03 March 2013

Blogging with elementary students - a formative reflection

What's working:
+Child-specific platform
+Specific assignments to learn and explore features of blogging, all documented within the blog.
+Utilizing blog for a variety of tasks, assessments, inquiry organization, interest-based explorations.
+Dedicated class time for blogging.
+Students writing with purpose.
+Seamless integration of technology, skills, and fun.

This year, I started my fourth grade class using Kidblog. What I liked about it when compared with the other very excellent platforms was the simplicity and control, which became an essential aspect of using it to teach and learn. As the students become familiar with the concepts and functionality, I slowly released the reins so that everyone was aware of, comfortable with, and hopefully confident about the experience as it expanded.

We began with a private blog and provided a password for parents to view and comment. The students each made an alias in order to reinforce the importance of privacy online. They created their own passwords which I organized in a simple spreadsheet for easy retrieval. Naturally, I had to approve all content before it was published. Every few weeks, I sent the parents a detailed email of changes and future plans. We had a small amount of parent participation in the form of comments!

Step by step, we explored the features of the blog. We started with posts, then comments. At each step, I made an effort to link our blog activities to content from our lessons and inquiries. I posted a chart in the classroom with each student's name and tasks to complete on the blog such as read a post to click a link to an interesting website and then leaving a comment about it. I think they liked being able to leave comments like 'it was boring' and 'yay'. Eloquence was not the objective of those lessons.

Soon, I encouraged them to start posting whatever they wanted. They posted videos. Countless videos. Silly videos. I endured because this was their opportunity to experience the intrinsic value of the blog and also get the initial novelty out of their systems. Their writing also started to expand as they saw the need to express themselves clearly, if not briefly.

Early on and very often, they had technical problems. Those problems became perfect teachable moments. Rather than following a unit plan like Blogging is Elementary from Kim Cofino, our inquiry into blogging developed organically. For example, when a youtube video wouldn't embed into a post, we learned that some youtubers don't allow it, and we must respect their right to control their content. By treating digital citizenship as an inquiry and using a child-oriented platform with absolute teacher control, I think we're achieving a balance between skills-development and interest-based motivation.

Once we had established basic skills and our code of ethics, as it were, we started reaching out to other blogs. This was one element of Kidblog I enjoyed. I could contact other classes and share our posts and allow them to leave comments without making the blog public. At that point, we had talked enough about privacy and Digital Citizenship to start using our first names.

Admittedly, my students are still very shy about interacting with other classes, but they are opening up slowly. I assume that other classes are the same. I thought that if our blog received attention in the form of visits and comments from other classes or (gasp) strangers, they would be encouraged. For this to happen, we have to go public, although I still maintain totalitarian control.

At this time, anyone can view our posts and try to leave comments. I am the gatekeeper, and have to approve all content before it is published. This is still an experiment, of course, and one that I am genuinely enjoying. Click here to pay us a visit!

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