The old adage goes… learn something new every day. As a teacher I am surrounded by learning every day, but it had been a long time since I had learned anything brand new myself. I am talking about more than discovering a random tidbit of information, I mean learning a new skill completely. Well I can tell you I definitely learned a lot of new things as I embarked on the adventure of creating my first blog.
With the increased rigor and expectations our classrooms face today, it is exciting and reassuring to have an additional way to reach students and share material.
For example, a colleague and I wanted to find a way to share our passion of reading and books with our students. Common core standards and assessments use the majority of our face to face time with students and we were missing out on the beloved books sharing time. So we decided to create a blog all about books that our students could access at any time. Whether at school or home or the library, on their home PC, their iPod or e-reader, our students could read our blog. That kind of educational freedom is empowering… for both teachers and students!
So… how do you make this amazing educational experience a reality in your classroom? Follow these six steps.
1. Decide your content. It might be the subject you teach or an outside the curriculum hobby that would enhance your students’ knowledge or class experience. World History, geocaching, astronomy or creative writing. Any topic is a possibility, as long as you have knowledge to share and a passion and energy to put it on the web.
2. Pick your blog platform. A blog platform is a fancy way of saying which site you would like to host your blog. There are many to choose from, and many are even free. We have chosen WordPress for our blog, but there are many others out there including edublog, blogspot, and simplesite. You can choose your platform based on price, available features, layout themes or another quality that appeals to you.
3. Customize. Once you have chosen your platform, the real work begins. Customize your blog by setting the theme, format, color set, and font. Also, don’t forget to choose graphics that will make your blog appealing to future readers.
4. Write your posts. Here is the part where you write down the thoughts and ideas you have been dying to share. It should be the easiest part because you are so passionate and have so much knowledge to share, but make sure you don’t gloss over this step too quickly. Take time to re-read and edit your posts. Make sure you use language that is easy to understand and reads with a nice flow. Aside from communicating information, you also want this to be an enjoyable experience for your viewers. Add your own style and voice to your posts and readers will return to see what new witty and exciting things you have to say.
5. Spread the word. Once your blog is created and up and running, you need readers and viewers… otherwise your hard work will sit there unnoticed. For my students (and their parents) I plan to create business cards with the site listed so it is easy for them to remember the web address. I also plan to talk it up in class and during parent teacher conferences. Another option is to post a link to your blog on a social media site like Facebook.
6. Maintain It. The last step might also be the most important. Remember to maintain your site by frequently posting new content. People will stop visiting your blog if it constantly looks the same. Make it a goal to add something new weekly so your viewers stay engaged and wanting to come back for more.
There are many benefits to blogging with your students. The number one reason we started our blog was because we wanted to connect with students and parents on a new level and with a new media. We also hope that communicating with our students about books in this way will increase their motivation to read. Many students are motivated to higher levels of learning when the use of technology is involved. Students also tend to take more time and care when crafting their posted comments consequently improving their writing skills. Posting comments on a teacher’s class blog also gives students the opportunity to reflect, discuss and collaborate in a safe learning community. Finally, technology use in our world is increasing and growing leaps and bounds every day. As educators we need to give our kids the necessary technological skills not only to be successful in tomorrow’s job market, but to survive. Working on and communicating through a blog can offer students the opportunity to practice these skills.
A final word of caution. It can be easy to get sucked into the fun and excitement of technology, but remember: “the use of such tools should not be used unless they advance specific curriculum objectives.” It is easy to let lab time slide into playtime. And while we hope our students can enjoy their learning, we must still make learning the number one priority.
If this article has stressed you out, or you feel that creating a blog is too big a tech-project for you to tackle, let this quote from Andy Carvin – a internet activist, blogger and Edtech expert – set you at ease “There is no absolute “right” or “wrong” way to use a blog; the beauty of the technology is that you can adapt it to your own needs.” So, take a deep breath and then dive into this exciting educational opportunity for both you and your students.
In preparing for this article, I read several resources about blogging online including: the blog Open Education, the site PBS Teachers Learning Now, and the site Teaching Today.