4Cs of Student Blogs in Elementary School

Five years ago, Konard Glogowski shared his experiences with blogs in the high-school classroom and described the Ripple Effect as a method to facilitate reflective talk with students and help them become evolving writers. It amazes me that today his post still has the ripple effect on readers, myself included! It is a thought-provoking, want-to-do-the-right thing kind of a post that inspires me to reflect on my teaching craft. If the focus of blogging is not mechanics of writing, then what matters? Since secondary and elementary levels are quite different, I’ve started thinking of what Glogowski-style blogging would look like in an elementary school. My ideas have shaped into 4 Cs of blogging in elementary grades. 
 
First C is for Connections…Writing a blog challenges students to search and connect with a topic. Blog writing is not journaling about events in one’s life, but thinking about information and connecting it with personal experiences (Richardson, 2010). Such writing requires critical thinking skills (Educational Origami refers to them as Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy): searching for information, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating multiple texts, and contributing new ideas by writing them in a blog.  
 
Second C is for Clarity…Writing down own thoughts may be easy, but formulating them in a clear and well-organized manner is usually a challenge for many elementary students. We teach organization and structure of many writing genres required by Common Core Standards and make students practice them in writing journals. Writing a blog makes writing process relevant and meaningful. Students write with a real audience in mind, and, therefore, they are interested in making themselves understood and excepted. With specific, targeted feedback from teachers and peers, students incline to revise, reorganize, and clarify their blog entries.  
 
Third C is for Comments…As I mentioned in my last blog post, comments are the pulse of blogging. This is when real teaching and learning take place. As teachers or students comment on each other’s posts, they become a part of “connective writing”, and that’s when the true learning begins (Richardson, 2010). While writing or reading comments on blogs, students revise their thinking, ask questions, clarify their thoughts, and become passionate experts of the topic. The Ripple Effect is what makes blogging a powerful tool for teaching and learning writing process. 
 
Fourth C is for Conventions…Of course, writing online should include correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Students should learn to revise and edit their blog posts multiple times before letting them go “live”. In addition, blog has its specific conventions that students need to learn to understand and integrate: good title, tags, properly hyperlinked sources, and references. 

Based on the 4 Cs described above, I developed a rubric that can be used to assess student blogs posts and comments in elementary classrooms : 

References

Educational Origami. (n.d). Rubrics – Bloom’s digital taxonomy. Retrieved from http://edorigami.wikispaces.com/Rubrics+-+Bloom%27s+Digital+Taxonomy 

Franker, K. (2012). A rubric for evaluating student blogs.Retrieved from https://www2.uwstout.edu/content/profdev/rubrics/blog_rubric_revised.pdf

Long, C. (n.d). Blogging scoring rubric.Retrieved from http://www.personal.psu.edu/cpl2/blogs/cplportfolio/Blogging%20Scoring%20Rubric.pdf

Richardson, W. (2010). Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. California: Corwin A SAGE Company.

Richardson, W. (n.d). Retrieved September 6, 2013 from the Will Richardson’s Wiki: http://weblogged.wikispaces.com 

Blog Composition

Today, millions of professional, educational, and personal blogs are living in the endless world of digital information.  They have become a “hot” topic in schools and taken a well-deserved place as an instructional tool in many classrooms.  To be an effective blogger yourself or teaching others to become one, we need to understand the composition of the “blogging genre” and its main role – interaction with a real audience. 

Will Richardson (2010) calls the writing genre of blogs “connective writing”, but I think “interactive writing” would be an even more appropriate name for it.  This term was initially introduced by Stan Swartz about twelve years ago, and every primary grade teacher knows that this method involves thinking out loud about writing and physically sharing the pen with students while completing a writing task.  If you ask me, it does not seem like much interaction today.  Blogs are so much more!  They demand interactive reading, thinking, writing, sharing, editing, revising, and rethinking.  On top, you do not share the pen with the teacher or peers – you own it!  Blogging is the magic pen that allows writers to reach a real audience and, if well thought-out and written, trigger their responses.
 
Reading and writing a blog requires critical thinking.  Just like any type of reading, reading blogs “expands the walls of the classroom” (Richardson, 2010, p. 27) and allows readers to become experts on a specific topic.  Blogs, however, speed up the process of locating information by linking readers to other professionals, experts, and online resources.  They bring in images, music, or videos to support the interest and style of any learner.  A blog may look short, but it expands to abundance of information which readers can explore for hours!  For example, the 7 Key Ingredients in the Successful 21st Century
Classroom 
post by Vicki Davis is full of links to resources which keeps readers actively engaged.  I spent a long time learning about each of the keys from the links available in her post, not to mention the links in the linked sites! 

Writing in general is a process of sharing our thinking.  As reading triggers thinking, writing helps analyze, synthesize, and evaluate it.  In this way, writing and blogging are the same.  The social aspect of blogging, however, immediately connects writers with a real audience.  Because of that, the style in which blogs are written is more conversational and, as Richardson says, “demands interaction” (2010, p.18).  The word choice, tone, and sentence structures of writing a blog provoke readers to respond: agree, disagree, clarify information, share own experiences, or ask questions.  Commenting is the pulse of blogging.  Take a look at the 10 Reasons to Trash Word for Google Docs post to see how the topic turns into a discussion board that widens readers’ views about it and compiles the diversity of people’s perspectives in one place.  Blog writers must learn to “write with an ear for readership” (Richardson, 2010, p.32) and facilitate a conversation online.

As a new literacy, blogging is a perfect platform to teach and learn reading and writing skills today.  Student should be able to learn how to access, “weed out” a flood of information online by evaluating its relevance and accuracy, and then deliver their product in a form of a carefully edited, audience-oriented writing piece.  Moreover, the work of the author does not stop with a click of the “publish” button.  Contrary, it’s just the beginning of a conversation and critical thinking.  With a real audience, writers are obliged to clarify and question own thoughts and communicate them to readers on an ongoing basis.  Blog writers must work hard to bring their audience back to the posts and keep them interested.  I think Bill Ferriter does an incredible job explaining how blogging becomes a key to learning new literacy skills in schools.  To prepare students for their future, we must “graduate” them from writing journal entries and fiction stories in marble composition books to being critical readers and connected writers of the real world.

References

Richardson, W. (2010). Blogs, wikis podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. California: Corwin A SAGE Company. 

What 21st Century Teachers Don’t Do

“The six areas of the FC Graduate Profile define the academic skills and personal characteristics that will make students successful as they continue their education, enter the workspace, or join the military…All staff members K-12 play an active role in building young men and women who personify the Graduate Profile.” (from FC website)

When I look at the Graduate Profile, I see the list of characteristics that are recognized today as 21st century skills. Does it mean that those of us who grew up in 20th century don’t possess such skills?  Can we effectively teach the digital generation of today? Of course, we can… if we welcome change, regularly reflect on the work we do, and never stop learning.  Otherwise, we fall behind the times and drag students with us, robbing them of great possibilities. 

After reading professional literature, articles and blogs, I’ve attempted to identity characteristics of a typical classroom from the past. Take a look….You are falling behind the times if:

  • You talk more in class (small or big group) than your students whom you handicap by taking away opportunities to collaborate and learn from each other.
  • You create more content for your lessons than your students do. Your students never take an active part in creating assessments.
  • You rarely share the stylus with your students and view a flipchart presentation or PowerPoint as satisfying technology integration in a classroom.
  • You believe that there is not enough time in your classroom for project-based learning and you focus your energy on preparing students for a test instead.
  • Your students always turn in their home or class assignments on printed paper instead of digitally (Angel, BYOT, web-based tools) and the only feedback you give them is a smiley face/check mark or a final grade. You don’t set milestones for any assignments.
  • You think that the BYOT initiative will never take roots in schools and it is something that will surely die out and go away in a few years.
  • Students use classroom desktops primarily to type the stories they wrote on paper to be printed out and sent home for keepsake. The only audience the papers ever see is you.
  • You use printers and copier machines every day.
  • You’ve never used or heard of Collaborize Classroom, Prezi, Evernote, Voki, Wallwisher, Glogster, Typewith.me, Storybird, JayCut, Museum Box, or Tiki-Toci. 
  • You rarely volunteer your time to attend a training, free webinar or join a teacher learning community on Twitter or another social network to communicate with teachers around the world.
  • You use your webpage to post only homework assignments and newsletters instead of sharing students’ blogs, podcasts and published work.
  • “I’ve used it for many years and it’s almost a tradition now,” is a phrase you use to escape innovation and change.
  • You only contact your ITS when technical issues arise. You don’t find at least one thing to call or email your ITS about at least twice a month (showing off students’ work, planning, share ideas, implementing lessons, learning a new tool, etc.)

I know you said “not me” to many of these characteristics because you are great teachers. But you know you said “kind of me” to some of them. Maybe there is something you want to alter. Change is hard to endure, but the outcome is worth every bit of your effort. Reflect on your work… Would you like to be in your classroom?

Additional resources that are worth your time:

21 Century Pedagogy  

 21 Century Assessment     

 21 Century  Teacher   

 10 Question to Ask Yourself