Why Blog?

When I began my teaching career, in a Grade 1 classroom in Squamish, I was told that using daily or weekly journals was a great way to help my kids develop their writing and reading skills. So, with typical first-year enthusiasm, I dove right in! The students wrote and drew in their journals almost every day. I spent hours of my own time carefully printing my responses back to them. Occasionally, I might share a particularly funny or sad entry with a colleague and I eventually learned to photocopy special journal entries and tuck them away in the students’ file. At the end of the year I sent their worn and dog-eared journals home, carefully bound in ribbon. I hoped their parents would cherish them as much as I did.

Fast forward to now. I still journal with my kids…sort of.

We blog. Not every day, but usually once a week. A few brave souls even blog on their own time, without being asked to. Sometimes I give them the topics, sometimes they choose. We still add pictures, but instead of being hand drawn, they are digital images or maybe even video. I still read the entries and respond. I still gain valuable insights into my student’s lives and minds. But I think blogging is better.

Now I can just see some of you scratching your heads and thinking “huh”? Why blog? How is it different than journaling? On the surface, we’re still talking about reading and writing. But below the surface, there’s a world of difference. In a time when catchphrases like “21st century learner”, “digital citizenship” and “digital literacy” are being tossed around, blogs can be a teacher’s best friend, as they provide a platform for students to engage in and learn many of the skills alluded to in these ideas. So…..why blog? Here’s why:

1. Writing for a real audience.
My little Grade One students slaved away over their paper and pencil journals. But for the most part, the only audience they ever had was me and maybe their parents. Depending on the security level of your blogs, your students’ blogs could be read by other students, other teachers, administrators or parents. Knowing how wide your potential audience is changes the writing experience.

2. Engagement
Using a computer is fun. Therefore, writing with a computer is fun and for most students, far more engaging than the pen and paper process. While those students who are already prolific writers will continue to write lots on their blog, it is the engagement of your reluctant writers that is the most satisfying to see. ADD kids? Computers tend to hold their interest longer than pencil and paper. ESL kids? With all the great online translating tools available, they quickly become more confident in their writing. Blogging is something all students can participate in and feel successful with.

3. Pride
A blog is essentially a website and some of them can look pretty fancy and professional. The pride that students feel when seeing their words on a real website is not to be discounted.

4. Digital Citizenship
One of the great affordances of blogs is the ability to comment. It is what changes them from a static to a dynamic website. Students get very excited when they see that other people have reacted to and commented on their thoughts. As a teacher, this is a great “teachable moment”. How do you comment on a blog? What sorts of comments are helpful and what might be hurtful? Learning proper “netiquette” is a valuable skill for our students.

5. Digital Literacy Skills
Blogs can be used as a great platform for teaching digital literacy skills. During the course of the year, I use blogs to teach kids how to use word, pictures and sound to convey their messages. I teach them how to comment appropriately (see above), how to use hyperlinks to connect their learning with the wider world, and how to use folksonomy tools like tags and categories to order their thoughts. Through the blogs, they become comfortable in a digital world that extends beyond cell phones and online games.

6. Blog as Learning Archive
If each student has their own blog then it is relatively easy to begin using those blogs as personal learning archives or e-portfolios. Have them blog about what they’ve learned, have them attach or embed their digital projects, have them take pictures of their best art and blog about it. Start to sort these blogs into categories based on curricular areas and you will find that by the end of the year students have gathered quite a collection of examples of their personal learning journey. If you do student-led conferences these blogs can be a great way for the students to walk their parents through their year.

7. Home- School Communication
If parents have access to their child’s blog they can keep track of their child’s progress and interact with their child be leaving comments.

If you’ve never blogged with your students, give it a try! Once you do, I bet you’ll have even more reasons to add to this list of why blogging beats journals! And why not practice some blogging skills right now? Leave me a comment and let me know what you think!

Re(search) Safely and Correctly

Hey Grade 7,

Hopefully you were paying attention in class today, but if you weren’t here are a few reminders about what we talked about:

1. Search Smart – narrow your search down by doing a boolean search (tyrannosaurus rex and drumheller) and being specific with your search.

2. Be Critical – don’t assume that everything that is online is true. Think for yourself and view things with a critical eye! Remember the Pacific Tree Octopus! Also, look for the url of the site. Remind yourself about what .com, .org, .gov, .edu, .ca, etc mean.

3. Triangulate – always find three sources that back each other up! One source is never enough…..and keep track of your sources.

4. Wikipedia is NOT evil! – many wikipedia articles are actually quite informative and often just as accurate as an encyclopedia. The best articles are often the historical and scientific ones. HOWEVER, you still need to triangulate. Never, ever, ever, use wikipedia or any other source as your only place to get information!

5. Copyright and Creative Commons – remember to use your own words – do NOT “copy/paste”; it is called plagiarism and is completely wrong. Use your own words and give credit if you must use someone else’s words. If you are using pictures, music or video from the web, make sure you check to see if it is licensed by Creative Commons (CC).

If you can do all of these things, you will be more ready for high school than some people are for university!