July 24th, 2013
If you’ve been thinking about starting a classroom blog, but wasn’t sure if it was a good idea, then this week’s post is for you. Carol Bedard and Charles Fuhrken, the authors of When Writing with Technology Matters, share some of the reasons teachers might want to consider starting a classroom blog in their literacy classrooms.
Traditionally in literacy classrooms, students participate in literature circles to share their thinking about the books they are reading; they might also respond in journals to capture their ideas and express their puzzlements. Setting up a classroom blog can add to these experiences in a number of ways:
- A blog gives students a wider audience. Two literature groups reading the same text can share and compare their thinking. All students, regardless of their text selection, can read the blog to see what’s happening in other literature circles.
- A blog affords students more “think time” than is possible in face-to-face discussions.
- A blog makes students’ thinking public, which tends to cause the bloggers to be purposeful and thoughtful about their ideas and opinions before (and while) putting them in writing.
- A blog invites all students to share; no “talk hogs” are allowed, and no one is silenced—not even introverted students.
- A blog is open 24/7; students are not restricted by classroom schedules, because bloggers need not respond at a particular time of day or a particular pace.
Given this kind of space, students can take their responses in a number of directions. What we found is that, although the writing in students’ journals sometimes consists only of recording major plot events, the students’ blog postings began shifting toward sharing deeper and more personal connections as well as showing higher-order thinking. For example, a student named Marie, deeply invested in the lives of the characters in her book, had an emotional reaction when one of the characters died:
Gregor the Overlander is kind of sad, but it’s cool. I wonder why a good character had to die!!! (I cried a lot when a good “thing” died.) You should read it. Get your tissues ready!!!
Another student, Caleb, after discussing Lunch Money with his literature circle group, decided to continue his “review” of the novel later that day. At 7:00 p.m., Caleb signed on to the class blog to write the following:
I read Lunch Money and I think it is even better than Frindle! The story is solid, like all of his books. The thing that separates it from his other books is the way the characters are. My rating is Story: 10/10 Characters: 10/10 Art: 8/10 Drama: 6/10 Overall: 9/10.
In this post, Caleb showed evaluative thinking by making a judgment: Lunch Money is better than Frindle. He also drew on the features of a movie review to rate some of the story elements. (Author Andrew Clements should be pleased with a 9—Caleb was a notoriously tough critic.) Students who came across Caleb’s post saw a new way of thinking about and responding to books that they could incorporate into their own blog postings.
The blog can be a tool for students to utilize with any number of assignments and projects in a literacy classroom, not just for responding to literature. During a moviemaking project, elementary students went to the blog to ask peers for help with ideas, to report their progress, to plan next steps, and, yes, even to blow off some steam. Alonso was feeling the pressure of creating “something awesome” that would soon be shown not only in front of his peers but also to family and friends:
We’re barely on the second & third scene with making props, and we’re practically all over the place doing all sorts of stuff. I only slept 4 like, 3 HOURS and NO MORE.
As the day of the movie premiere approached, the blog once again united the community of learners—scores of bloggers related to Alonso’s anxiety and expressed their own last-minute jitters.
The blog, though, is not just for students. Blogs are a rich data source for teachers to mine. Teachers can assess acquisition of academic language, content knowledge, readership, writing styles and conventions, and student interest and engagement, for starters. How often do teachers really have access to what students are thinking?
The elementary students learning about moviemaking told teachers plainly—via the blog—what they were learning. This is what Leslie had to say one day:
Today we’re doing scriptwriting and at first it was easy but then it got hard. Now I understand that the more details you put in the story the better it is!
Leslie’s words—“Now I understand”—unmistakably indicated that she believed she had gained an important insight into what makes writing good. She had discovered, in working with her group on their movie, that more details make a story better.
Julian also reflected on what he was learning and, in doing so, showcased his acquisition of academic vocabulary:
Today we finished the narrative and now we are doing a storyboard. In storyboarding we are doing a picture and we are writing the most important parts of the movie we’re going to do. We start at the rising action, then we go to the climax, then we go to the falling action. That’s the last part.
Julian competently related the important parts of story structure—first rising action, then climax—and even clarified for his peers that falling action is “the last part.” From reading this post, the teacher knows that his or her lesson that day about using a storyboard to capture the story structure stuck with Julian.
What students reveal they have learned—or not learned—can inform teachers’ instructional planning in the future. The blog becomes a record of students’ thinking, and, over time, the pages tell the story of how their thinking and learning have evolved. Because a blog steps up the level of access that is afforded, teachers can sweep in at any time and see what’s on students’ minds. With close inspection, they can be witnesses to new understandings, lightbulb moments, and valued feelings.
Just imagine, over the course of a year, the amount of writing that students would do on a blog.
Charles Fuhrken and Carol Bedard are the authors of When Writing with Technology Matters. You can buy their book — or any other Stenhouse book — 20% off when you use code BLOG on the Stenhouse website. This week’s winner of a free book is Gloria Wilson. Leave a comment on this post for a chance to win a free Stenhouse book of your choice!