What is a blog? Will Richardson (2009) says that it is an “easily created, easily updateable website that allows an author to publish instantly to the Internet from any Internet connection.” (p 17). No knowledge of programming or html is necessary, just a computer and access to the Internet. Not only can bloggers create text on their websites, but they can also include links to other sites, images, video and audio. Blogs are personal website creation for the masses. And the masses are creating them….there were 151,226,424 blogs as of today, and of those, 43,588 were created in the last 24 hours (as per BlogPulse, November 28, 2010). What do people find to blog about? Richardson (2009) says there is a blog for everyone and everything, from aardvarks to knitting to zen. Whatever people are interested in, or want to talk or learn about, that’s what they will blog about. Blogging doesn’t necessarily even need to be on a blog site. Richardson (2009) believes that in essence, Facebook and MySpace are also blogging platforms, in that people use them to create mini-websites based on their identities. What makes a blog different from a website or wiki? The key to blogging is its interactivity (Richardson, 2009). Not only are you able to say what you want to say, you can share it with the world and through commenting, the world can share their thoughts and ideas back with you. The blog becomes a conversation. Berger and Trexler (2010) state that, even though a blog is a reflection of one person’s voice, feedback is “the gateway to the discussion that the blogger hopes to generate” (p. 103). They suggest that feedback can be given not only through comments, but also through links or trackbacks to your post from other’s blogs. In this way, one blog post, say on using wikis as a storytelling tool, is referred to (and a trackback created) by a second blogger who builds onto the original discussion. Other bloggers then read the second blog, refer and create their own trackbacks to it, or they may follow the link back to the original blog, read it, and then refer to the original post on their blog. The discussion becomes a virtual spiderweb of interrelated blog posts, creating a rich and full discussion.
There are a number of popular, free blog hosting sites. Among them are Edublogs, Blogger, and WordPress. Richard Byrne has a good overview of the three different platforms on his blog Free Technology for Teachers. I have not used Blogger, but have used both Edublogs and WordPress.
Personal Learning about the tool:
I chose to use WordPress for this blog, as I felt it had more features than Edublogs. Once you have signed up and created your blog, you are then taken to your ‘dashboard’, the control center for your blog, where you can start to play with the site, personalizing it to suit your style and purpose. For appearance, WordPress has over 100 themes you can choose from, many of them with customizable headers. Each theme has its own colour and style, with different header, footer, column, widget, category and page layouts. As you look at the different styles, consider the purpose of your blog. Do you need more than one column? What theme is going to be the simplest for your visitors to navigate? Are they going to be able to easily view pages, posts and comments? Do you want/need widgets, and does the theme support the number of widgets you want to have? Once you have chosen a theme, you can play with the other features of your dashboard, or you can begin the conversation with your first blog post. On the dashboard, choose New Post, and start typing.
I began using a blog with my students in the fall of 2007. Our school had an inservice on creating and using blogs in our classroom. Unsure of all of the ways I could use a blog, I decided to use it as a tool to write about their home reading. Each student was required to read at home every night, and I asked them to comment on the blog about the book they were reading. Comments were structured to reflect the reading strategies that we were working on. I enjoyed setting up the blog, and my students were excited about using it. They commented furiously for some time. The key was responding to their comments and continuing the conversation. After a while their comments started dropping off and it seemed to become more ‘homework’ for them. I began to showcase comments in the morning, using the projector and Smartboard, and the interest picked up again. Once I began working as a teacher librarian, I used the blog in the same way, creating an online reading club for our school. The response was overwhelming at the beginning. I found it difficult to keep up with responding to each child, working on the computer for hours after school. After the initial excitement, I found it was the same students who commented over and over again. I began asking them to comment to each other, and they carried on the conversation for most of the year. Meanwhile, I had created a blog for our family. With one brother living in Toronto, and one daughter living in Ireland, I envisioned it as a collaborative tool for us to keep in touch with each other. However, a blog is only going to work if you use it, and since no-one else had the interest, time or energy to post, it died a natural death.
My first attempts would not be considered blogging by Will Richardson’s (2009) standards. I was very structured about my students’ comments, and only I had the ability to post. I was maintaining control and the blog was only a one-way street. It would be considered a level 1 on Richardson’s (2009) scale of blogging.
1. Posting assignments (Not blogging)
2. Journaling, i.e. “this is what I did today.” (Not blogging)
3. Posting links. (Not blogging)
4. Links with descriptive annotation, i.e., “This site is about…” (Not really blogging either, but getting close depending on the depth of the description).
5. Links with analysis that gets into the meaning of the content being linked. (A simple form of blogging).
6. Reflective, metacognitive writing on practice without links. (Complex writing, but simple blogging, I think. Commenting would probably fall in here somewhere).
7. Links with analysis and synthesis that articulate a deeper understanding or relationship to the content being linked and written with potential audience in mind. (Real blogging).
8. Extended analysis and synthesis over a longer period of time that builds on previous posts, links, and comments. (Complex blogging). (p. 31)
Now I have a very different vision of what blogging is and have come to a greater appreciation of what blogging can be. I believe I have come closer to real blogging as defined by Richardson (2009). I have created posts that are reflections of my explorations and practice with using technology, adding links to other sites/blogs that either emphasize points or reference ideas that I have presented. Have I moved to complex blogging? Perhaps I am on the way. Each post has been on a different topic, or Web 2.0 tool, however each one has been a deeper adventure, built on my previous experiences and links. I can’t say that I have built on previous comments, as I have had few comments from others on my blog. True blogging should be a conversation, as Richardson (2010) points out in a comment on Kim Cofino’s post on creating a scope and sequence for blogging:
“Since that writing (which I found I had originally posted on my blog almost six years ago now…yikes!) I’ve also been thinking a lot about the “connective” nature of blogs, the idea that we write in blogs with the intention not just to publish ideas to the world but to really connect to others and get feedback. (Kinda what’s happening here, right now.) If one of the affordances of the technology is that readers can interact, how does that change the intention of the writing.” That social interaction can come even when the blog is a form of journaling, as in these comments on posts from the Yarn Harlot’s blog (although we knitters can be a chatty bunch.)
Social interaction in the form of comments and responses can move a blog from being the blogger’s reflection on ideas or learning, to an interactive, social experience that helps the blogger deepen their own understanding and perhaps, the understanding of others. Although I had few comments on this blog, in my last post on Twitter, I mentioned that as a user of Twitter for PD, I was not really interested in the social chit chat, and mentioned a ‘social chat’ Twitter from Dean Shareski that I remembered having read. Dean commented on the post, and said, “I will argue for the fact that part of the appeal for many is building relationships that include a degree of silly and seemingly trivial. This is one way we build social capital as well, these tools are social. There is a blending of professional and personal…” His comments, and the comments of others (who found my blog through Shareski’s tweet :)) made me stop and reflect on the social experience of using Twitter. It helped me to consider the importance of building community when we use Twitter. After all, when I’m at a conference, I will often talk with my colleagues about my family, or my interests; it gives me (and them) a sense of who we are as social beings. Why should it be different on Twitter? Thus, the conversation between the commenters and myself deepened my understanding of the topic.
This is what I believe blogging can be at its best; an analysis or exploration of a topic or idea which leads to a conversation between the blogger and his/her readers, leading to a growth in understanding for all. It is the hope that others will read, reflect, and respond that increases bloggers’ motivation to write.
Personal use of the tool:
As I said above, my personal family blog is no more….sniff. However, I love to read blogs by others on knitting, yoga, storytelling, and art. The biggest personal (and professional) use of blogging for me has been opening a Google Reader account and subscribing to blogs I follow using RSS. The video below explains how RSS can help you to track and follow blogs:
I use my Google Reader (and the Feeddler app on my iPad) everyday.
Blogs and newspaper feeds are sent to my inbox, waiting for me to open and read them. After supper I hit the couch with my iPad and start reading. Often I will tweet, bookmark or email the links I have found to others. Reading blogs has become addicting, I learn so much!
Will I create and use a blog personally? Not at the present moment. I am more interested in using a blog to reflect on my professional practices as a teacher and teacher-librarian. Maybe when I retire, I will start a storytelling/knitting/yoga blog of my own!
Professional use of the tool:
The uses for blogging in the classroom are as varied as the uses for websites: as a communication tool for teachers and students, a presentation or writing tool, a collaborative discussion space, as eportfolios, and more.
Berger and Trexler (2010) share 7 ways that blogs support student learning:
1. supports critical thinking, encouraging students to think and reflect prior to writing
2. motivates and engages students
3. provides an opportunity to improve literacy skills
4. offers an authentic audience, encourages students to write responsibly
5. provides a forum for feedback, collaboration, and discussion
6. involves student in a community of learners
7. helps student develop their voice and provides equity (p. 105)
As students become aware of the idea that their teacher, peers, parents, and perhaps the world will read their work (depending on the nature of the blog), they plan and think about their work more carefully. In my class, students who were careless about the writing they handed in to me were much more thoughtful about the writing that they did for our class blog.
Kist (2010) reports an increased motivation for writing in students who are blogging. This makes sense to me…aren’t we talking about kids today being digitally connected? They are used to sharing their lives and thoughts with the world using technology. Even those who may not yet be on Facebook (and the age for those on Facebook is getting younger and younger) regularly MSN or text each other. Taking a poll in a grade 6 classroom at my school, 75% of students connect with their friends through text or social media. They are already writing for an audience, our job is to help them learn how to focus and craft that writing.
Alan November (2008) says that blogging shifts the locus of control from teachers to students. It expands the audience for student work from the teacher to the world.This connects to comments by Dean Shareski in his slideshare “What do we keep and what do we throw away?”
He suggests that one of the things we need to throw away is the notion of teachers as the expert centre of all knowledge. Blogging can increase the conversation from a direct line where the teacher sees if you’ve learned to see the world the way that the teacher sees it, or sharing your visions of the world with the world, allowing others to comment and add to your learning. He quotes Will Richardson as saying “We…need to think of ourselves as connectors first and content experts second.”
November (2008) also points to the use of blogging as a classroom note-taking tool. He shares a blog that is used by a calculus teacher, where, each class, one student is chosen to be the ‘note taker’. They take notes and post them on the blog, and other students can comment or add. November (2008) writes, “Before blogging, we would expect hardworking students to be able to read the calculus textbook. Darren expects his students to write the ‘book’-i.e. blog.” (p.82).
Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano has developed a ‘step ladder’ approach to using blogging with students in the classroom on her Langwitches blog:
Her goal is to move her teachers “from a purely informational, static, one-way-communication site to a global communication center.” (para.1). The video in the post below shows 2nd grade students from her school teaching their families how to use the blog. Notice how they are developing a shared language, learning (and teaching others) to navigate their blog, and preparing to present their writing to the world. In this picture, you can see their practice blog, a variation on the paper blogging activity from the No Matter, There blog.
Interestingly, not only does he provide the rubric, Clarence also provides the link to the Google Doc of the rubric so that others can upload and modify the document for their own purposes and classes, as well as a link to Kim Cofino’s blog post, where she invites readers to work with her on a Google Doc to build a scope and sequence for blogging. Both of these posts show the power of blogging, where the blogger and his/her readers build meaning together.
Blogging can also be a powerful tool for professional development. George Couros has asked all of his classroom teachers to begin using blogs. These are classroom blogs as opposed to student blogs, showcasing not only the learning in classrooms, but also the learning of teachers. In his post he shares ideas for administrators to use teachers’ blogs to help them stay in touch with what it happening in their school.
1. Add classroom blogs to an RSS feed. This is such an easy way to follow what classes are doing, without continuously checking if sites have been updated. I use Google Reader to create bundles, so I can follow the content of all my classrooms in one place (similar to this one). If you do not understand what RSS is, here is a short little video that will help you understand.
2. Take the time to share posts with other teachers in their school. It is hard to come up with ideas (here is a great list of them that my PLN created), so sometimes we can be inspired by what teachers in our building are doing. Celebrate and share!
3. Take the time to comment on teacher blogs. This shows everyone that you appreciate what is happening in the classroom, and the extra time teachers are taking to communicate and collaborate with their classroom. Reading is not enough. Be a leader and show how to properly comment to your school community while also gaining the opportunity to communicate with students, parents, and teachers. (para. 4).
Again, included in his post are links to a video to help increase his readers’ understanding of RSS feeds, and to a Google Doc that shares ideas for teachers’ use of blogs.
Dean Shareski has written a post entitled How to Make Better Teachers. In it, he discusses how his blog has helped his growth as a professional; “The reflective writing has been valuable but definitely the nearly 4,000 comments have been even more of a learning experience. This is the single best professional development experience I’ve had.” (para. 2). He goes on to share his plan to use blogs to create better teachers:
“Hire a teacher, give them a blog. Get them to subscribe to at least 5 other teachers in the district as well as 5 other great teachers from around the globe. Have their principal and a few central office people to subscribe to the blog and 5 other teachers as well. Require them to write at least once a week on their practice. Get conversations going right from the get go. Watch teachers get better.” (para. 6).
Notice that his plan includes subscribing to five other teachers (using RSS). Thus, teachers are not only reflecting on their own practices, but reading the reflections of others. I might add; Ask each teacher to comment on at least one other teacher’s blog, to help build the conversations. Both this and Couros’ post discuss having teachers reflect on their practice and ‘going public’ with it, inviting others to comment and join the conversation.
Reflective practice is a tool to help us to consider our teaching practices and change them for the better. Blogging allows us to invite the world to share our learning, and to work as a global community to develop better teaching practices for the 21st century.
Berger, P. & Trexler, S. (2010). Choosing web 2.0 tools for learning and teaching in a digital world. Santa Barbara:CA. Libraries Unlimited.
Kist, W. (2010). The socially networked classroom. Thousand Oaks:CA. Corwin Press.
November, A. (2008). Web literacy for educators. Thousand Oaks:CA. Corwin Press.
Richardson, W.(2009). Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful tools for classrooms. Thousand Oaks:CA. Corwin Press.