Student Blogging as a Means to Reflect on Learning Part 1

My classes have been blogging as a means to reflect on their learning throughout this semester. I had a few goals in mind when I proposed this endeavour to my students:

1. I have been increasingly conscious of how I am fostering perseverance and work ethic in my classroom. Something that was lacking from my curriculum was an ongoing task that students could reflect on, revise, publish, and share over a length of time. I wanted to know if blogging would lend a hand in this area. As mentioned in previous posts, I have been inspired by Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed and the work of Dr. Angela Duckworth and her research on self-control and grit as being determining factors of student success. Would blogging be the engaging task that my students could really put their noses in to?

2. I wanted to know if writing in the digital arena would provide a format that students would excel in. The popular notion is that students don’t differentiate between literacy and digital literacy because the digital world is one that they are accustomed to and are much more engaged in than their older, and, albeit, less digitally savvy educators. I wanted to test this theory.

3. I was curious about how publishing their work to an audience, a massive, public, frightening audience, on an ongoing basis, would impact their work. Additionally, I wondered if the ability to share this work would have similar benefits as a peer editing activity.

4. I wanted to add more discussion on digital responsibility in to our classroom. I hoped that the student blogs would be a gateway for us to analyze citizenship and online responsibility, and even provide a positive digital footprint so to speak, as an example for future employers of how students have navigated the internet in a positive and meaningful fashion.

Students created blog accounts using wordpress and were given class time to navigate the workings of the service. I loved watching them figure this portion of our blogging experiment out. Students were expecting mini-lessons walking them through each tool and function wordpress provides. I challenged them to navigate alone, then collaboratively, before they sought my help. This was not going to be an easy fix. Students were forced to revisit their blogs to customize the layout, their menus, and their theme. This was not a “set it and forget it” process. This was something that demanded a certain stickwithitness that, with class time, scaffolded support, and no looming assessment, I expected to directly foster the work ethic I was looking to add to my curriculum.

We agreed that one function of the blog was to reflect a professional and responsible user. This lead in to a lengthy conversation about voice, and more specifically, what kind of posts we would publish. We agreed that posts would be limited to those topics that we felt passionately about in hopes that this passion would translate to a better composition. Furthermore we wanted time in class to discuss, work on, reflect, and revise our work on an ongoing basis. And last, posts were to go beyond a personal narrative, something more studious and academic than a traditional journal entry where one’s audience is oneself.

To date we have written one post per month. This is due to the fact that I really wanted to honour the criteria for posts outlined above. My approach was to not necessarily plan the post assignments but rather wait to see how lessons, units, and discussions unfolded and then construct the posts around what the class was passionate about. For example, our most recent post was inspired by a visit from Lucy Crehan, an amazing educator from England who is spending a year travelling around the world visiting countries and assessing educational models that scored high on the OECD’s ranking. After having spent 6 weeks in Finland Lucy was on the tail end of her BC trek when she caught wind of what had been happening in my English 12 class. She wanted to hear from the students as to whether they felt our educational system met the needs of every student. The discussion that ensued was unbelievable and it was clear that a reflection post would be an awesome means to share their feelings about Lucy’s visit. We discussed several angles to breach the subject and decided on A Letter To My Grade 9 Self, a first person creative piece that would reflect on the good and bad of their high school experience. The result was a passionate composition that matched the passionate discussion we had with Lucy.

Have a look at Lucy’s blog for a deeper look at her travels.

In the coming weeks I will further reflect on the blogging process in my classes with attention to above goals.

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6 thoughts on “Student Blogging as a Means to Reflect on Learning Part 1

  1. Hi Trevor – I’m curious to hear how this blogging initiative has gone. What was the initial reaction of students when you explored this? How has that changed through the process? Are your kids BYOD or 1:1, or mobile lab? Are the blogs, dare I say, for points?
    It was your title, “to reflect on meaning” that really caught my eye. Looking forward to follow up posts.
    PS – thanks for the article and Ted link – haven’t come across these yet.
    Take care, Paul.

  2. Thanks for the comment Paul!

    The class has responded quite well to this endeavour. As posted in Part 2, at the onset there were some speed bumps with regards to students formatting their blogs and getting used to a slower but more meaningful journey. By refusing to walk them through the functions of the blog students were forced to figure things out and some neat things happened. Some students put their heads down and plugged away at figuring wordpress out. Some students watched wordpress tutorial videos on YouTube. And some students worked in pairs or triads trying to sort out operations together. I love this as it speaks to a few skills I’ve been trying to integrate in to my teaching. One is the grit and perseverance needed to stick to a new and strange challenge. Two is seeking help from a source or community beyond me. And three is honest and uncontrived collaboration – not the teacher forming groups for class work but rather the students coming together because they felt it would be helpful.

    As of late I’ve been thinking more and more about the introverts and extroverts in our classes. On my Christmas reading list is Susan Cain’s “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”. I think that the first two scenarios above relate to my introverts and the latter to my extroverts. I am pleased with how the lessons have gone because both students have their needs met in a very meaningful way.

    They have recently been experimenting with adding media depth to their posts such as hyperlinks, videos, and images. They’re really enjoying it. We have an iPad cart (30 units) in our room so access is seemless and immediate. The blogs are a formative assessment throughout the semester. Students and I leave comments in a similar fashion to a peer edit activity. Students revise their posts throughout the course. This is cool because our understanding of how to use wordpress has evolved which allows them to revisit posts and add media or other tools. Also, our hope is that since we expect our writing to improve over the semester we can then access our writing to improve it over the entire semester – an assignment/post is not actually “done” until the semester ends.

    Oh, and we co created our criteria that we use to assess our posts, the appearance and functionality of our blogs, and our revision process.

    Apologies for my lengthy reply!

    Regards,
    Trevor

  3. Pingback: A Reflection on Reflections | teganaj

  4. Pingback: Student Blogging as a Means to Reflect on Learning- A Response | Matilda Stockwell

  5. Pingback: Thoughts on student blogging | Kira's English 11 Blog

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