5 Reasons to Have a Classroom Blog

I’ve been blogging with my Foundation (4-6 year old) students for the better part of the last 5+ years. It’s my absolutely favourite, go-to tool for communicating and sharing information with families, as well as using it with the students to create authentic writing examples.

Today I want to share my Top 5 Reasons for Having a Classroom Blog. These are not the only reasons to have a blog, of course, but if you’ve never had a classroom blog, this might give you a few ideas for why you should have a classroom blog. Stayed tuned for future blog posts that will include setting up your classroom blog and ways to engage your students (and families) on your blog.

5reasonstoblog

1. Communicate with parents

The primary focus of my classroom blog for the last few years has been to communicate with parents. Over the last few years I’ve had a lot of working families who haven’t been able to come into the classroom on a regular basis and hear about what we’re working on. Each weekend (usually on a Sunday) I post a weekly summary of what we will be learning in the upcoming week – including reminders, English and Math topics, special events and Question/s of the Week. This quick overview gives parents and families a great starting point for talking to their kids about what they’ve been learning during the day and also prepares the kids for the upcoming week.

2. Showcase classroom learning

Again, some families aren’t able to make it into the classroom often, so having an online space where you can share work, photos (with permission, of course) and student reflections gives those parents and families a window into the classroom. It’s also a great space to look back on at the end of each term for students so they can see all the great things they have done. I like to include photos or scanned copies of student work and artwork, photos of students working in the classroom and photos of special school events (such as excursions, incursions, guest speakers and casual/funny dress days). I also like asking students to reflect on something they have learnt or enjoyed about and record their answers on the blog.

3. Teach students about writing for an authentic audience

When teaching writing – even to very young students – we’re always encouraging them and teaching them about their ‘audience’ or who they’re writing for. A classroom blog is a very authentic platform for developing an audience. When we collaboratively create blog posts as a class we talk about who our audience is: Is it parents and families? Is it other students? Is it a global audience? Then we discuss how the way we use language changes depending on the audience. When we get comments back from families, students know that they’re writing for a real audience – not just the teacher or other students in the class.

4. Teach students about online safety

I blog with my Foundation/Kindergarten students and have for five years. It’s a really great way to teach them about online safety because it’s a ‘real’ online space that’s theirs. It’s accessible to other people around the world and as such we have to talk about what we can and can’t share on the blog. Families in our school have the choice to sign (or not sign) a blog permissions form that gives the school permission to share audio/visual work and photos. We talk about this as a class. We also discuss the kinds of information we can share – first names are okay, but never last names. We don’t include photos and names in the same post. We never share photos, names and addresses in the same post. Students learn how to leave a comment correctly (just their first name) when they’re at home.

5. Engage students and families at home

Probably my favourite reason to have a classroom blog is the feedback I receive from parents and families about student engagement at home. Even if all you post on your blog is information for parents, this still gives parents the tools to talk about the school day and activities with their kids on a much more specific level. Before I started blogging with my Foundation students, a lot of parents would come in and tell me that their kids would come home and say they’d forgotten what they’d done during the day or that they didn’t know what they’d learnt (which is very common with little ones). By giving parents the information they’ve been able to ask very specific questions like, ‘What did you learn about the sound /s/ today?’ or ‘What patterns did you make at school today?’ It makes a huge change. Because the blog is essentially a website, I can share multimedia content – like videos or interactive widgets – or links to websites that complement our learning goals that they can access at home. This is useful for families who just aren’t aware of the myriad of resources available to them.

 

Do you blog with your students? What grades do you blog with? How do you blog with them? I’d love to know, because I think every teacher approaches it a little differently. There’s no one ‘perfect design’ for blogging with your class, but taking a bit of time to think about the purpose of your blog will help guide the way you blog with your students.

Don’t forget to let me know what you think in the comments, or if you have any other questions about blogging. Follow my blog for future posts on blogging with your class!

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Teaching and Assessing Quality Comments

Some of you may be aware of the great series of posts on educational blogging written by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano of Langwitches. As a follow up to her series, she’s proposed a blog post or comment audit meme for educators who use blogging in their classrooms. Having been tagged by the lovely Kathleen Morris, this is my response.

BACKGROUND

Earlier this year I was involved in a project by the Innovation and Next Practise division of the DEECD on Contemporary Literacies in the Early Years. I’ve blogged a bit about it over the last few months, including some information about the activities involved.

The biggest activity that I ran throughout the project, however, was our class blog, which ran from the start of Term 3 until the end of the year.

I was teaching a prep class, which heavily impacted on how our class blog was run, and how students were involved in the process. When I started the blog – the first official classroom blog in my school – I wasn’t sure about the involvement and participation that I would get from the school, from the students or from the parents.

Suffice to say I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the whole process. I had a couple of families that took it on board and enjoyed having a blog that let them know what was happening each week, and encouraged their children (or was it the children encouraging the parents?) to also share the experience and to write messages jointly or independently.

I’ll admit that my initial goals were more around participation rather than extended comments on the blog – and when I consider that I was working with 5 and 6 year olds that was already setting the bar high. My expectations for students quickly increased, and the bar of higher quality comments was raised as a result as well.

That said, my students are beginning writers in their first year of primary school. And that’s important to keep in mind.

QUALITY COMMENTS

While I was the primary author of the blog posts – which primarily included information about the school week learning outcomes and upcoming events – we also jointly constructed posts as a class about significant lessons or activities that were important to my students, which was great for modelling different text types and writing for an audience.

The biggest part of the blog that students were involved in were jointly constructing comments left on our blog. I was often the ‘typer’ and as a class we would brainstorm the different things we wanted to say in response to a comment left on our blog (usually from another student in the class, or a parent).

For this we had a list of things to keep in mind when replying. This was in the form of a poster that we kept up in the classroom and included the following points:

– Address the author of the comment (eg. ‘Dear X’ or ‘To X’ or ‘@ X’).

– Thank them for leaving a comment/write a compliment.

– Answer any questions they asked.

– Ask questions for more information.

– Write who the comment is from (eg. ‘From Prep G-5’).

– Check with an adult or teacher before posting.

Letter-writing is one of the text types that we teach in Prep and forms the basis of how I demonstrated to my students to write and respond to comments – comments, after all, are really an informal (or formal, depending on your purpose) letter to another person.

We also referred to our Prep 5 Star Writing rubric (which was a very clear link for the preps between physical writing with a pencil and typing on a computer):

– Capital letters

– Full stops

– Sound out words

– Spaces between words

– Write in a straight line

EXAMPLES OF STUDENT COMMENTS

1. Millicent’s comment

Screen shot 2011-12-27 at 5.33.05 PM

Modelling points:

– Used an appropriate greeting

– Began with a question specifically related to the person they’re writing to

– Attempted to use full stops and some capital letters

– Ended with a question

Mini lesson ideas:

– Revision of capital letters for names and titles, and the beginning of a new sentence

– Remembering spaces between words and the end of sentences

– Use of clear paragraphs

– Proofreading with an adult

– Overuse of :):):):):)

2. Tae’s comment

Screen shot 2011-12-27 at 5.33.44 PM

Modelling points:

– Used an appropriate greeting

– Complimented recipient

– Remembered full stops

– Signed comment

Mini lesson ideas:

– Capital letters for names and ‘I’ and at the beginning of a new sentence.

– Lots of ‘compliments’ – expand on ideas or ask questions.

– Overuse of random letters (eg. ooooooo)

MY EVALUATIONS

In her response to the Quality Blogging and Commenting Meme, Kathleen Morris said that higher quality comments and posts do not automatically come with age.” I agree, whole-heartedly. I don’t think anyone at my school (except me) expected that students would be able to comment on a blog, or even talk about what a blog is, let alone ask to leave comments (independently) during writing times.

For the students who’ve been interested – and interest in blogging and writing comments is essential for students to be successful.

My students’ motivation for blogging increased dramatically when they started to see their friends and parents leaving comments on blog entries. Whenever I posted a new entry we’d discuss it as a class, likewise whenever there was a new comment left on our blog we’d read it as a class (or sometimes the students who left the comments would read their own comments – very exciting for 5-6 year olds). Then we’d construct responses together, which allowed for a great opportunities for whole class mini-lessons on capital letters/full stops/sounding out words/etc. We’d also discuss how to sequence ideas and/or questions.

For individual students leaving comments, feedback was mostly conducted one-on-one with a discussion about why the errors would need to be fixed, where students might go to find words they weren’t sure how to spell, etc. If their comments were written in the classroom we’d conference and fix errors on the spot.

They also learnt a lot from each other. More confident students would help their peers construct their responses. It was also two of my girls who informed the others how to make a smiley face 🙂 appear in posts.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I’m still new to blogging with students, and I may have bitten off more than I could chew by starting to blog with Prep students. That said, I feel it’s been very successful and has had enormous benefits for my students.

You are welcome to visit my 2011 classroom blog to see more examples of my students work over the last 6 months.

YOUR TURN

Anyone is welcome to write their own evaluation on blog posts of comments, and I highly recommend you visit the Langwitches Blog for more information.

I’d like to tag the following people to complete their own audit (if they choose):

Bec Spink (@MissB6_2) See Bec’s response here.

Cass Burgess (@CassBurgess)

Marie Kennedy (@marieck26)

Surpassing Expectations

photoAs much as I love to ‘dream big’ in regards to using technology with my students, I’m also relatively practical about the fact that my students are 5 and 6 years old. When we first started blogging I didn’t really expect my students to write comments on our blog – I thought their parents would.

And I do have a few parents who love to leave comments on the blog, along with their children.

I also have a few truly inspiring students who want to push their own boundaries.

One student in particular just blows me away. She’s 6 years old and regularly writes comments from home and recently started asking to write comments at school. During our last two Investigations sessions (aka Developmental Play) she’s busily replied to 2 comments on her own. The first was a reply to another student, and when she’d finished typing we sat down together and corrected spelling and punctuation and talked about formatting.

The second comment she wrote, today, just highlighted how much students can achieve independently. Earlier in the week she left a comment on our blog about our recent Gelati Day at school. I sent her a reply, but she saw it for the first time this morning. She read my reply aloud and then talked about what she wanted to write in response. I left her alone to do her typing for about fifteen minutes and when she was finished we went back through and looked at the spelling/punctuation/etc.

I was just blown away by her enthusiasm.

And no, independently she doesn’t have the skills yet to always use punctuation, capitalisation or formatting. She is developing great sounding out strategies (and if we’d left her work it would have been readable) for spelling. But she’s 6, and she’s learning and I think that’s the most amazing thing of all!

A few stray thoughts

11949838211786721468lcd_monitor_the_structor_.svg.medThis afternoon I was very pleasantly surprised to find out that the wonderful students in 2KM and 2KJ had nominated my blog for the Best Teacher Blog category for the 2011 Edublog Awards. I have to admit that it’s completely unexpected and kind of came out of left field for me, but it’s certainly a welcome surprise.

Unfortunately, with reports on my brain, Prep Transition, and the possibility of a slight grade change next year I’ve been a bit lax in keeping this blog up-to-date. I’ve been a bit better with The Prep G-5 Blog, though.

I did want to take a bit of time, however, to stop and reflect on my blogging journey so far. It’s been less than 6 months, all up, and I’ve loved every second of it.

A big part of that has been my interactions with 2KM and 2KJ, and their wonderful teachers Kathleen Morris and Kelly Jordan. Both the students and teachers are amazing, inspirational people, and I feel very fortunate to have stumbled across them early in my blogging journal.

In their nomination post on their blog, they mentioned that I’ve helped to support and develop their skills as writers and bloggers… and I could say the same right back at them! They regularly inspire me with their insights and dedication to blogging and connecting to people from all over the world.

This is what blogging is all about.

These are students, Grade 2 students, who already have the whole world at their feet… or should I say, at their fingertips!

No longer do teachers just teacher writing and numeracy… we have the opportunity to teach writing and numeracy BEYOND the classroom. We have free resources that allow us to connect with others – other teachers, other classrooms, other countries. We have an authentic audience that is eager and willing to read and comment and engage with us.

Has blogging changed my philosophy on teaching? Absolutely, yes.

No longer is learning hidden within a classroom. It can be shared, it can spread and change and evolve.

I certainly won’t be going back to being a blog-less teacher!

I look forward to many more learning opportunities, and to many, many more friends and colleagues in the blogosphere!

How has blogging changed you?

Isabella’s Garden

Isabelllas Garden

Last year, my favourite CBCA Shortlisted book was Isabella’s Garden, by the extremely talented Glenda Millard, with gorgeous illustrations by Rebecca Cool.

Earlier this week I was reading the latest blog post from 2KM and 2KJ about their Book Week celebrations. Now, Book Week is probably my favourite calendar event at school – and has been since I was in primary school. I remember many years of trying to decide on which book character I was going to dress up as for the Book Parade and now as a primary school teacher, I get to do it all again!

(This year I dressed up as Sunday Chutney – apparently there’s a photo floating around, so I’ll need to find it and post it!)

But, going back to 2KM and 2KJ’s blog post, I left a comment for them about how my class would be celebrating Book Week – with lots of reading and lots of art activities and lots of celebrating learning. And I was talking about some of the books we’d be reading as well – not just the 2011 shortlisted books, but also some from last year – including the aforementioned Isabella’s Garden.

I received a lovely comment back from Molly, asking who the author for Isabella’s Garden was and I was happy to reply, and with a bit about why I really adore this particular book.

I’ll even go so far as to say that this book is probably up there with some of my all-time favourite picture-books. I just love the language that Glenda Millard uses to conjure up such wonderful mental images – the repetitiveness of  the phrases she uses and how it depicts the change in the seasons and the life cycle of the plants in Isabella’s garden.

Last year, my prep class loved the book, and I was even happier to be sharing it with my class this year, because I know how much pleasure students can get out of hearing the story – and joining in when they realise that they know the words to the story. It’s quite lyrical in that sense.

These are the flowers that waltz with the wind that ruffles the buds, all velvety-skinned that swelled the shoots that sought the sun that kissed the clouds that cried the rain that soaked the seeds that slept in the soil all dark and deep, in Isabella’s garden.

Recreating Isabella’s Garden:

And, to follow up the reading, my students and I talked about the change in the seasons – and what happens to a garden over the course of a year. Then we talked about how each season can be represented by different combinations of colour (which prompted us to go back to the story):

  • Summer: yellow, orange, green, bright blue
  • Autumn: orange, brown
  • Winter: pale blue, white
  • Spring: bight green, pink, orange, red

Following this we made a very simple paper collage – with 2 rules:

  1. No scissors allowed!
  2. No pencils allowed!

Students created a scene from the season of their choice – a landscape –  using paper ripping techniques and their imaginations.

They were quite apprehensive when I told them they weren’t allowed to pre-draw their images – but once they realised that they were capable of tearing the paper and creating a picture using small bits and pieces they spent quite a bit of time putting together the ‘perfect’ scene. Not a single student complained that they couldn’t do it, or that they didn’t know what to do – and that is the mark of a successful lesson, where everyone can achieve their best work.

Isabella's Garden

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Do you have a favourite picturebook that inspires you?

Do you have a favourite book activity that you would like to share? (I’d love to hear it!)

PLN Challenge #5: Blogs

Screen shot 2011-07-06 at 12.43.33 PMWordle created using Sue Waters’ teacher challenge post (Using Blogs as Part of Your PLN)

I consider myself very lucky to have only had positive experiences when blogging, and I do believe that blogs are a great way to connect to other people who share similar interests, to share ideas and extend knowledge and to become a great resource in professional reflective practise.

As part of the Teacher Challenge, Sue Waters’ has challenged us to think about our tips for building a PLN using blogs, so here are some of mine:

  • Dive in – don’t be afraid to post about the topics that interest you. Share interesting facts, reflection and resources. Include interactives and images (to the degree that you’re comfortable with).
  • Explore other blogs – find people with similar interests, people who inspire you, people who can lead you to interesting and useful resources. Include your favourite blogs in a feed, such as Google Reader, so that you can regularly check for new updates. Exploring blogs will also help you develop your own blogging practise.
  • Comment – engage other bloggers. Learning doesn’t have to be a solitary act, and it’s only through making connections that we can extend what we know. It can be as simple as thanking the blogger for writing their interesting post, to responding to a question or sharing similar (or dissimilar) experiences. Remember to be polite (sounds trite, I know, but a little curtesy goes a long way). Also keep in mind that the more you comment on other people’s blogs, the more likely they are to comment on yours!

So, it’s not a definitive list – but I’m learning, too!

If you think I’m missing something very important, please let me know. Chances are I’ve forgotten it while composing this post, but I’m very open to more ideas!

And… good luck with blogging!

PLN Challenge #4: Making Time to Build Your PLN

Challenge #4 of the Teacher Challenge was written and proposed by Sarah Poling.

I’ve since come to recognise that prior to beginning to develop my teaching PLN, that I have actually been involved in two prior personal learning networks over a ten(+)-year span. I started out, as a teenager, actively seeking out other people that I shared a ‘fandom’ interest with (books, televisions series, movies and blog/message board role-playing games). I still dabble in that area, because I made quite a few good friends all over the world and we still share many of the same interests. The second learning network I established was a craft-based on. I’m an avid sewer and I enjoy creating things. I dabble in digital scrapbooking – which itself has a HUGE online community.

I grew up with technology, and while I haven’t been surrounded by it since birth, which is a significant portion of the students I teach, I consider myself a digital native. (In reality, I’m probably somewhere between a native and an immigrant, but I choose to be a native, and behave in such a way!) Technology does not scare me, and I’ll give anything a go online. I’m quite dedicated to my learning networks and communities – I would spend between 30 mins-1 hour on them (at least) every night, and I’m determined to bring that same focus to my teaching PLN.

At present I’m using this blog (and my classroom blog), lurking on Twitter and maintain a Diigo account for storing the wonderful resources I’m finding online. I hope over the next few months to become more confident in contributing more on Twitter and on the wonderful blogs that I’m following through Google Reader.

One of the suggestions Sarah had on the challenge #4 post was to figure out what was the best time to commit to a personal learning network. I know lots of people find it difficult to commit time to learning new things at night after work, but that’s my favourite time to do learning. Post-work I love to learn new things, because that’s the time I relax and am enthusiastic about discovering new resources and ideas.

How am I going to grow my PLN?

I’m going to stick with it. I really am – I don’t think I’ve ever undertaken something so powerful and essential to my own personal learning. I already follow a number of fantastic bloggers who are incredibly inspiring, and I’m going to stick with this Teacher Challenge, too, because it’s been a great, thought-provoking experience for me. And it’s encouraged me to post to my blog and explore my beliefs and commitments to my own teaching practise.

How do I stop myself from becoming overwhelmed?

  • Persevere!
  • Proceed at your own pace.
  • I check in to Twitter and Google Reader each day and if there’s an information overload, I save the links of interested until the weekend to explore in more detail when I have the time.
  • Don’t panic if you miss a day of checking in!
  • This is MY choice to learn. No one’s making me do it, and I’m allowed to approach it in the way that feels right to me.