A Blog Banquet

April 6, 2008 at 7:34 pm (blog)

Unlike a buffet where your friends and neighbors bring various dishes and the “food” takes the show, a banquet has invited guests.  Richardson suggested a few whom I visited and I offer up some of my favorites from their ideas for class blogs and individual student blogging in this “blog banquet.”

Ideas for Blogging Across the Curriculum

  1. Collaborate with subject-area experts on cross-curricular and interdisciplinary activities and projects
  2. Archive learning for student e-portfolios and reflection
  3. Share results of science experiments and polls
  4. Publish student work

Blogging across the curriculum (1) infuses writing and (2) facilitates connections.

Will Richardson suggested checking out three bloggers: Bud the Teacher, Anne Davis and Darren Kuropatwa.  I reversed the order in which they are suggested, looking at classroom blogs as end products of works in progress (yes, an oxymoron, but I think you catch my drift) then working backwords looking at the theory or process in getting there as well as some possible challenges and alternatives in overcoming them. 

Bud the Teacher pointed me to The Reflective Teacher who has actually closed the book on the second year of teaching and this blog, but recently started a new blog at Hey Mister.  In The Reflective Teacher I came across Friday HaikuThis one I particularly enjoyed:

If they are excited
They are learning.  Maybe we
should make that our focus.

The Reflective Teacher blog linked to Jody Hayes’ Set Sail classroom blog of eleven and twelve year olds in New Zealand that are buddied with Kathy Cassidy’s grade ones student in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan – if you don’t already know, I love coming across Canadian content.  (As a side note, writing to loyal readers and a potentially new audience presents its own unique challenges – how much backstory, summary and review should I include – that Seth Godin wrote about.)  The grade one page is also linked to five other class blogs and two wikis – one on math and the other on traditions.  Because I examine all Web 2.0 tools through a middle school lens, I often wonder how students in primary grades could use the tools.  Kathy Cassidy’s class page served as a very powerful example for me, seeing her class networking with other classes, sharing, celebrating their learning in a real-world context.  Students will carry these experiences with them always, enstilling in them 21st century skills from a very young age.   

What I love about the posts at these two blogs is they tell how many times each post has been read.  I never knew this was possible.  How powerful this is to visibly see how big the audience is!  The Set Sail classroom blog links to other classes, a class Flickr account, the teacher del.icio.us account and student blogs.  Students have also been working on vocabulary with six word stories modelled after these at Flickr.  The range of media that can be embedded in a blog or linked to from a blog is a bit mind boggling.  The class blog, library blog or school blog, depending on the structure choosen, can serve as a virtual hub of teaching and learning that parallels, intersects, enriches and extends what happens within the classroom.

Anne Davis pointed me to one of her favorite blogs, From the Paws of Harley where I found other class blogs that link to student blogs including the fifth grade Blogical Minds which is no longer updated but I loved this message to students:

Remember to read, read, read….
Then reflect, think, contemplate, and ponder…..
And write,write, write or blog, blog, blog!!!

From the Paws of Harley quoted student reflections of their growth through their Blogical Minds blogs.  It’s one thing to hear that blogging is beneficial.  It is another to read it in each student’s own voice.    

Lastly, Darren Kuropatwa from Winnipeg has a whole bunch of blogs, that can be accessed from the profile page of his personal professional edublog called A Difference, including examples of student blogs related to science such as BioTrek, many math blogs, a programming blog called Drops of Java, professional development session archives and professional collaboration blogs.  When I read in Will Richardson’s book that Kuropatwa had six classes blogging, my immediate thought was how does he keep up with all the blog reading.  Solutions:

  1. Shared responsibility of overseeing blogs with other teachers who teach the same courses or
  2. Have peer mentors like Mark, whose work is supported by the The Mentorship Project Blog.

Kuropatwa describes his approach to student blogging in considerable detail for the benefit of his blog readers which I much appreciated.  For each class period there is a scribe.  When I first read “scribe” I interpreted them as a recorder and didn’t equate that with complex blogging.  However, as I read on it described how scribing does indeed exemplify complex blogging (italicized).  The first scribe was a volunteer.  There after, each scribe selects the next scribe.  Kuropatwa describes the role of the scribe like this:

When a student is scribe they take particularly good class notes and think deeply about what they learned that day. The process of writing their scribe (we’ve created a new use for that noun) forces them to reflect on their learning and work to articulate the lesson as though they were teaching it. The paradigm in medical school is “watch it, do it, teach it.” My students have brought that paradigm into our classes. Students have told me that they spend upwards of an hour composing their scribe post — that’s a lot of deep thinking to do for just one class! Since the work is distributed across the entire class I guess they’re more willing to invest a lot of time once every few weeks — they all come out ahead this way.

They take real pride in their scribes and want it to look good and impress their classmates. I’ve told them numerous times how they’ve blown me away, or in my vernacular, “knocked my socks off!” — I finally had to admit in one comment that I no longer had any socks.

Kuropatwa also talks about the benefits for him and how it has made him become a better teacher.  Richardson also discussed this fact, identifying a shift in the way we think about student work knowing that it will be critiqued by a world-wide audience. 

I know that someone is going to write about what I do in class each day — I had better make certain that they have material to work with!  The scribe posts have allowed me to see how and where students are struggling with the material. Face-to-face, some students say they don’t understand anything from a particular lesson. But when they have to scribe that class we both learn they understand a lot more than they thought they did. This has allowed me to provide detailed and focused feedback to a student to: (a) help them learn and (b) give their self-esteem a boost because I can honestly say they have a better grasp of the material than they thought. Contrast this to the typical oral feedback I get from underconfident students: “I don’t understand any of it.”

Most importantly, Kuropatwa identifies the benefits for students:

The scribe post has also resulted in students taking greater responsibility for their own education [my emphasis]. When the scribe is late getting their post up comments begin to appear in the chatbox; “When is the scribe going to post? Where’s the scribe?” Part of this is because the only way for a student to find out if they are resposible for the next day’s scribe is by reading the blog — it’s never announced in class. But the scribe tends to “feel bad” if they don’t get the post up in a timely fashion and they frequently include an appology to the class to that effect. Recently, one student had computer trouble and didn’t get his post up. He came to me, of his own volition, the next day and said “Mr. K. I’m sorry about not getting my scribe up so I’ll do yesterday and today because it wouldn’t be fair to assign a scribe at the last minute in class today.” In my grade 12 class a scribe was uncertain of whether or not they should scribe a class because they “got in trouble” that day. The students arranged between them, outside of class, who would be the scribe each day for the next week! Missing a scribe post isn’t an option because the whole class is waiting for it; they have expectations of each other and they are rising to the occasion [my emphasis].

Of course, one of the most obvious benefits is that any student who misses class can easily find out what they missed — now they even get a complete, student generated, online lesson! This has also made things easier for me when a student is sick for a couple of days or is away from school for any other reason — all their classes are in the web log. Also, anyone who didn’t follow what was taught in class gets another student’s perspective on it and can get even more help in the chatbox.

Recently I was explaining to another teacher how the scribe post works in my classes. I heard myself say, without realizing it, “The students are writing the textbook for the course together; one day at a time.”

Exemplary work is nominated by the teacher of the course, a teacher of a different course or by peers to The Scribe Post Hall of Fame which serves to

  1. Recognize accomplishments
  2. Motivate to excel
  3. Build self-esteem through widespread recognition 

Kuropatwa describes what he calls a hybrid class, that has both elements of face-to-face and online components, in even more detail in his post entitled Distributed Teaching and Learning which can be summed up like this:

“Scribe Posts and Feed Windows, pedagogy and audience; the first leads into the second” because “[s]ribe posts make your students teachers . . . with a global audience.” 

Because I don’t know how to create a feed window in my blog (yet), or even if WordPress has this capability, I would substitute feed windows with RSS feeds in a blog aggregator such as Bloglines.  I know that this is not the same as seeing what everyone is writing right in a blog as it feeds in but I think it is the next best thing until I learn how to do this. 

Getting students blogging is not without its challenges as James Tubbs describes at his blog, misterteacher, as he tries to have fifth graders scribe.

Despite my best efforts, I just can’t seem to get an out-of-class community going with my students. There just isn’t enough interest. Between sports, music lessons, and other extracurricular activities, they just don’t seem to want to get on the Internet late in the evening to complete anything extra for school. This is supposed to be the Net Generation, kids who grew up surrounded by digital media. For years I have read about how much time they spend on the Web consuming and creating information, interacting with one another, and playing video games. Yet, I’m not seeing all of this enthusiasm.

This is quite similar to my limited experience blogging with students.  I assumed that once students were introduced to the blog that they would be chomping at the bit to comment outside of school hours.  This was not the case.  Instead, because they weren’t interested, I didn’t pursue it further in class.  For me this exemplifies one of my mottos: if we value it, we must provide students with time during the school day. 

Related to writing in general rather than specifically to blogging, Doug Noon tried a They Say / I Say approach in Writers’ Workshop to help students “whose writing tends to be monologic and self-absorbed.  They really don’t get commentary, which is one of the big difficulties I’ve run into trying to help them learn to blog about their online learning.”  He describes his success here which I believe would be transferrable to blogging.

Many others have had enormous success with class blogs as well as individual student blogs.  David Warlick describes one teacher’s success in having students engage in conversations outside of class despite Class Blogmeister being blocked at school.  Students were even engaged when school was closed because of a snow day.  Konrad Glogowski describes the process he used this year in How to Grow a Blog and Towards Reflective Blog Talk.  I love his concreate visual metaphor which helps his grade eight students to see what he hopes they will achieve through blogging which is accessible at looking at things for a long time.

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2 Comments

  1. Val said,

    Hi Arlene:
    Thanks for all the great information and links. I too like Linda’s Link 10 Golden Rules. I have it posted in our library. Thanks for the Friday Haiku’s. I think I will add that to my RSS feed. It just hit home with me. Welcome back, sounds like you had a great time in San Francisco. Look forward to the pictures.
    Cheers
    Val

  2. Ronda said,

    Hi Arlene,

    Thanks for explaining Kuropatwa’s use of “scribes” with blogging in his classroom. This is another “best practice” for blogging! I absolutely hope to integrate this strategy, as it pushes both teacher and students to really think about what we are discussing in our lessons. I love how Kuropatwa says this has made his students take greater responsibility for their learning.

    Ronda

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