Blogs are a great way to encourage students to share their work, and to reflect on their learning. All students in grade 6 are regularly using their blogs this way, and should be able to do so in other classes very easily. However, there are a few tricks that can make reflective blogging more effective and more interesting for both the author and their readers:
Focus on Audience
Because the blogs are public, students know that anyone, anywhere could be reading. If you ask them to write their blog post so that someone from outside of YIS, who is not in their class can understand their post (ie: with an introduction and conclusion, and without the questions listed), you may find that the posts are more readable and interesting. Here are some examples:
Focus on Content
In order to help students know what to write about, you may want to give them some focus questions, specific topics that address the issues you want to hear about. Often, I will write up a bank of questions and ask students to choose the one, two, or three they really want to discuss. These type of questions should provide a range of topics – including the process as well as the product – so that student responses can be varied, individual and self-reflective. Because they’re writing for a global audience, I also ask students not to write the actual questions, but to introduce each topic idea so that anyone can understand. Here are some examples:
Focus on Connecting
In addition to individual reflections, one of the most important advantages of the blog is that everyone can read everyone else’s posts. After sharing their thoughts, ask students to read several other students’ posts (2 or 3 is a good number) and then leave comments for them. Later they can write their own post, synthesizing the ideas they learned from all of the other students’ posts and linking back to their work as well. The more you can encourage students to read, comment on, and link back to other students work (either here at YIS or other “blogging buddies” around the world), the more powerful and authentic the blogs will become. Here are a few examples:
Reflections don’t always have to be written. I was recently inspired by a teacher from WAB at the Learning 2.011 Conference in Shanghai to start using the built in camera for video reflections. So easy, so quick, and so much more engaging for the student. We gave it a try in Technology class for our last major reflection of the semester and they turned out great! Not only can they record themselves talking, but they can use QuickTime to record their screen to show their work as they discuss it. They can even bring it all together in iMovie to create a Picture-in-Picture effect! Here are a few examples:
Thinking, Writing, Reading, Connecting
Blogs are about thinking, reading, writing, commenting, connecting, sharing – not just one individual’s thoughts. Try to make as many options for connecting and sharing as possible to make the blogs more than just an online workbook. Take a look at this heirarchy of blogging from Will Richardson’s first book (Blogs Wikis, Podcasts and other Powerful Web Tools for the Classroom, p. 32) to give you an idea of their potential:
- Posting assignments (Not blogging)
- Journaling, i.e. “this is what I did today.” (Not blogging)
- Posting links. (Not blogging)
- Links with descriptive annotation, i.e., “This site is about…” (Not really blogging either, but getting close depending on the depth of the description).
- Links with analysis that gets into the meaning of the content being linked. (A simple form of blogging).
- Reflective, metacognitive writing on practice without links. (Complex writing, but simple blogging, I think. Commenting would probably fall in here somewhere).
- Links with analysis and synthesis that articulate a deeper understanding or relationship to the cntent being linked and written with potential audience in mind. (Real blogging).
- Extended analysis and synthesis over a longer period of time that builds on previous posts, links, and comments. (Complex blogging).
Since we’re just starting out with blogging, we might be asking students to do very simple blogging now, and we certainly have the potential to develop complex blogging skills and tap into the true power of blogging. I’m also working on finding other schools around the world that are working towards this type of blogging to be “buddies” with our students. Hopefully this can begin in February.
Hope this helps!