through this new genre.  I quickly learned that the newest post always appeared at the top of the blog, and older posts are pushed down the page.  Posts are archived by month and can be found on a sidebar of the blog.  I figured out that each post had labels at the bottom, which directed the reader to posts with similar content (if I clicked on a label called “book review” it would show all posts on the blog dealing with book reviews).  Unlike websites, there are no pages.  Blogs are more like an on-line journal.  But the feature that I liked most about blogs was its interactivity.  There is a place at the end of every post where any reader can leave a comment.  I was struck by how easy it was for people to communicate and respond to each other.  I started envisioning the possibilities…

Try It Out
From my perusing of the web, I noticed that most teachers used either blogger or wordpress to create and host their blogs.  I was thrilled to find out that both programs were free (a plus for any teacher).  To create a blog, the only thing required for both programs was my email address.  I followed the step-by-step instructions on the screen, and within minutes I had my own blog up and running.  I began by trying out the multiple templates and backgrounds each program had to offer.  I wanted a blog with clean lines, basic colors, simple format, and easy to read font.  I knew I wanted white background for my text – my eyes always get tired when there is too much background color.  Great blogs aren’t flashy or busy; they’re simple and engaging.  As I experimented with the blog, I found it much easier to use than a typical website.  It was extremely user friendly – even to those with limited technology experience.  If you can type in Microsoft Word, you can create a blog.  A word of caution: All blogger sites have a navigation bar at the top which has a “Next Blog” button.  This could take you to ANY site hosted by blogger.  If you think your blog will be used by young students, wordpress might be a better option for you.

Playing it Safe
The next step for me was to get permission from all my parents to post their children’s work on our classroom blog.  In my letter to parents, I explained that the purpose of the blog was to give parents and friends a better idea of the incredible learning that happens in our classroom each day.  It allowed the outside world to “take a peek” inside our room, and it allowed our students an opportunity to share their learning with the world.  With the commenting feature of all blogs, it allows parents an opportunity to dialogue about their child’s learning – with me, other parents, and their own child.  I assured parents that no last names or personal information would be shared.  After obtaining this permission from each parent, I made sure the settings of my blog were safe.  When a visitor made a comment, a notification would be sent to me – allowing me to preview the comment before it was published.  I also enabled a word verification tool for comments, cutting down on the amount of spam I could possibly receive.

The Possibilities
I then kept my digital camera on top of my desk at all times.  Whenever our class was engaged in an activity, I’d ask myself, “Could I take a picture and write about this on the blog?”  The answer always seemed to be “yes.”  I took pictures of kids building geometric shapes out of straws, having book club discussions, playing math games, and creating electrical circuits in science.  I took pictures of my students’ work – their writing notebooks, response journals, and science experiment reflections.  I imported the pictures onto my computer, and then easily uploaded the pictures to my blog using the blogger software (trust me, it’s easy).  I kept my writing short and to the point, knowing that my parents were busy and didn’t want to read an epic description from me.  They wanted to see their children learning, and I wanted my students to be the stars of the blog.  I was delighted when parents, students, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and fellow teachers began leaving comments to each post.  This was what I had hoped for – the blog was fostering conversations about our classroom learning.

Just the Beginning
All of this lead me to ask new questions and explore new possibilities.  How could I record my students talking, and then post audio files to my blog (it’s called podcasting)?  How could I use video to showcase what my students were learning?  How could I give more ownership to my students?  These questions have lead me to new ways of thinking about blogs and the power they have to connect our classrooms to the outside world.  I knew this was just the beginning to a powerful collaboration between teachers, parents, and students.

Do you have a classroom blog, or would you like to start one? Post your classroom blog’s URL or questions about blogs in the comments section, and Gresham will post his answers in the near future.

Entry Filed under: Classroom practice

13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Sarah Amick  |  September 26th, 2008 at 4:23 pm

    I found this very informative. I have considered a classroom blog for about two years. Not quite ready to take that leap but thinking it could be in my future. I guess I am still very concerned about the outside world and that possibility. But thank you for all the excellent information!
    Sarah

  • 2. suzanne Herbert  |  September 26th, 2008 at 7:11 pm

    Gresham, I teach a fourth grade class at an international school in Jakarta. How do I find your blogg? What’s it under? I’m really keen to get my own going at school here. I take loads of photos and films of the kids and would love to get more ideas on how to ‘broadcast’ it. Thanks so much for the detail here, I am going to go and explore WordPress now. Suzanne

  • 3. debrennersmith  |  September 28th, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    my blog is http://www.debrennersmith.com I post a new reading or writing lesson practically every day. deb

  • 4. Gresham Brown  |  October 2nd, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    Suzanne, You can reach my blog at http://www.stoneacademyroom241.blogspot.com. In the blog article, you can click “active blog” in the first paragraph – it should take you there. I’m excited that you’re thinking about blogging – it really is a great way to share your classroom with parents and friends. I’d start by posting pictures and creating short write-ups about each activity. Your class and parents will love it.

  • 5. Gresham Brown  |  October 2nd, 2008 at 8:03 pm

    Sarah, I had the same concerns when I first started blogging. There are a few safety measures I use with my blog. First, I chose a setting on blogger that would not allow search engines to search my blog. Second, I have the option to moderate all comments (no comment is posted without my approval). Third, I obtain permission from every parent to post pictures of their child on the blog. I’ve found that no one can really find my blog unless they’re really looking for it! There are some blogging programs that offer even more privacy features – for instance, you can set your blog up and restrict its viewing to only some specific members (like your students’ parents). Check out blogger and wordpress – those more restrictive settings may be useful for your blog!

  • 6. Jon Mundorf  |  October 3rd, 2008 at 9:08 pm

    I am a fifth grade teacher in Marco Island, FL. Our classroom blog is – jmundorf.edublogs.org. Enjoy!

  • 7. Janine  |  October 5th, 2008 at 4:01 am

    It was great to read about your “blogging journey”. I too have taken a journey with my students over the past two or three years – a very engaging and collaborative journey. I have been inspired by the way in which parents and students have began their own learning journey – many creating and maintaining their own blogs after commenting and posting on our class blog initially. I know that literacy skills of the students have improved. The audience, sharing their learning and thoughts, justifying their opinions, offering feedback to classmates and the opportunity to share a portion of their day with their parents are just some of the “doors” that blogging in year 5 have opened.

  • 8. Jodi Mitts  |  January 5th, 2009 at 8:23 pm

    Springfield School District 186 in Illinois is fortunate enough to have a very dedicated technology department. All teachers in our district have their own webpages. At Lincoln Magnet School, our teachers are expected to update their webpages daily. We have a section labeled “News”. This is where we write a short description of what was accomplished in class that day, homework assignments given, and a learning at home connection. This is a great way to communicate with students and parents. We also have a “Projects” section. This feature allows teachers to include direction sheets, planning guides, and rubrics for our students to use as they complete technology projects. My favorite aspect of our webpages is the “Blog” section. Weekly I try to ask my students a higher-level question that relates to our current topic of study. My students then have the opportunity to respond by sharing their thoughts and opinions. The students are excited that they can share their voice with anyone who visits our blog. I particularly enjoy the fact that my former students still check my webpage and respond to my blogs. This encourages my current students to do the same. I truly believe that the use of classroom webpages has changed our school for the better. I believe that parents and students would agree as well.

  • 9. Karin  |  July 3rd, 2009 at 6:52 am

    I found this article very interesting. I have used blogs before to post assignments but have not ventured into allowing students to comment and post their work. I also did not involve parental comments. I now wee another way that I can utilize this technology in my classroom.

  • 10. Jennifer  |  August 11th, 2009 at 11:20 am

    Thanks for the information. I am starting a class blog for our new art program. Would it be possible for you to send me a copy of the letter you sent home for permission to post pictures on the blog?

  • 11. Gresham  |  August 19th, 2009 at 9:51 pm

    Jennifer – I’d be glad to give you a copy of the permission form I use with my parents. Just send me an email at ghbrown@greenville.k12.sc.us and I’ll send it along. I look forward to hearing from you!

  • 12. Blogging through the summ&hellip  |  March 23rd, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    […] teacher in Greenville, South Carolina, has written guest posts on the Stenhouse Blog about starting classroom blogs and about getting parents involved with blogs. This time, he shares his ideas about what to do with […]

  • 13. Getting parents and stude&hellip  |  March 30th, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    […] his last guest post Gresham Brown, a fourth-grade teacher in Greenville, South Carolina, talked about how to get […]

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