Tips for Starting a Classroom Blog

I correspond on a regular basis with a group of writers who also teach at writers’ conferences. We attend other workshops as well, in which we hear how it is important to have an “online presence.” Is an online presence also important for us as classroom teachers? Is it important for our students? I’m fortunate to be able to visit a few classrooms each year, different grade levels, different school districts. I’ve not been in a classroom yet with an active blog, or even a classroom where students have much access to computers apart from scheduled time in the computer lab. It makes me wonder if education has not fully entered the online community.

On the other hand, in my research I visit a number of classroom blogs online. It’s exciting to see what teachers across the country are doing with technology in their classrooms. However, many of the blogs I’ve read are written by the teacher, as a way of giving information to parents and other members of the community about classroom events and students accomplishments; very little content is student-generated.

My recent experiences in education make me wonder if blogging really has a place yet in the classroom. Our teaching time seems limited, with mandates to “teach to the test.” Connecting students with computers is not always convenient. These issues, and more, raise questions in my mind about the relevance of blogging in the classroom.

Why should students blog?
Blogging helps students improve their writing skills with the promise of an authentic audience. Blogging provides the opportunity for interactive learning.

How can we set up a blog and maintain student privacy and safety?
Have students hand write blog posts or type on a word processor and enlist the help of volunteers to enter the posts on the blog. Display student posts in class to read and discuss comments. Always have your students use only their initials or a “user name” to protect their identity. Label photographs with the event, rather than the name of the school, teacher, or students.

How can I set up a blog and work around district firewalls?
Check with the network administrator to find out if the blog platform you want to use is blocked and ask if they will unblock the site or mark your blog URL as safe. Once the URL has been marked as safe, you can complete the initial set up of the blog from a home computer, if necessary.
Obtain permission to access, an education-friendly site specifically set up for teachers. Obtain permission to use, with the agreement that the navigation bar will be disabled. This limits the blog’s exposure on the Internet and prevents students from accidentally navigating away from the blog.

How can I make time for blogging?
Rotate groups of students through the blog so that each group posts once a week. Alternatively, assign one group of students to make one (or more) blog posts for a week and then have another group take the next week. Readers may appreciate the consistency more than the frequency.
Incorporate blog posts into routine class assignments, even if students initially write by hand. For example, student notes prior to conducting a classroom debate can be used to begin a conversation on a blog. Post student conclusions from science experiments to start discussions about new learning, how well the conclusions support the hypothesis, and what students would change the next time they performed the experiment.

Summer is a good time to take stock of changes and new ideas we want to incorporate in the new school year. Thinking about this with you has challenged me to consider once again the benefits of blogging – and how it can help me to do my job better – to provide resources for teachers.

Tracie Heskett has taught multiple grades in public and private elementary schools in southwest Washington. She currently writes teacher resource materials and curriculum. She has authored many books for Teacher Created Resources including Blogging in the Classroom, Going Green, and Traits of Good Writing.

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