Getting Kids to Blog

I recently worked with our Year 4 teachers to get their kids blogging for the first time. I’d suggested blogging as a good activity for these students as a way to get them writing and reading more, as well as being for a potentially more authentic audience.  The teachers involved were a little apprehensive at first but quickly warmed to the idea and were quite keen to give it a go, especially as I said I  would work closely with them to get our blogging project off the ground… this was the first time we had tried to use blogs with the students so I was very keen to see it succeed of course.

As you may have read in a previous post, we managed to be hit with numerous technical hurdles as Edublogs recovered from a series of password resets, something the kids found annoying and tedious but also that they took very well.  The teachers of the students were a little confused that blogging was so complicated (“why do we need to reset our passwords every time we try to use the blogs?”) but again, they managed to take it all in their stride and just carry on with it.  I tried to explain that this was just a freak glitch, that blogging really was very straightforward, and to their credit they coped quite well, although I’m doubtful whether they will be willing to try it again in a hurry unless I’m there to support them with it.  The technical hassles really damage the perception of the process.

All that aside however, the kids really got into it.  They loved working on their blogs, and figured out how to add photos and videos, make categories, add widgets and change themes.  It was great to see the way they encouraged each other, helped each other work out the issues and kept adding to their own blogs both in and out of school.

I thought I’d just share a couple of tips that we picked up along the way and relate a few ideas for how we worked through the project.

The kids were each given their own blogs, set up using the multiple blog registration tool in Edublogs.  I set up the kids’ blogs 15 at a time, and made each of the teachers co-administrators.  This meant that the teacher could log in and make changes to any inappropriate content if required, although thankfully it was never required.

I also created an OPML file of each classes blogs, and used that file to import the kids’ blogs into the teachers’ feedreader.  Our school uses Outlook 2007, which has a reasonable RSS reader built in, so it was straightforward to import the OPML file into each teacher’s Outlook client, thereby giving them a feed for all their kids’ blogposts.  This made it much easier to keep on top of the many posts that were being written.  I also imported the OPML file into my Google Reader and kept an eye on the posts there as well.  To date there have been 49 posts written by one class and 71 posts by the other… not a bad effort for a first time blogging project plagued by technical troubles.

We also made sure we spent enough time discussing with the kids some of the issues about staying safe online… things like not revealing any personal information, not using your last name, not mentioning your school or where you will be at any particular time. We talked about how to handle comments and how to be a responsible online citizen. They took all this very seriously and stuck to the rules the whole time.

Of course, the real point of a blog is to write, so I worked with the teachers to come up with some way to encourage the students to write more, and especially to relate it to the topic they were doing last term which was “Australia, You’re Standing In It”.

To that end, we designed a grid of writing prompts.  It was arranged into four threads – Built Environment, Natural Environment, Flora and Fauna, and States and Territories.  We gave the students three options for each thread, one from the lower end of Blooms Taxonomy, one from the middle and one from the upper end, making 12 possible writing topics in all.  The easier topics were rated at 10 points, the middle ones at 15 points and the harder ones at 20 points and each student was asked to accumulate 60 points, with a special prize given to any student that accumulated 100 points or more. The idea was to create a range of choices that each student could make for what they wrote about, from the easier research and recall type tasks, all the way up to harder tasks that requires greater creativity and synthesis of ideas.  A student could opt for the easier tasks if they wanted to, but obviously they would need to do more of them.  Alternatively, they could do fewer but harder tasks if they chose.  The actual tasks they chose did not matter, as long as they collected at least 60 points worth.  Despite the issues with Edublogs and the large chunks of wasted class time, many students managed to get to the 60 point mark, and some collected as many as 120 points.

Cut and pasted from our Moodle page, it looked like this…

Year 4 Blogging Topics

Choose from the following list of blog topics. You need to collect at least 60 points, and anyone who gets 100 points will get a special prize.

Write each as a separate blog post. Give each a good title and a put them into a suitable category.

10 points 15 points 20 points
The Built Environment Choose a built environment and describe it in words. Add a couple of pictures as well. Write a poem about the built environment. It needs at least 2 verses. Pick two Australian built environments and compare and contrast them. (Describe their similarities and their differences) Include pictures to support your views.
The Natural Environment List 5 natural sites in NSW and include a short description of each one. Include a photo of each if possible. Should tourists be allowed to climb Uluru?
Give 5 good reasons to support your argument. Include a photo or two.
Choose an Australian natural environment and explain how and why it needs to be protected. Give as much detail as you can.
States and Territories Find the weather in 5 other states right now. Include a link to the page where you find this information. In the form of a travel log, describe a holiday you’ve taken in NSW or interstate. Include a few pictures. Which is the best Australian state? Why? Give at least 5 reasons that would convince an overseas visitor to go there.
Flora and Fauna Choose an area of Australia and list at least 3 plants or animals you would find there. Include pictures. Find 3 pictures of Australian flora and/or fauna, and write descriptions about them for someone who was blind. Choose one endangered Australian plant or animal and explain what you might do to help save them from extinction.

What struck me as I watched the students work on this project was just how many other skills they used along the way.  From technical skill trying to figure out how to include photos or YouTube videos, to information literacy skills in choosing the rights sites to gather information from, to improving their general knowledge as they learned things they didn’t know before they started.  I thought it was a successful project on a number of levels, and I do see how blogging can be a very powerful tool for learning.

Anyway, I’m certainly not claiming it was perfect or ideal, and I’d certainly appreciate any comments you might like to make on ways to improve our attempt at blogging.  What can we do to improve it?

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14 Replies to “Getting Kids to Blog”

  1. Hi there! I think you have done an awesome job – what a task! One idea that comes to mind is having the kids talk to other bloggers, read other blogs and really get involved in the great blog community…there is so much happening. My thought is that if they can see the impact, they might get even more involved. Of course, we’d love to have you stop by our kids blog about bonobos, great apes, endangered species and the internet!
    Thanks and good luck!

  2. I think it’s great that kids are learning to blog. It’s a great way for them to express themselves and socialize with others from around the world. It teaches them good writing skills and how to put thoughts into words.

    Learning to blog can also provide a means to earn an income. There are thousands of bloggers who make good money blogging.

  3. Hey well done. Technical hitches certanly do make things more complicated than they need to be and confusing. It is great that everyone persisted and continued to give it a go. What feedback did you receive from the teachers once the students began writing on their blogs?
    I like the way you structured the task using Blooms so that it is not Technology for the sake of technology but engaging students to learn and improve student outcomes.

  4. I am a student at the University of South Alabama and was wondering if I could talk with you further about how you use technology in your classroom or at your school. Its apart of a project for my Educational Technology class. I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on incorporating technology. My email is Id greatly appreciate it!

  5. We’ve just started a blogging class so I was really interested to see how you structured it for assessment. Thanks.

  6. This will go down a treat with an English teacher I have been working with and who is keen to dip her toes into blogging with her Year 8 class at our school.

    Above all – great teaching (without that, all technology in the world could not help)! Well done and thanks for sharing.


  7. Chris,
    This is a fantastic post. I really love your style of describing this step by step and giving both the pedagogical and the technological aspects in the one post. On the latter, did you have to manually create the OPML file or is this something that edublogs does for you when you create multiple blogs with them? I have not tried this out but I will pass this onto interested teachers here in Hong Kong. (I think that there may be 2!!!)
    Keep up the good sharing!

  8. Chris,

    The grid of blogging prompts is a great idea. I have just begun with a year 11 class on a journey which will lead them to blogging. I have set up feeds for them to read and respond to via a public netvibes universe. The idea in my mind is to have them experience blogs and respond to them prior to starting their own blog. When they use a blog in my class it will be specifically for ongoing evaluation and collaboration, so it needs to be effective in our context. I hope to achieve this by having them read relevant blogs and respond to them.

    BTW, one of the blogs they are encouraged to read and respond to is my blogging of thoughts about teaching an learning in our class.

  9. This is lovely work and I really like the scaffold as it has just made me realize what my Yr 10 Drama students are lacking.
    The only thing I would add – is that you emphasized that blog provide an authentic audience – yet the scaffold has no reference to who the created text are for? At this point is it simple class peers who view this?
    The Uluru exercise struck me as being proposed as a ‘Letter of apology’ to tourist arriving at international airports, explaining why Australia had taken the decision to ban the climbing of Uluru. The defining of audience brings another level of analysis that the students could engage in.

  10. I remember going to Junior High School in 96-98 and hating when a teacher assigned us to write in a journal. At the same time, I used to head to the computer lab and learned HTML, creating a geocities website. I updated it often so it was essentially the same thing as the journals I hated. It’s something fresh and the personalization that children will get with themes, photos, etc. will give them the incentive they need to write when they may otherwise hate to. I hope that made sense haha.

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