Blogging for Reflection

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:

Allow Options

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:

  1. Posting assignments (Not blogging)
  2. Journaling, i.e. “this is what I did today.” (Not blogging)
  3. Posting links. (Not blogging)
  4. Links with descriptive annotation, i.e., “This site is about…” (Not really blogging either, but getting close depending on the depth of the description).
  5. Links with analysis that gets into the meaning of the content being linked. (A simple form of blogging).
  6. Reflective, metacognitive writing on practice without links. (Complex writing, but simple blogging, I think. Commenting would probably fall in here somewhere).
  7. 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).
  8. 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!

Awesome New Blogs Feature: Custom Menus

With the recent upgrade on our campus blog site we now have access to an awesome new feature: custom menus. This will allow you to add a menu bar to any blog theme (even if it doesn’t have one already), and you can customize the menu to include any features you want, including:

  • Pages
  • Categories
  • Links to other websites

Plus, you can organize them however you want – so you can now alphabetize them, “nest” pages or categories or links under other pages, categories or links, and even mix and match pages with categories. Basically, this will allow you to set up your blog exactly the way you want with almost no restrictions!

If you’d like to see how it can look, check out Jesse, Isabelle, Adam, Madeleine, Dale‘s blogs.

Edublogs has posted a tutorial about how to set this up following exactly the same way we suggest you manage your blog. Give it a try, or stop by the IT office for in person support. I promise you will love it!

Getting Started With Your Class Blog

Here are several great resources for getting your class blog up and running:

If you’re looking for a book for inspiration, here are a few recommended titles:

If you have other suggestions, please leave them in the comments so we can all benefit!

The Power of Blogging

A great discussion with the Humanities department really got me thinking about why blogging (along with other web 2.0 tools) is so powerful for our students, so I thought I’d share some of the many resources I’ve collected over the years here.

Although the conversation is currently about the tool (blogs), I think the bigger issues to address are:

  • How do we believe students learn?
  • What role does engagement, motivation and real-world application play in student learning?
  • What are the skills required for the 21st century?
  • How do we, as a school, ensure that our students are experiencing and understanding learning in a 21st century environment?

What this means is that we’re really discussing our beliefs about teaching and learning, and how technology can enhance that experience.

OK, back to the resources:

Here are a few of my favorite books. Please feel free to stop by EdTech any time and pick them up! I would highly recommend:

  • Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms by Will Richardson (also available in the Main Library)
  • Redefining Literacy for the 21st Century by David Warlick
  • Reinventing Project Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age by Suzie Boss and Jane Krauss

And, some that are not “official” favorites, but also address the question of new literacies in the classroom and research about technology and it’s impact on student learning:

  • How Teachers Learn Technology Best by Jamie McKenzie
  • Raw Materials for the Mind: A Teacher’s Guide to Digital Literacy by David Warlick
  • Teaching With Technology: Creating Student-Centered Classrooms by Judith Haymore Sandholts, Cathy Ringstaff and David C. Dwyer
  • Learning to Solve Problems with Technology: A Constructivist Perspective by David Jonassen and Jane Howland
  • Handbook of Research on New Literacies edited by Julie Coiro, Michele Knobel, Colin Lankshear, Donald J. Leu

And a few favorites about how technology is changing society (with obvious impacts on education):

  • The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman
  • Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirkey
  • The Long Tail by Chris Anderson
  • Everything is Miscellaneous by David Weinberger
  • A Whole New Mind by Dan Pink

And a few favorite articles (most are direct .pdf downloads):

More online resources:

Two active researchers, specifically working on blogging in education are Anne Davis (in Georgia) and Konrad Glogowski (in Canada).

Other web-based articles:

A few general websites about 21st century learning which address the issues above:

And, finally, the resources I’ve bookmarked on Diigo:

Please feel free to suggest other resources – this is just to get us started.

What is Blogging?

One of my favorite books about the power of web 2.0 tools in the classroom is Will Richardson’s Blogs Wikis, Podcasts and other Powerful Web Tools for the Classroom. It’s a quick and easy read – and very practical, written from a teacher’s perspective.

The section that had the most impact on me when I read it the first time was the section on what blogging really is. I thought I would share it here to prompt some discussion (p. 32):

  1. Posting assignments (Not blogging)
  2. Journaling, i.e. “this is what I did today.” (Not blogging)
  3. Posting links. (Not blogging)
  4. Links with descriptive annotation, i.e., “This site is about…” (Not really blogging either, but getting close depending on the depth of the description).
  5. Links with analysis that gets into the meaning of the content being linked. (A simple form of blogging).
  6. Reflective, metacognitive writing on practice without links. (Complex writing, but simple blogging, I think. Commenting would probably fall in here somewhere).
  7. 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).
  8. Extended analysis and synthesis over a longer period of time that builds on previous posts, links, and comments. (Complex blogging).

When we’re blogging with students, it might be worthwhile thinking about how to develop their skills to Will’s “level 8.” The National Council of Teachers of English just released a informational overview describing the changing dynamics of reading and writing in our society, and how critical it is for students to learn those skills through the curriculum. Now that we have the tools here at ISB, we are ready to get started!

Richardson, Will. (2006). Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. California: Corwin Press.