Student Voices

Oops, I missed Activity 4 as this is Activity 5 of the Teacher Challenge Blogging with students. Maybe I’ll get back to 4 one day. But as it is, I’ve been mulling over whether or not to do this post as I struggled with inspiration. I think I’ve got my mojo for now so best to let it flow.

Looking at the winners of the 2010 Edublogs Award for class blogs, two things were immediately obvious (1) students contributed and (2) teachers facilitated and moderated (as well as contributed, of course).  For this little bit more, I’m honing in on the Blog Dogs – catchy name, yeah?

Student Contributions

BlogDogsIt is not unusual for class blogs to allow students to contribute via blog posts, with or without pictures. In the Blog Dogs (Year 3s at that!), students have videos posted up. The picture on the right is a snapshot of one such video where Simone and Patrick explain and demonstrate addition. Frankly (as a maths teacher), I shudder to think how such an explanation can be done as a text-based post, even with photos.

I think a multi-modal approach to air student voices encourages creativity as well as provide multiple avenues for expression. Surely that’s a good thing.

Teacher Moderation

Part of moderation is certainly looking at what’s appropriate prior to publishing a post. Even better is to publish the guidelines used for appropriateness.  I like that the Blog Dogs have their blogging rules prominently displayed and pitched perfectly (in my opinion, anyway). AND, there are examples

– Never post your full name or the full name of others – only first names

– Never post any details about where you might live: eg) “Hi I’m Mitch and I live in Smith Street, Smithville” – BAD.

“Hi I’m Mitch and I live in Epping/NSW” – GOOD.

I would probably format the text for ease-of-reading but the content itself is exemplary. I have a very strong hunch that the teacher has gone over the rules with the class plenty of times and modeled application accordingly.

In summary….

For students to successfully engage in class blogs, there are 3 key factors (yes, it’s a list…again…)

  1. Encourage multi-modal contributions
  2. Moderate contributions. Give feedback as appropriate, positive and negative
  3. Have rules and use them

I probably missed other important factors but I reckon if you have the 3 above, you’re well on your way to a successful class blogs (award-winning or not).

Comment ON

Here’s my post for the Teacher Challenge Student Blogging Activity #3 on Comments.

I’ve got two main message: Switch commenting ON and Comment ON.

Why comment?

(To list or not to list, that is the question.)

  1. Comments are affirming. It lets the blogger knows that there are others who share or like the same ideas. I’ve received plenty of comments like this and I like leaving comments such as this as well.  And because comments are affirming, they are also encouraging. Readers are important to me.
  2. Comments extend blog posts and conversations. When a post asks questions, readers can respond via comments and so the conversation continues. A good example is this one in Janelle’s post on cotton ball clouds.
  3. Comments are good sources of ideas for blog posts. It might be a question or a bright idea that’s worth pursuing or reflecting on. My post on creating a Follow me on Twitter widget was prompted by a question on someone else’s blog.
  4. Comments can be crumb trails. Commenters can either embed hyperlinks in the comment or within the avatars. In this way, they too can be visited increasing the chances of continued conversation, perhaps via other channels such as Twitter. Of course, commenters can be anonymous, too.
  5. Comments are feedback. Whether positive or negative, comments provide the blogger an insight into how the post is received. Feedback is important to learning and since I’ve said the blogging is a learning platform, it makes sense to set up a feedback mechanism, don’t you think?

(To list wins!)

So if you’re a blogger, please switch commenting on. I may not leave a comment in all blog posts I read but when I do want to, I want to be able to. This means I want to keep the conversation going. I suppose I have to respect the possibility that you don’t want to.

As for you my dear reader, know that I want to hear from you. Feel free to agree and disagree. Ask me questions. Challenge my ideas. Extend my learning.

Is that too much to ask? 🙂

Rules are Rules

This is my post for the Teacher Challenge Student Blogging Activity 2.

We’ve all heard it before – “Rules are rules”. This is often followed by “they must be obeyed” OR “rules are meant to be broken” (and variations thereof). Either way, rules set the tone or more to the point, set the expectations. Working presently as a technology integrator, I don’t have a class and so will divide this post into two sections (1) my own rules for blogging and (2) process for setting up class blog rules

My rules

  1. Keep it professional. Use appropriate language. Stick to the focus of the blog, i.e. learning.
  2. Respect the privacy of others, students and adults alike. Do not name names (including employer/school) except when: there’s expressed permission, information is publicly available (e.g. pingback to someone’s blog or tweet) or if it shows the other person (adult) in a positive light.  With the latter, still use discretion to see whether this person/entity is okay with it.
  3. Consider the implications of this blog being public. Consider that for what and how something is written and presented – and how it can be perceived. Do not intentionally offend.
  4. Respect copyright. Give credit where it’s due.
  5. Engage in conversation. Ask questions. Answer questions.

Setting up class blog rules (if I had a class)

  1. Set-up in conjunction with class rules and adapt. This serves to emphasise that the blog is an extension of the classroom.  With the teacher I’m working with at the moment, we actually set up an online survey so class rules became a democratic exercise. The survey was linked off the class blog and students had to comment back.
  2. Discuss my rules above. It’s obvious that an emphatic thread is “Respect“. Respect oneself and others – privacy, reputation, copyright, ideas.
  3. Create visuals of rules and display on the blog. With the class I’m working with, the students were asked to create digital posters for each rule with a photo. This task broached concepts such as visual literacy (associate text with images) and digital citizenship (use of Creative Commons and copyright-free images) – pretty good for a maths class, I think. A blog banner will be created compiling the work of all the students, i.e. all the rules.

That’s it. Keep it short and simple, I say. Too many rules means too many to obey…or break.

Did I miss much?

Class Blog – what for?

Teacher Challenge has just launched a new 30-day challenge to get your students blogging. I wasn’t going to do it because I don’t currently have a class (teaching on pause post) but obviously had a change of heart with these

Reasons for joining this challenge

  1. the first activity looks do-able – I’m doing it now, after all
  2. I have had some experience with using blogs with students
  3. I am currently working with a maths teacher to explore the use of blogs as a platform for lessons, instructions and reflections, to engage the disengaged students who struggle a bit with maths. This could be an action-research project even.
  4. I really enjoyed the previous #ksyb challenge
  5. I could learn – and help others learn…and wouldn’t that just be awesome!!!

For these reasons, I’m choosing topic 3. It lends itself nicely to list form, which if you haven’t noticed yet, I’ve got a penchant for.

10 things you should know about a class blog

  1. It provides a platform for lessons and instructions and homework. With tags, teachers and students can look up related posts. Invaluable in itself but a teacher can be away/absent and still have a planned activity accessible.
  2. A class blog is a sandpit to  explore digital citizenship in a space where the teacher can moderate.  Issues that come up such as inappropriate language or breach of copyright are <b>real or authentic learning opportunities </b> within a “confined” space.
  3. It provides a platform for reflection. This need not be limited to curricular content as reflections on themes (e.g. seasons and events) can help teachers get to know their students more (we all know that’s good practice, right?, as how else can we address individual needs if we don’t know the individuals?). Reflections can provide a point of reference for changes so blogging is as a chance to model how to reflect and learn from it.
  4. A class blog should have teachers and students as contributors.  One-sided conversations (oxymoron?) are boring. Give students a voice and they will use it, especially if you show you listen.
  5. A class blog can empower parents to be partners in education, when given appropriate access.  It is a communications channel.  Pedagogy and language can change over time, even if content doesn’t, and conflict can occur at home when parents attempt to help (“That’s not how my teacher does it!”).  If you’re uncomfortable having them comment, at least allow them to read.
  6. A class blog can be set up for free. Try Edublogs or Weebly.
  7. A class blog is an extension of the classroom. Encourage discussions. Find opportunities for students to create posts, not just comments. Encourage use and re-use (for revision).  A class blog can be just a repository or it can be a think tank depending on how it is used. Use the photo gallery. Create a resources page. Explore the #ksyb Teacher Challenge elements.
  8. A class blog can be shared. Even after I’ve left the school where I set up this Year 8 Maths class blog (mainly for parents), I’ve still referred to it including the teacher I’m currently working with.
  9. A class blog provides a good opportunity to develop literacy (normal, visual, digital) especially for subjects where literacy is not the focus, e.g. science and mathematics.
  10. A class blog maps out as well as captures/journals your learning journey.

Most of my experience with class blogging had been in the sheltered confines of blogs in Sharepoint – very limited audience – because that’s all the school administration allowed me. When I did venture out with this Year 8 Maths class blog, some teachers questioned its benefits and some were worried about the too-hard=to do precedence I was setting (yup, ruffled a few feathers). Actually, most of that content was copied from my internal class blog so it wasn’t really extra work for me and it was evidence of empowering parents which some parents, and students, really appreciated.  Being open, I was much more mindful of what I posted like class photos and certainly avoided names since I didn’t go through the due process of getting permissions.

What this shows is that there are reasons why you shouldn’t have a class blog but hopefully the reasons to do so far outweighs the negatives. Do you have reason enough?

Reader, you are important to me

My post for the Teacher Challenge Activity #8.

A paradox of my blogging experience is to dismiss the importance of readership to fully appreciate it.

Before I started blogging I thought that there was no point in me writing anything as, most likely, none of it would be original. Quite likely, someone else has said it before and more eloquently. The latter is certainly true and yet I have leapt into blogosphere.

Before starting with blogging, I asked myself, “If I can’t write for others, do I have enough reasons to write for me?”  Here were my original reasons:

  1. I needed somewhere to store and categorise my resources for ease of access from home and work. This includes my blogrolls, by the way.
  2. I needed a way to expound micro-blogging(Twitter); some thoughts are too complex to be limited in 140 characters or a series thereof (especially for a non-wordsmith like me)
  3. I needed a way to document my reflections on my practice; I’ve always been a reflective person with multiple failed attempts at written journals

These were and are selfish reasons – forget the readers, do it for me – but sufficient to get me started with blogging. They served me well as I’m still here, more than a year later. These reasons are still true and I do have meagre readership for which I’m very grateful as I am definitely not one to ask about how to promote readership (never really been good at selling my skills). Nevertheless, my readers have given me more reasons to keep blogging:

  1. I can crowd-source my learning. Coupled with Twitter, this is just so powerful
  2. It’s an avenue for conversations otherwise unlikely to happen. Kathleen Cushman of firesinthemind.org (please go there) once wrote to me “thank you for making your good thinking public”. Certainly, ego-boosting but mostly humbling because of the many who blog (and micro-blog) as a way of making their thinking accessible to a wider audience.
  3. Even though many are steps (strides) ahead of me, many more are behind me or, better yet with me. I certainly find affirming that there are others who share my journey.
  4. It helps me voice my support for ideas such as computerbasedmath.org as well as people, e..g my posts or in blogrolls
  5. It has become a point of reference for me as a teacher and as an IT integrator

In short, blogging allows me to further my learning in the company of fellow learners – my PLN.

Truth be told, I have felt like Julie Powell (of Julie and Julia fame) as in feeling obliged to write something interesting for readers and I get a little nervous. Then I go back to the first 3 and then the following 5.  Signing up to do the Teacher Challenge – Kickstart your blog 2011 has not only allowed me to learn new things about blogging, it has helped me appreciate all the reasons I’ve listed above.

Here I am, undoubtedly flawed but always true to my passion for learning and finding ways to keep doing so for myself and my readers. Because, dear reader, you are now acknowledged as a travel companion. You are important to me because you are now part of my story. Let us enjoy the journey.