Blogging Alchemy: Success in Secondary Student Blogging

I have set up a comprehensive student blogging platform for my classes. I have a blog for every class with a lesson stream that tracks and compiles the daily traffic of the classroom, I publish my year plans, samples of excellent student work, moderated exemplars, lesson sequences, videos of student speaking, of me teaching – I think you get the idea. This is my open classroom, and this is how it’s done.

A Specimen Workflow

To explain what’s so great about this system, I’m going to step through the workflow of a typical learning sequence, with a focus on one or two students.

SPOKEN LANGUAGE STUDY:

Every image below leads to the actual live blog entry. This is all real work from the last week in the classroom.

CLASS BLOG: Year Plan – showing where the learning sequence fits into the over-all scheme and providing links to important resources, dates and documents.

01 - Class Blog - Year Plan

CLASS BLOG: The students explore their own spoken and text-messaging language, firstly by filming each other:

02 - Class Blog - Student Videos

STUDENT BLOG: Then the student transcribes their conversation:

03 - Student Blog - Transcribe

CLASS BLOG: Annotation Examples from the IWB and Useful Glossaries:

04 - Class Blog - Annotate

(Use any embedding service, though I find Google Docs works very well here – without document quality loss and allowing the ability to download and print without the user having to register with google)

05 - Class Blog - Glossaries and Resources

STUDENT BLOG: Student writes analysis

06 - Student Blog - Student Practice Analysis

CLASS BLOG: Maybe they consult another student’s blog or the video a student made of Mr Waugh explaining stuff (Ok, so this is from another class – but I wanted to show you):

Screen Shot 2014-02-23 at 12.04.02

STUDENT BLOG: Teacher gives feedback on initial analytical writing effort:

08 - Student Blog - Teacher FeedbackTEACHER EMAIL: The most powerful and exciting function of all (Using the wordpress ‘Email Post Changes’ option) instant analysis of changes made by the student:

09 - Teacher Email

One very happy teacher!

10 - Student Response

And if you’re on a mobile?

Successful Student Blogging: Mobile Access

So, you want to build an open classroom?

Whether you are starting out and using the free wordpress.com blogging system, or whether you’ve now got your own wordpress server installed somewhere, all of the following technical options are available to you. 1) Set up a class blog on WordPress.com and start uploading resources and the odd snapshot from the IWB or photograph of the whiteboard. Use it to co-ordinate homework and disseminate information to students and families.

If your blog is set to public, then anyone on the internet can read it and comment. The default settings require these to be approved by you before they’re first published. You have control over this.

2) Create individual blogs for your students and invite them to join as “Authors”. This privilege status allows them to log in, read your posts, and create their own posts. If you would rather, they can be “Contributors” whose work has to be approved by you before it is published. 3) Start setting homework and offering for the students to submit it on their blogs rather than in person (services like Edmodo perform this function very well, but I still prefer the experience of having all the boys’ work in one place, and all curated by them). Remember anytime they want to they can set their work to private, on an item by item basis. This means it becomes only accessible to anyone with a login – generally just you and them. 4) Experiment with having students respond to each others’ work. Encourage parents to do the same, as well as your colleagues. Then start demonstrating your willingness to share by offering your resources and materials for the students and your colleagues to share.. and before you know it, you’ve created a blogging ecosystem in your own classroom. (I did all of this in a classroom with no computers and with limited (one period a fortnight) access to a computer room – now I have iPads there opportunities are incredibly exciting, however there is so much that can be done with a bit of kiwi ingenuity and some number 8 fencing wire.)

Dont be Scared off by what others say:

Brilliantly, the internet is still very democratic. As a teacher who has never once attended ‘training’ in any form of ICT, I believe any teacher with the requisite will and a bit of imagination can devise a successful technological solution in the classroom. There are plenty of people who can, and will, give advice and practical help (Twitter is a brilliant forum for sharing and developing ideas in teaching) and there are some pretty compelling reasons to do so. As with most areas of education I suggest you learn through doing – other people’s experiences with a given tool or strategy will almost never define how it will work for you.

Why I Create with WordPress

WordPress is one of the most extensible and customisable Content Management Systems available. It’s also open-source, which means that it’s written by a group of voluntary collaborators and it’s free. Here are the top 10 reasons I chose wordpress:

  1. It is completely cross-platform. Whether you, your students, or their parents access the blog from the phone, a Blackberry, a mac, an iPad, or a PC computer – every one can view, comment and edit their content
  2. It is designed around the concept of a blog – so it’s built for interaction
  3. There is microscopic control over user privileges, so you can create safe levels of access for all parties
  4. All post revisions are retained (older versions of work are still accessible)
  5. Everything is autosaved (no matter what happens to the device, the work is saved)
  6. Post revisions are emailed to me (every change a student makes to their work is sent to me in a clear, useful format)
  7. Students and classes can be followed by email (everyone can develop their own audience and following)
  8. All major media forms (video, audio, image, document) can be embedded
  9. There are thousands of themes and all CSS is editable (customisation and personalisation is intrinsic)
  10. Everything is tracked and everything can be moderated – allowing for high e-safety standards
  11. WordPress is a real-world publishing platform. The students are learning how to use something that will be of continued use.

Advice: Don’t attempt to implement a tech solution with students that you are not already fluent with, start simple, set your own schedule and gradually expand the students freedoms and privileges as they develop confidence and fluency in the process – and always, always engage in a mechanism like this as a transformation of established excellent classroom practice.

Initially, prepare for the underwhelming trickle of interest from students and families. Don’t be disheartened, keep the faith – blogging online is a genuine example of “if you build it, they will come” and they WILL come!

Kia Kaha!

Posted by Christopher Waugh

  1. I wish you would come back to Dunedin and be my son’s English teacher, enliven the subject for him. You rock!

    Reply

  2. Chris I greatly admire the thinking that you put into your teaching – and of course the enthusiasm with which you present it to your students. And to think Ross and I tried to persuade you not to go teaching. Boy were we wrong.

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  3. As I remember it your protests were only half-hearted. What I also remember is that you recommended that I apply to the NZ Graduate School of Education which was the single most valuable piece of advice I have been given in my teaching career. Anyway – what you say aside, you’ve both always been my greatest teaching role-models and I feel proud to follow in your footsteps as a teacher.

    Reply

  4. […] I have set up a comprehensive student blogging platform for my classes.  […]

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  5. What a truly inspirational account of teaching with technology. Thank you for sharing so freely and so generously. What I found particularly inspirational was the fact that you sought to use technology not merely as a teaching tool, but as an entire collaborative, self-directed, self-learning process for your students. In doing so, you teach them so much more than English!

    Reply

    1. Thanks for the comment! I agree that, at our best, we’re always teaching a lot more than our subject in schools. It’s certainly helped to be able to recruit some of the mechanisms that have made social networking so popular to meet my ends as a teacher!

      Chris Waugh

      Reply

  6. […] I have set up a comprehensive student blogging platform for my classes.  […]

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