Loving learning through blogging

I am so much better at preparing lessons than grading work. I’d just rather be teaching than assessing. And I figure kids would rather be learning than being assessed, but it’s become all about the assessment, hasn’t it?

Disclaimer: This post may ramble. It’s the first I can think of that I didn’t plan, draft and edit much before posting.

Going through my Twitter feed this morning, I came upon the latest of Diane Ravitch’s blog posts  in which she commented on a story in the Washington Post about 120 children’s authors and illustrators writing to President Obama to plead with him to “curb policies that promote excessive standardized testing.” The jist being that we are training kids to equate reading with testing, thereby hating literature instead of loving it. I completely agree. I truly feel that if we can teach kids to love learning, whatever testing comes along should take care of itself.

Starting (or restarting) student blogging

So … I’ve promised most of my kids we’d get to blogging soon. I have five different classes, but see no reason why they can’t all be blogging. Blogs are the basis of my digital communications class, as they have been not only blogging with links, images and other tools we are beginning to explore, but the blogs will serve a their digital portfolio once the class is over. I set up a separate blog to post their assignments and link their blogs, and have now added pages for English and Intro to Journalism blog links.

I began student blogging last year with my Intro to Journalism students and meant to get around to it with the newspaper staff. It’s just that they are always so busy. Add to their usual busyness the fact that we are trying to add an online edition to our print edition, and we’re doubling their chores. But the blogging kind of goes hand-in-hand with developing an online presence for our news media.

I’ve also gotten at least some of my freshman English class excited about publishing online in the form of blogs. We took a shot at paper blogging a few weeks ago, but all did not go as I had intended when during the commenting portion of the exercises, many did not take it seriously. I made it voluntary at the time and had a few tell me they were interested, but when it came down to coming in on their own time for instruction then following up from their home computers, well, it just never happened.

I feel it’s important enough to get back on the horse, however. Common Core Standards, which I’m a fan of (not so much on the testing aspect), stipulate  some form of writing and publishing online as early as fourth grade. I’m doing a disservice to my students not to introduce this to them.

Deciding on the right platform

As I began working on the logistics, however, I came upon the problem of which platform to use. I had chosen WordPress for my digicomm students, who are all seniors. I figure when they graduate, they can continue to use their blogs if they choose to without having to export to something more grownup. They’re already there.

Last year, with my I2J kids, who are mostly freshmen, I used Kidblog. It was fairly limited, but looked at as a sort of “training wheels” vehicle, it worked for us. There were 10-12 themes to choose from, all posts and comments were filtered through me for moderation and all linked to my Kidblog page. Nice and neat. Last week, though, as the English kids were setting up blogs, there seemed to be no choice for theme. The only option they had matched the teacher’s page. On investigation, I found that I would now have to upgrade for my kids to get to choose from those 10-12 themes. I already pay for whiteboard markers, tissues, germ-X and keep a supply of peanut butter crackers for those who missed breakfast. I resented having to pay even $6 a month so these kids can individualize their pages. Back to the drawing board.

Last Sunday, I hooked up with some tweeps on #sunchat and got some good feedback and discussion on my dilemma. After some exploration – and meeting Andy McIlwain of WPUniversity through my Google search for information – I finally developed a plan. This morning I produced the document I will give to my students to help them set up their blogs this week. I share that here if it will help anyone else:

Start Blogging

Basically, I will have them all use WordPress, but as administrators of their own blogs, they will list me as a user with editing privileges. This will allow me to edit or delete posts and moderate commentary. This gives me a little more security in being able to watch over them and guide them in what they post. I don’t want to control, but I do want to keep them and their peers safe.

So to all of you tweeps I’ve followed who have promoted student blogging and helped me to develop the system I’m slowly pulling together, I thank you. I think giving these kids a voice and the tools to do more will go a long way in developing them into students who could love learning.

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About teachjournalism
I am a high school teacher of journalism, technology and reading. I advise the school's newspaper and yearbook, both student-led publications. Documenting and sharing my experiences is a way of reflecting to improve my own work and and inviting commentary so that we might all benefit. I believe, as I tell my students each year, that we all learn from each other.

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