Monday, February 28, 2011

The World Wide Web of Kidbloggers!

The other day, right in the middle of silent reading no less, one of my students exclaimed, "There must be other kids doing it, too!"  After everyone stopped laughing  : ), he explained how he was wondering what and where other classrooms might be ... who also blogged.  This prompted a great discussion on what would we hope to see in these other blogs:
  • something about where their school/community is
  • information about their school day
  • examples of the type of projects they do~student work
  • creative pieces
  • book responses

The students then reflected on some ways we might build our blog to show similar things.  Several students are drafting independently chosen pieces to post.  Others suggested our recent Social Studies project on the Beothuk, including some of the snaps, should be a post.  Some work is going to be done about our town to be added.  This prompted another discussion ...this time about wikis.  

This blogging has been the inspiration for writing in a way that is sometimes more contrived and feels like an assignment. .

Needless to say that sent me back to the computer to look for classrooms that might be (actually I knew there MUST be) interested in such a relationship.   More on that after I make contact with these other learning communities!

Come on...Comment!

One of the goals of  having the students writing a blog is that they see a purpose in effectively communicating their thoughts, ideas, opinions and information.  Knowing that they have an 'outside audience', besides me, motivates them when they consider topics, organization, revision and editing.

Being able to comment on each other's posts has been a positive by-product of the on-line blogging process.  Seeing someone's words on the screen is a  terrific reinforcement.  Given that I can't provide feedback as often as I would like, enabling the students to respond to each other lessens this interesting but sometimes time-consuming task.  As well, the look on their face when they log on and see the comment number has changed is wonderful.

We have spent some time on how to provide feedback when commenting.  As we have already established the practice of constructive criticism in our writing circles/conferences, the students know how to look for positive (and authentic) things to say and how to ask a question that leads a writer to re-examine or clarify a point.

 "I really liked the point where you..."    "The part where you... worked well."    "I agree with you when you say ..." " If you tried...., this would be clearer to me."      "Could you tell me more about...."

So we are trying to build on that type of verbal, respectful response when we write to each other about our blog posts.

We are about to open up our site to parents who will have guest passwords.  I will be sending home, and posting, about how to respond  to their child, and others, in a similar manner.  The kids will know the difference between a real comment and the somewhat vacuous "good job!"

Though I am sure they will appreciate all the responses!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Learn As You Go!

Being new at something means you can try it, and revise it until you get closer to what it is you want to accomplish. This is true in blogging for sure! 
While the initial interest in blogging was high in my Grade Five classroom, it has not been sustained over the last few weeks, in particular. The level of participation has waned -only somewhat - but I want to re-examine what was happening, especially as it pertains to my classroom practice. (Many had been posting and commenting at home as well.)  Given that I had not set particular times in school for blogging but was letting it fit into the independent choices students could make was likely, I figured, to be the main factor. 

Blogs:Personal Learning Spaces

David Truss' video captures a shared point of view; that I want  a blog, my blog, to be my personal learning space!  I want to continue to find out about the role technology can play in the teaching and learning that occurs inside (and out of) my classroom.  I do hope to network with other educators and build my repertoire based on some of the activities already tried by other teachers!  (Perhaps I will be an influence on someone else.)
One of the things I have learned about myself as I began to incorporate more digital literacies into my practice is I enjoy trying new things and am not afraid of taking risks!  Everyone is a beginner, a novice until they become experienced! And there's only one way to get that! One step at a time or jumping in with two feet; whatever works!
I have plans for using blogs that I am confident will enhance my students' experiences this year (and next year and ...) That blogging will expand our shared learning space is obvious.  That blogging will give my students increased responsibility for their own learning is one of the positive side effects of blogging.

"The important thing is not so much that every child should be taught but that every child should be given the wish to learn." John Lubbock

I have no doubt that BLOGGING has the potential to make that wish come true!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Getting Started with Kid Blogging

I chose to use Kidblog, a highly recommended site for elementary students.  It was quick (and easy) to set up and I used our school password system as their entry point.  You can create simple passwords for your students if there isn't something already in place. Once you’re in, the dashboard makes keeping track of who and what simple!
To link blogging to Reading Responses already being created by my students, I asked them (in a blog post naturally!) to blog about the books they were reading in our Independent Reading Program.   This then became a self-paced activity, although I asked everyone to post within the first week.  Students may compose and save their posts as drafts first if they choose; allowing them the opportunity to re-read and revise their work before setting it as ‘pending (my) review’.
One of the discussions we had about writing a blog was about its form.  The Book Responses I set as their first blog/task can be written in different styles –journal, informational reports, letters, lists, and poems - structures they had been introduced to and were comfortable with.  That made it a less daunting activity (though I don’t think children find much of anything related to technology daunting!)

 These blogs rule. It rules beacuse I can post and share my opinion about my books.
 As we moved into self-generated pieces “Hot Topics”, we discussed the tone- almost conversational -that would be more appropriate.

Bike helmets should be mandatory because if you didn't have a helmet on you could fall off and hurt yourself by cracking you skull and doing more damage.  But with a helmet on it could SAVE your life!!!  I had an accident one time I was flying jumps on paddle bike with no helmet and badly hurt myself:(

Understanding that the dialogue / comments they make on each other’s posts would also be made public generated a discussion about respect –on and offline.  We have worked throughout the first half of the year on the practice of “constructive criticism” but the students had to be made even more aware of their ‘cyber-manners’.  We talked about sharing our thoughts, ideas and opinions in a considerate way while being true to our purpose.

Great Post Emily!!
I was wondering if you would recommend this book for me. I saw you reading it so I didn’t want to distract you.I was also wondering what genre it is.
Keep Reading (:

 As we move into blogs about our classroom activities, the notion of sharing events that are positive and respectful of all members of our classroom community will be revisited.
Kidblog allows you (the teacher) to view and edit all postings before they are ‘published’.  I asked my students what they thought of this feature.  They recognized and endorsed my role as ‘chief editor’ being important here, as their work would be shared with a much wider audience and it should look “polished”.  One of the things I like about using this platform is the easy access I have to pieces of work.   I can use this tool (from home) to leave quick comments and suggestions about editing, spelling strategies, word meanings and content like any other writing conference.   The students respond positively to seeing my feedback on their post (I often leave it in coloured font!) and they seem to be taking it in more readily than other mini-conferences I hold with them.

Hey there! I really liked the way you organized your thoughts about using bottled water in schools.  Remember the meeting we had about spelling there/their/they're?  You have two places where you could have used 'they are'; check that out and then we'll send this piece to the publisher!

It was made clear through discussion that the expectations for final draft quality would also apply to efforts in writing the blogs.  An ongoing concern of many (parents and teachers) relates to students’ use- or lack of- spelling strategies and using texting terms in their written responses.  Using Kidblog allows for a level of intervention that can be determined by the teacher.  You can leave it open; that depends on your comfort zone and the age of your students, I would think.  My intention is to use a model of gradual release as they develop that sense of ownership while learning/practicing effective revising/editing strategies (peer and independent).

Getting started is a little time-consuming but the results are definitely worth it! 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Why have our students blog?

Blogs have an incredible potential for learning, including the built-in opportunity to practice writing in an authentic way, the chance to reflect upon one’s thinking and that of others in an online community that can be wider than one can usually imagine!
Using a platforms like Kidblog allows a teacher to set up a forum that has many facets that support and enhance reading, writing, viewing, listening, creating, analyzing, responding...  It can be as simple as logging on and reacting to a post by the teacher, to completing open-ended responses and assignments.  As part of an in-class community, being able to interact with classmates about a variety of topics allows for respectful responses and constructive criticism. 
The blog can also be a journal of the class’ experiences together.  Sharing with parents, family, and the community at large provides a chance to highlight classroom activities while learning what to select as worthy of inclusion.  Taking into consideration the immediacy of the audience, the bloggers can be encouraged to write more descriptively; framing their writing with a ‘formal’ language appropriate to the situation.  Having that audience also provides a real reason for applying the conventions of written text-- what you communicate should be as clearly well-written as you can manage!
One of the other key reasons for blogging with our students lies with the nature of the technology involved in blogging.  Students today need to be introduced to the interactive, communicative reality of the Internet where they can create a wide variety of digital texts to share for a multitude of purposes. Blogging can, and should, move beyond the traditional print  level of response quickly as students learn to create, insert and embed audio, video and images from many sources. 
 The possibilities are endless, unique and intriguing!


Beginnings are important.  They are the signposts from which we gauge growth, change, our movement forward. This change is very evident when I look at the ways technology has become part of my life, and in particular my teaching practice.  It has been a gradual process but ever since I began, I have been excited about the many ways I can make use of the tools and technology in my classroom.
My own beginnings as a teacher, while relatively fresh in my mind, certainly indicate to me that I have changed, that I am no longer in the same spot!  That's a good thing.  From the first computers I used in school for (simple) games and word-processing to the multi-modal projects and global access now possible, there has been an incredible, fast-paced movement forward.  I look back to the 'beginning' and marvel what has become available since then!  There is no way I could remain static and comfortable doing the same things I did, even a few years ago, in today's digital world.
I believe that it is absolutely necessary that I strive to embed technologies in my daily practice, that I teach the children how to make the most of digital tools, collaboratively and purposefully with each other.  I also recognize that my students come to school, already competent with devices, programs and applications --knowledgeable in ways I need to use.  Learning from and with my students is part of the pleasure; we are on this trip together, a fact that I find immensely satisfying.  (I don't have to pretend I know it all already!)
So, to that end, this is a beginning for me; a promise to myself and my students to continue the journey.  I will keep an eye out for other 'travelers' who want to tag along. I will seek the expertise of those who are willing to share and head us in the 'right direction' (perhaps to a new 'treasure'?)  Any 'map' I can use, I will; though I love side trips so who knows where this might take me!