One of the biggest challenges we face anytime we start something new is where to start. When it comes to blogging, the first logical step is set up your blog so it looks exactly the way you want it before your kids see it. However I would challenge you to consider building your blog in front of your students for a number of reasons. You can model all of the changes you make to your blog, which introduces your students to the same skills they will use when it comes time for them to set up their own blogs. As well, you position yourself as a learner so your students see you work through the growing pains of learning something new. Not only does this motivate them to learn along with you, but it’s a relationship building piece.
SO YOU HAVE A BLOG – NOW WHAT??? INTRODUCING BLOGGING TO YOUR CLASS
1. BLOGGING KWL
I introduce blogging to students by asking them what they know about blogging – just like I would introduce any topic for inquiry in my classroom. Inevitably there will be some questions about blogging that arise that will serve as new teachable moments as you work through not only the logistics of blogging, but the pedagogy of blogging as literacy.
2. INTRODUCING THE BLOG URL
When it comes time to sit down and show kids our class blog, I begin by showing them what the world will see if they visit our URL – and provide a brief explanation of a URL. Simply put, a URL is the web address where people can go to visit your blog. Just as you have a home address that people can use to visit you in person, your blog (and all websites) have addresses to that people can use to find your “home” on the web.
3. INTRODUCING BLOG DASHBOARD
Next I model how to log in to the blog dashboard. I ask kids if they know what a dashboard is, and where we might see one outside of the classroom – the dashboard in mom or dad’s car is one example. In a car, the dashboard is the control panel that helps you operate your car. I ask kids to tell me (briefly) what controls can be found in your car’s dashboard – gas gage, engine temperature, heating/cooling, navigation system, radio, etc. We then talk about how the controls for the car are on hidden on the inside, while what we see on the outside is a beautiful looking car. The blog works the same way – dashboard controls are on the inside, but outside people see a beautiful looking blog.
4. UPDATING YOUR CLASS BLOG PROFILE
Our next stop is to look at our profile and update our information on that page. We may choose to upload an avatar (picture), change our display name, etc.
The next series of lessons could be taught in a variety of ways and don’t necessarily need to be taught in this order. These are simply suggestions, and the needs of your class should determine what you teach and when you teach it. I would recommend only making one “change” to your blog during each lesson (ie./ theme, adding a widget, etc), so the focus remains about communicating your learning (blogging).
5. WRITING YOUR FIRST BLOG POST
It’s now time to compose your first post. I begin by posting once a week with my students – Fridays worked well for us. We work on a shared writing piece – our class blog displayed on the SMARTBoard while the students contribute the ideas for our post. Sometimes we write about our favourite activities/ learning, or something that was really challenging, or a special event . . . there are lots of options. What is most important, and a point that should be repeated before you begin to write is, who is our audience? Writers/ bloggers always consider their audience before composing a piece of writing/post. Part of what makes blogging so engaging is that there is a real audience waiting for you – you just need to determine what you want to write about, and who that audience might be.
6. 4 STEPS TO WRITING A BLOG POST
There are 4 steps to writing a blog post – which I review with students every time we post.
Write (compose a title and body – choose a purpose for writing; choose your audience)
Categorize (think of categories like folders – I compare them to duotangs – categories are a broad grouping of post topics; typically students begin with school subject areas ie./ math, science, etc and other categories evolve as needed)
Tag (key words used to describe your posts in more detail – so these are not words currently used in your post, but additional words that your audience might use to search for your topic)
Publish (make your work public for the world – you can go back and edit anytime)
AFTER WE’VE WRITTEN OUR FIRST BLOG POST(S) IT’S TIME TO START VISITING OTHER BLOGS. SO IN ADDITION TO THE PERIOD EVERY FRIDAY THAT IS DEDICATED TO WRITING A POST AND SETTING UP OUR BLOG, WE HAVE ADDED ANOTHER PERIOD ONCE A WEEK (WEDNESDAYS) TO EXPLORE OTHER BLOGS AND LEARN ABOUT COMMENTING/ BUILDING AN AUDIENCE. SEE BELOW FOR INFORMATION ABOUT ADDING THESE LESSONS TO YOUR WEEKLY SCHEDULE.
7. SETTING UP YOUR BLOG WEEK BY WEEK
Every week before we post on Friday, and I introduce the kids to one new blog feature. This is typically the order I would introduce the addition of new blog features:
Week 1: Dashboard, Profile, Review Steps and Write a Post
Week 2: Appearance: Change Theme, Customize Theme (change title and tagline); Review Steps and Write a Post
Your blog title and tagline need to tell your audience about your blog. Your title should reflect the focus or “theme” of the content you will be sharing on your blog. For example, my class blog is titled Busy Bees. Like bees, we are a busy group of workers (learners) who work collaboratively together towards a shared goals. Our tagline is “Sharing Learning” – that is the purpose of our blog.
Week 3: Widgets: All themes come with a default set of widgets, however different themes come with different default sets. These are the following widgets I recommend you (and your students) add week 3:
- Recent Comments
- Recent Posts (you may or may not want this one)
- Subscribe by Email* (you will need to add this one – it is not included in any default set)
Week 3 cont’d: Review Steps and Write a Post
Week 4: Widgets: Links; Review Steps and Write a Post (since adding links is a 2 step process – create the link and then add the widget, I recommend that this is your only lesson Week 4)
- Links (if you wish to add links to websites on your blog)
Week 5: Additional Widgets; Review Steps and Write a Post
- Image Widget (if you wish to an images with/without text)
- Text Widget (use a Text Widget to add your Twitter Feed, Google Calendar, or just type a message)
Week 6: Pages; Menu; Review Steps and Write a Post
Pages are typically used to share information with your audience that is more static – that is, content that doesn’t change very often. For example, you may want to post your class calendar on a page (instead of a widget) because it is easier to view. Other ideas include curriculum links, character ed resources by month, monthly newsletters, a contact page, etc) In order for the pages you create to be visible on your blog, you will also set up your Menu during this lesson.
Those are the basic features and an approximate timeline you may want to follow when introducing blogging to your students. Depending on the age of your crew, you may zip through these lessons in much less time. These timelines are based on my experience in a primary classroom (Grade 1/2). And now that you’ve all set up, it’s time to request blogs for your students!
8. VISITING CLASS BLOGS
After the first 3 weeks it’s time to branch out and start visiting other class blogs – we do this on Wednesdays. Visiting other blogs is important for a few reasons:
- it’s a great way to get inspired and take away ideas for your own blog (information literacy)
- blogs are the tools you will use to help you build your own set of success criteria for writing blog posts (information, digital, media literacy)
- these experiences create opportunity for you to introduce your students to commenting (network literacy, digital citizenship)
When we first visit blogs, we use this time to check out what we like and what we don’t like. We spend part of our time focusing specifically on blog posts, and the other part of our time looking at blog features (ie. themes, widgets, etc). We keep record of our “Likes” for Posts and Features, which will later become our success criteria for writing a blog post, and our success criteria for blog set-up. You can use a variety of tools to record your findings (chart paper, Padlet, Poplet, etc) We use the AMDSB Class Blog List to check out blogs around our grade level for ideas.
Once you have established your success criteria for writing a blog post, it’s time to start building your audience. You may even have students’ already asking, Why is no one commenting on our blog??? This is the perfect time to introduce students to commenting. The analogy I share with students is this: If you are having a party and you don’t invite any guests, will anyone come to your party? The obvious answer is no. Well, blogging is like having a party – and we have to invite people to our party if we want them to come and talk to us. Typically writing a quality comment has a few key components:
- follow a letter format for writing (greeting, body, closing/ salutation, signature/ name)
- start by sharing something positive about the post
- share something you learned OR contribute your own ideas
- ask a question OR share new information if you want to continue the conversation
- ask them to visit your blog
If you are interested in learning more about commenting, please check out How to Comment on a Blog.
Naturally, once you leave a comment, you are letting that individual or group know, hey I’m here, and I want to collaborate with you. You should receive a reply to your comment, and hopefully they will visit your blog and leave a comment for your class. As soon as you receive your first comment, you can introduce your students to writing a reply. As you write more comments, read more comments, write more replies, and read more replies, you can begin building your success criteria for a quality comment and reply.
9. BUILDING YOUR AUDIENCE
The elements of a successful blog include regular posts, regular comments made on other blogs, and timely replies/ feedback. If at any time you stop posting, commenting, and/or replying, you will start to lose your audience, and you become a less reliable audience for your colleagues. When you enter into a blogging community you are taking on new responsibilities – not only to your audience, but as an audience member. We truly are a community – dependent upon one another for our continued success and future growth. If for some reason you need to step away, let your audience know when you will be back – but understand that you will loose some of your followers as a result of your absence.
10. DOCUMENTING LEARNING
Once you’ve set up your blog, got a handle on posting, and established yourself as part of a community, it’s time to shift your focus to the variety of ways you and your students can document learning. I will be writing a separate post with ideas exploring innovative ways to increase student engagement, observe student learning, document and study student work, and gain greater insight into effective instruction as we deepen our understanding of pedagogical documentation using triangulated evidence (conversations, observations, products) to support assessment for and as learning made visible on blogs.
Now, take a deep breath. Your blog won’t be built in a day. And even when you think you are finally “done”, you realize that you’ve made new discoveries and there is more work to do. The reality is your blog is never done, and it will always be a work in progress – a reflection of your “best” every time you write a post, update a widget, reply to a comment, make a change. As we learn better, we do better!