Time to change course

New blog strategy ahead

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Blogs are pretty damn useful. Some teachers run their class through it, posting homework and setting up a drop box of sorts so students can turn their homework in. Others use it to organize special events, and some use it as a bulletin board to communicate what is happening in the class. The bottom line is blogs are flexible and can be used to help accomplish many, many goals. This year, I’ve started using a blog and it’s been good. There have been some ups and downs and now I have realized that there must also be some changes in order for the blog to continue to be effective in my class. Read on past the break to see how I am use my blog and what I’m going to change about it.

Oh and if you’re thinking of making a blog and want a crash course you can read my how-to’s for WordPress.com, Blogger, and Posterous.

Here is what you need to know about how I was using my blog. I was using WordPress.com and my students were writing opinion pieces based on relevant tech topics. These topics could be related directly to units we were working on or tech issues (like YouTube in schools or students using mobile phones in the classroom). Each student was required to write a post for each topic and then make five comments throughout the blog for each topic. I felt the comments were crucial to help build a better community. This is why Omar and I love comments on IT Babble yo! My students (for the most part) really wrote what they felt. They expressed themselves and while they almost always wanted a minimum word count (which I rarely gave) their writing felt authentic and meaningful, and it continued to improve throughout the semester which was awesome to see.

Problem #1- Setting it all up
WordPress.com is super powerful and it is great to manage users, posts, etc. But it took around (this is no joke) 3 hours per class to get it set up. Whether we had difficulty setting up accounts, getting people onto the blog, or clearing up the confusion that they are posting on a blog THEY created and not the class blog. Once it was all sorted out, it worked great, but getting started was a bit of a pain.

Problem #2 – Marking
I knew that if I didn’t dangle that grade in front of the blog, some students wouldn’t write it. So I graded them. Reading through the blogs took time but was quite enjoyable. I created a simple rubric (pictured below) to help expedite the process.

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A problem with the rubric is, well, it doesn’t really grade on ideas, but I still want to make sure they are using academic English when writing. The real problem wasn’t the rubric, reading or grading. What took oodles of time was keeping track of the comments. It was a pain-staking process that actually took a lot of focus off of what the students wrote to what was happening in their comments. I didn’t like it and I’m changing it.

Problem #3 – “I don’t like to write
I had some students who hated the blog. They loathed it and would rather slide down a giant razor blade into a vat of rubbing alcohol. As a result they did not have many posts. They would rather take the F than write their thoughts. Parental involvement didn’t make much difference, or if it did they quality was poor. By quality I mean, the spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc. were fine, but it was less than meaningful. No real views were presented or supported and you can tell that it was written as an assignment and not as a way to express their views. This I must change.

Problem #4 – “Comments? We don’t need no stinking comments!
Then I had the students who wrote every blog post but refused to read anyone else’s, or if they did read it they refused to comment. I don’t know why, when I press these students for answer I usually get something like “Oh, I forgot.” It’s a weak excuse and leads me to believe there is something else at work. Also some of the comments were very superficial. Let’s take a look at the one below. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

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Wow, that looks like some of the comments Omar and I get in our spam filter for IT Babble. There is no thought or real exchange of ideas. It is basically a waste. So, I’ve got to change this too!

Problem #5 – Let’s chat it up
After each blog post I set aside some class time to discuss it with the students. The problem is, there are a lot of blog posts and many of those were pretty good. Getting some discussions going was sometimes a chore. As I mentioned many were good, but many view points were echoed again and again. There wasn’t really too much to discuss because most people knew what each other had written (if they did their comments). One student asked why we were talking about it? He said that the blog post was done why talk about it. Of course my heart sank a little, but what this kid is saying is, “Maybe there’s a better way Mr. C.” I think he’s right.

Despite all those problems I do feel that my blog was somewhat effective, but I want to make it better. I want to make it AWESOME! So here are my ideas of how to change. Read on and let me know what you think,

Bye-bye WordPress
I’m switching from WordPress.com to Posterous. Students don’t need an account to post, all they need to do is send an email to a specific address and it posts it to the blog. No need to log in. No need to make sure they are posting to the correct blog. No need to reset passwords or look up their username. Just send an email. Adding tags (so it’s easier to find posts) is done through the subject line of the email. Posterous also can handle loads of different file formats (including video). This will make the set up and blogging process very easy and there will be less questions to be sure.

A total facelift
For the rest of the problems, I was struck by inspiration. Well, it was more of a professional development workshop I went to. This teacher was talking about how he used debates in his classes. He assigned every student a debate topic and a due date at the beginning of the year and when it was time for the debate the students took charge of the class and the teacher just facilitated. Of course these were juniors and seniors not seventh and eighth graders, but I like that idea.

I plan on assigning due dates for 4-5 students at a time. I won’t give them a topic until two weeks before since change in the tech world can be pretty fast. I’ll also let them decide what the topic should be. Then the rest of the students will need to read and do a peer evaluation (certain students will be assigned to do one, not all of them). Then on a certain day the bloggers will hold a panel discussion where they will answer questions about what they wrote about. It may be a little ambitious but I think it’s better to do too much than too little. I really want the blog to be an important past of the class.

​Of course this will negate that terrible rubric I have above, expedite the marking process (as students will do a peer evaluation), cut down on the amount of time I spend grading (since there will only be 4-5 at a time) and let me focus much more on what has been expressed and learned as opposed to simply checking that it is done. It will also let students fully focus on a blog post about two times a semester and give the other students a chance to evaluate, think about, and discuss important issues.

These are lofty goals and require me to give up more class time than I did this year, but I feel (I hope) that the results will be worth it. I figure the more involved the students are in this process, the more meaningful the learning will be. Taking risks in classrooms is vital to keep growing as a teacher.

You’re still here 🙂
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for sticking with me. I know this is a lengthy post and I am curious to hear what you have to say, so leave a comment and help me learn more about teaching endeavors. Omar and I really appreciate it.

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About Patrick Cauley

I teach middle school technology and love to play around with tech and teach students and colleagues alike. You can read my blog at www.itbabble.com
This entry was posted in blog, Opinion and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Time to change course

  1. Pingback: Classroom blogging – The saga continues | Technology in the Classroom

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