Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Student Blogging for Reflecting and Connecting

"Mr. Zahner, you have a blog?" I never forgot the awkward amazement a girl in my sophomore history class expressed when the kids started searching me on Google. While they were intrigued by all the dirt they were collecting, I wondered if it was cool to have a blog.

This got me thinking about how my students perceive blogging. I wondered if they had any preconceived notions about blogging that might inhibit their learning experience if I were to expect them to write their thoughts and publish them.

Naturally, I had several concerns for my students. Besides the possibility of them feeling forced to put themselves on the Internet, I didn't want to expose them to anything I hadn't fully explored. I eventually learned ways to address these concerns so my students would have the opportunity to grow as learners and citizens of a connected world.

Before Students Post

I suggest starting by identifying some guiding principles. Mine are based on the belief that teachers must help students grow as responsible digital citizens.
  1. Blogging is for reflecting, sharing, and learning through conversation. 
  2. Student safety must always be the priority (see notifications below). 
  3. Twenty-first century learners need to practice acceptable use of social media and learn to appreciate the importance of receiving feedback.   
Where should you start?

Whether you have blogging experience or have never clicked the "publish" button, starting off with a blog that showcases the work done in your classroom can be a powerful model that will engage your students.

I started a classroom blog to provide feedback on the activities we do in class. It was about trying a new way to provide access to our classroom. It's been great because it serves as a place to reflect on content and skills as well as an opportunity to allow students to comment on how to improve the work in each post.

TIP: Start with one activity a week or toward the beginning of a lesson cycle. Give yourself time to provide feedback. Schedule time for students to comment on the post in class. Instead of having all students respond to a post, make five or so groups and have each group post a comment.

A Documentation Routine

Note-taking and summarizing is the engineer's seat of the history classroom. It's where the forward learning gains much of its ground and the concept formation burns and sticks.

This year, we have a team of class note-takers that completes a set of notes in a Google Drive folder accessible through Google Classroom. Some classes publish the notes on a blog, but I didn't want to use that tool in such a way. Besides, we have Google Drive, now.

The question that remained was how to complete the note-taking and summarizing activity if students had dedicated note-taking roles. Since all of my students have Blogger accounts through Google Apps For Education (GAFE), it made sense to have them summarize the notes and publish as individuals.

This is an opportunity to have students reflect on the lesson and make connections between what they know and their life experience. In particular, my students are expected to include identifications and significance of events, places, developments, and people while making at least one thematic connection to their life.

Notifications and Safety

Having students blog to share their reflections is risky. They should be able to protect their identity and have confidence that what they publish is monitored by a responsible adult.

Setting up e-mail notifications is easy with blogger. You can add addresses that receive automatic messages when a blog post is published and when a comment is posted.

I use an e-mail address with a special tag (example 2) that is recognized by a custom filter in my Gmail account. If you have Gmail, play around with filters and tags. I usually set the filter to receive messages to the tagged address in a folder or label. I often set it to skip the inbox, as well.

Here's a resource for more information about e-mail addresses and how they work.

Digital Citizens

Let's face it, as Alan November asks, at what point are we going to stop saying "turn it in" and start saying "publish it"? Although not all students will become professional bloggers or technical writers, almost all of them will publish posts on social media sites. Most of them already do.

Nine Elements Of A Digital Citizen

I am making it my responsibility to teach kids how to put themselves on the Internet in ways that safeguard their identity, reputation, and the comfort and liberties of others.

This experience is something they'll need to do things as fundamental as writing effective emails. It will also open doors to doing more things like presenting their academic or professional career with an e-portfolio. It's not as much about blogging as it is about reflecting, connecting, and responsibility.

Thanks for reading.