Well I love me some summer vacation. It is usually the same routine every year. I kick back and relax for about a week not doing a whole lot and then must start thinking about school. I can’t help it. I love this time, because instead of looking to the next school year I always start reflecting on the past school year and analyze what worked and what didn’t and what I will change next year.
One project in particular that I rolled out with my seventh and eighth grade students was a class blog. The blog was designed to give students a chance to voice their opinions and then give a quick presentation about what they wrote about. Want to know what worked and what I am going to do next year? Read on past the break to find out and as always if you agree, disagree or have an idea leave a comment below.
I used www.posterous.com as my blogging platform. I used it for a few reasons. One, it did not require my students to have accounts (which was a pain with Blogger.com and WordPress.com). All the students had to do was email their post to an email account. While it was easy for students to email their post, there were some problems and you can read about them here. To add to those problems, Posterous was purchased by Twitter. Who knows if it will be around in six months. These problems and that uncertainty of the entire platform has led me to dump Posterous for the next school year.
Instead I will be using kidblog.org. At first I thought that kidblog.org wouldn’t be enough for what I want my students to do. After looking into it for a few teachers and making a couple guides (teacher guide & student guide) I realized that this may be what I need to. It’s easy to add accounts and posting for students is very simple and straight forward. This is good because it will allow them to focus more on writing.
I had students write to the blog in groups, then I had them present their view points and lead a discussion. I envisioned that these presentations would get better and better. The fact is, as the school year went on the presentations kind of got worse. This is not to say that they were doing a terrible job. It was simply as they got further into the year, they had more responsibilities and less time to prepare for a presentation, so it got lower and lower on their priorities. The presentations because shorter and shorter. This wasn’t always the case but it was happening more often than naught.
It was clear to me and them that the writing was the most important part of the blog. Having a formal presentation was a little overkill. Maybe just leading a discussion and fielding questions would be enough or possibly even nothing at all. This is something that I need to think more on. Input from you guys would be a big help.
I was very flexible about the writing. If two students wanted to write one post, I would allow it. If the group of four wanted to write one post, I would allow it. What this usually led to (as you might expect) would be one person doing most of the work. While I initially saw this as an opportunity for some students to exhibit their leadership skills, it turned out to be an opportunity for other students to simply dial in their blog post. A few students complained to me about it and I know that next year I will make it an individual blog post for each student. I will encourage them to still discuss the topic with each other, but they must write their own post.
Also, I wrote in an earlier post that I was worried I was not giving the students enough time to write. As I am sitting back and watching the ducks swim in the pond I realize that most students submitted their blog the day it was due or the day before. They had plenty of time to organize and post pretty good stuff. So giving them another week would probably not make a bigger difference. In fact I wonder if I could give them a week and a half.
The Time Table
At the beginning of the class I let all the students know the order in which they had to post. I should of had dates attached with the order. That way students knew when there blog post was coming up and when it was due. Instead I kind of made up the due dates as they came up but this is not very fair. Most students got two weeks to work on their post but a few times I gave students three due to holidays or other interruptions in the school calendar. Not exactly fair especially since the blog is on the web and can be done anywhere at anytime. Just because they are not in the classroom doesn’t mean they can’t do it. Setting due dates ahead of time (which I definitely can do) will help make this a bigger part of the routine.
I love that my students are thinking about something that they feel is important and that they have a platform where their voice can be heard. What I don’t love about this activity is that it is kind of one and done. They write their post, do a quick presentation and are finished with it. I want them to think about what they have written and the response it has gotten. Did they change someone’s mind? Did it change their mind? I want them to consider that their words have lasting meaning and that thoughts and ideas on the web shouldn’t and can’t be cast aside like a paper that is only seen by themselves and their teacher. On this platform anyone can see it.
Students do a pretty good job about commenting on the blog. On the flip side of that coin, students didn’t do a good job of responding to comments on their posts. What I need to do is to to get the blog out there more, so I’ll be promoting it from time to time here on IT Babble, but also I need to promote it within the school.
I also need to come up with some more commenting guidelines too. Letting students know that writing a compelling post isn’t the end of their job. Being active on their own comment section is also part of their responsibility and it can also be a really fun part of the process too.`
Well that about wraps it up. If you have any good ideas or criticism about what I’m doing please feel free to leave a comment below. We love comments here at IT Babble.