1 of the Best Things We Did in Our Class This Year

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I’m including the letter below to parents on my blog in order to help me share one of the best things I did this year.  Thank you to George Couros (@gcouros) who inspired us in a recent professional development session to connect with our colleagues around the world and be more reflective in your practice and share the why behind your story.

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Blogging became an integral part of my classroom this year.  Prior to blogging I used class journals using paper and pen.  Students handed them into me weekly and I would respond back.  I never marked them and always used them to give the students an outlet to write and for me a greater way to connect with them.  However I realized this didn’t provide the platform for a lot of my students to want to write more.  They were writing to an audience of 1 or 2 people and some were not putting much thought into their entries.  I became disappointed in myself that I hadn’t found a way to engage them more in journaling.  I tried different topics (creative, reflective, and informative entries).  It just didn’t provide them with a platform that connected with them.  They were becoming bored with it.  I couldn’t blame them because I was feeling the same.   This is where Blogging opened my eyes to how to do this.

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We started to share our learning with each other and the world on our class Kidblog page.  Thank you to Karen Lirenman (@lirenmanlearns) who introduced me to the Kidblog platform by sharing her student’s learning on Twitter during the early part of the 2011-2012 school year.  My students were skeptical and uncertain about what opportunities lay in front of them.  Many of them initially saw this journaling except with a computer.  I introduced them to how Denise Krebs and her students from Iowa were using their student blogs.  Quickly they saw the power of the blog and were engaged by the variety of ways they could connect with their blog audience. They were able to use different images, youtube videos, sound, and a variety of text colours, styles, and sizes to emphasize their points, reflect on their work, and create new material.  Check out my student Aman’s Blog for an example of their increased engagement.  My favourite post of hers was her Poetry Anthology.  She expanded her digital literacy and was inspired to go beyond what she thought writing was.  Our audience grew thanks to sharing our blog posts on our @mcdclassroom twitter account and my professional account @hughthteteacher under the hashtags: #comments4kids,  #classblogs, #sd36learn, #bclearns, #gvlearn, and #quadblogging.

Quadblogging gave us a specific audience for our work every 4th week.  It brought our blog alive with over 200 comments, questions, and feedback from our awesome Quad 11 partner classes the first time we shared our blogs with them.  Our Quad included @wildblu ‘s Year 7/8 Classes from England, @mrlanesclass A Year 6 class from Ireland, and @tistech6 a Year 6 1:1 laptop class in New Zealand.  The students were excited to read their comments and collaborate with peers the same age as them but with different experiences and perspectives to share.  They learned how to provide informative and thoughtful comments to the peers in their classroom and a growing contingent of classrooms in the Canada, United States, New Zeland, Ireland, and England.  They also learned how to take these comments and use them to reflect, improve understanding, and engage themselves in their own learning.  Blogging became a important part of our Assessment for Learning in our classroom.  I am proud of their accomplishments, and I am proud of their free spirit to try something new.

If you enjoyed this blog entry, please consider sharing it!

Sincerely,

Hugh McDonald

@hughtheteacher

A special thank you to Mrs. Pripp, a teacher in Madison, Wisconsin, USA. who I met through Twitter for sharing her expertise on blogging & Internet Safety.  Below is the letter I shared with the parents in my classroom.

Dear Parents and Families,

This year I am happy to introduce a very exciting learning tool in our classroom; our very own student written blog.  A weblog, or blog for short, will function much as our classroom walls, except through posting and creating work online, we will be able to solicit comments from students across the globe on our work, as well as classmates. This new writing opportunity affords us the chance to help students develop their writing while exposing it to a potentially global audience, thus leading to in-depth discovery, reflection, and redirection in their literacy skills.

The blog’s main function will be to promote a continual writing process, featuring book reviews, poetry, journal reflections as well as a chance for students to develop critical thinking skills as they comment and guide each other.  Not all work will be graded, however, all work will be assessed for effort made and progress shown.  By having a real audience, students will learn to focus their writing to target specific groups as well as continue to develop their own unique writing voice, all in an e-portfolio format.

This wonderful learning project is set up to eliminate any Internet risks for your child.  No personal information will be disclosed and students will have a username or “handle” for themselves as to not reveal their true names.  Passwords will only be made available to the individual student and teacher.

I set up our student blog and students will be given access to post their finished work and comments.  All comments and posts have to be approved by me before they are made visible to the public, however, students with at-home computer accessibility will be able to post assignments and comments from home, too.  Parents and family members are encouraged to also get involved and will be given the website so that they become part of our learning conversation.

Before proceeding with this blog we will discuss proper Internet usage, blog etiquette, as well as how to comment constructively and not critically. Students will be expected to sign and follow all of the Internet safety pledges set forth in our Classroom Internet Safety Plan.

All of these skills developed through this blog are part of our lifelong learning and I hope to set the students on a wonderful path of Internet exploration and usability!

Sincerely,

Mr. McDonald

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6 Responses to 1 of the Best Things We Did in Our Class This Year

  1. selinamillar says:

    An amazing and inspiring story, Hugh! Will definitely keep passing this word along! Have a wonderful summer break!

    • Thank you for the note Selina. I’ve been working on this one for a while, and I was finally ready to hit the publish button on it. 😀 I hope to have more coming too throughout the summer.

  2. Joy Kirr says:

    Hugh,
    Thank you for this post – it serves as a great explanation for the WHY of student blogs! Can I use the letter for my class in August? Or maybe post the letter on my class blog with the link to your explanation? You said it all so eloquently!

    Side note – I’ve been following you for 6mos. now on Twitter – how did I not know you had this blog? I knew about the class one, but not this one. Thanks for the tweet about this one – looks like I have some catching up to do! 🙂

    Thanks again for this post – blog on!
    -@JoyKirr

    • Thank you for the comment and RT of my post. Yes you can use the letter. I borrowed the idea and adapted it to serve the needs in my classroom. Feel free to do the same.

      LOL! I’ve had a blog for a while and then switched platforms from Weebly to WordPress in April. I have not been active in publishing posts on a regular basis although I have many started. You should see a post about this on this sometime soon. Last summer was my introduction to connecting and exploring twitter on a more regular basis. This summer I want to do the same with my professional blogging.

  3. What a great way to engage students in their learning. Kids love writing for an audience. Thank you for sharing. I am motivated to look into quadblogging! I am building eportfolios through blogs in September with my Kindergartens and I was wondering what blogging platform do you recommend? I see that you used Kidblog. There are so many to choose from wordpress, edublog, posterous,blogmeister… Thanks a lot and have a great summer!

    • Hi Tanya,

      Thank you for your response! I think it is wonderful that you are going the route of portfolios through blogs. I like Kidblog because it is easy to use and the kids pick-up on the platform easily. My group introduced it to our k/1 buddy class in March of this school year. Soon they were logging on and creating their own written posts without any help. I also like it because it easy to moderate. I use wordpress for my professional blog and love the lay out and the ease of making posts, adding links, and embedding videos. I haven’t explored it as an option for my students but I have heard positive things about its functionality for students.

      I have a colleague @gallit_z who used weebly with her 5/6 group for their e-portfolios. Weebly is also easy to use and gives the students the ability to create their own webpage. Another colleague of mine @lirenmanlearns did some great things with blogging and grade 1s using Kidblog. Here is the link to their site:

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