Why blog?

In order to prepare for a short class on blogging, I decided to get some of my ideas together and make a post about it! Because I am asking my students to blog, I feel like creating my own was an important step. Here are some of the many benefits that both of us have experienced:

Positive digital citizenship – I really like the idea of building something positive for students on the Internet. We can preach rules about digital citizenship, but we also have to help students put those into practice. To do this in my classroom, we learn about commenting properly as well as taking steps to regulate comments on our own blogs. This also provides a segway into the issues that we see in email, Facebook, and Twitter if we want delve into conduct on these forms of social media.

Authenticity – As an English teacher, I want my students to consider the audience that they are writing for. All too often this is just imagining that it is someone other than me. By creating individual blogs, students are provided with an authentic audience that they attempt to please in order to grow their readership.

Pride – Publishing work on the Internet and gaining followers helps students to feel proud of accomplishing something. I’ve seen students carefully scour their writing for editing mistakes in ways that I could never have dreamed of before blogging. This is their chance to be seen as intelligent citizens of the world, and many of them will take it.

Connecting to others – This is a part of the blogging process that I need to continue to work at. I want my students to find other bloggers with similar interests and make connections across the world. It is possible to connect my classroom with another. I want my students to be reading various blogs, following them, and making connections by being responsible citizens of the internet.

Developing technology skills – Creating a blog or website is a skill that is becoming more common. Students can use this opportunity to familiarize themselves with a more creative aspect of the web than social media sites. These skills can benefit students in the future in presentations, portfolios, and other personal promotions.

Reflection – One of my favorite thoughts that I pass on to my students is that you don’t know what you think until you start to write. We have been reading various articles from Kelly Gallagher’s Article of the Week, and blogs have been a great place to respond to events taking place in the world.

Providing students with a voice – We are also able to use our blogs to provide a voice for students about topics that are of interest to them. I have students writing about fishing adventures and advice, video games (which are a few of the most informed and dedicated bloggers), the life of a military kid, and many other topics.

Blogging has been a great step in my classroom. How can you picture it working in yours?


Creating blogs that aren’t obnoxious

I’ve been very concerned with how to help my students create blogs that reflect their personality but aren’t full of distracting background pictures and neon-colored text.  We are at the beginning of our blogging journey and have just created our first post, so this is an important aspect as prepare to unveil our creations.  The question I had was how to get students to realize that their blog might be too distracting for readers without hurting any feelings.  Blogs, much like writing and art, are personal property that can lead to hard feelings when criticized.

Luckily EduBlogs has an awards section that has many great student blogs.  At the start of class we looked at some blogs that are slightly obnoxious with glittery pink titles and pointless ramblings.  It is amazing how easy it is to criticize anonymous writing!

From there, I asked students to go to the awards page from EduBlogs and choose the blog that they thought was the best looking.  We copied and pasted them and put them on Google Docs, then commented  on what made the chosen blog so attractive.  One student noted that the blog he found had “a non-eye-murdering color scheme,” which was very true!

Here is the example I shared to get them started:

Mr. Sanders http://mjgds.org/students/jakeg/
I like the way this blog used a solid background color instead of one of those obnoxious pictures that make it so we can’t read the words that are the most important part of a blog!  I want my thoughts to be more important than a picture that I stole from Google  I want to avoid copyright infringement and possible jail time.

We then discussed what we found, and realized that attractive blogs shared many of the following characteristics:

  • Simple
  • Eye-catching
  • Reasonable font size
  • Consistent colors of font
  • Relevant pictures
  • Matching colors for background and text

As we compiled our list, some computers began to open, some heads started to look down, and it was clear that students were realizing that their blog might be one of those that needs some work.  We began sharing our blogs after that and I asked each student who volunteered to give criticism on their own blog.

Students can be hardest on themselves, but they were thoughtful, accurate, and willing to improve their own blog in order to make it great.  What I saw today was another example to me of why the blogging process is valuable.  We are writing for an audience and be proud of what we create!

Communicating with parents about blogs

Involving students in parent communications has always seemed like a great idea to me. The actual practice hasn’t ever taken place in my classroom, but there is no time like the present!

We are beginning a blogging project in 8th grade English and parent permissions and notifications are important. I don’t want anything to come as a surprise to parents, so I want their opinions about privacy to be heard.

I found a letter written by Clay Burrell’s Blogging Parent Letter: Choose Your Privacy Levels. After telling my students that yes, I am a thief and will steal other teachers’ work off of the Internet, we began to change the letter to make it our own.  Our finished product changed the introduction and explanation of what the blogs will do for students in terms of education, but we kept the options and pros and cons the same.  Here is our letter to parents.

What I liked about this letter is that it offers options along with pros and cons.  I still am unsure about whether having a student’s name on his or her blog is a good idea, but now that the parents will be deciding, it is one less thing for me to worry about.

It was amazing to watch the students engage with the wording that they were creating to bring home to their parents. I was actually slightly worried that the students weren’t excited enough about blogging, but I felt much better after hearing them discuss their future blogs.

The keyword in our class has been “passion” about our topics.  By offering a chance for these students to become invested in the project by helping write this letter, I think we are off to a good start!