10 20 ways to think about your class blog…

One of the ways I like to encourage learning based on my school’s learning principles is to promote the use of class blogs. In the lower primary years, the blogs are often used to communicate with parents and to share the learning that takes place at school. As we move higher up in the school though, the class blog has the potential to be so much more than that.

I’ve written about class blogs several times in the past, but my thinking  has changed as I have watched the blogging experience unfold at my school. I have seen even the most motivated teachers become disappointed by the lack of student interest, poor response from parents and the absence of the anticipated authentic audience.

A great post this week by Andrea Hernandez, entitled Where is the Authentic Audience? got me (re) thinking. And another thought-provoking post by Kath Murdoch exploring what inquiry learning is NOT, as a way to understand what it IS, inspired me to consider class blogs in the same way.

I think that a class blog is not (just)…

  • A  place to post questions, worksheet style, with an expectation that all students will respond.
  • A space for teachers  to assess and comment publicly on students’ writing.
  • A sort of online vacuum, into which students’ writing is sucked, never to be seen by anyone.
  • A compulsory homework assignment.
  • Something managed entirely by the teacher, who makes all the decisions as to what will be posted and when.
  • An occasionally used alternative to writing on paper.

(With apologies if you use your blog successfully in some or all of these ways!)

Some questions to consider…

1. Do you teach students how to write meaningful comments that promote conversation?

2. Do you set aside time every day to check  for new comments and  discuss the comments that come in?

3. Do you encourage your students to respond to each other and whoever else comments?

4. Does your blogroll include other class blogs within your own school and are your students actively engaging with these?

5. Do you encourage your students to comment on class blogs at schools in your own and other parts of the world?

6. Have you and your students considered ways to involve their grandparents and retired people they know as a potential audience?

7. Do your students have ownership of the layout and theme of your class blog?

8. Do you frequently discuss the potential  audience and purpose of blog posts?

9. Do you model good writing for your students by blogging yourself? ( A collective in-school blog doesn’t require a great time commitment).

10. Do you regularly read and comment on other teachers’ blogs and discuss your learning with your students?

11. Do you encourage students to take photographs of great learning experiences and share their reflections with the world?

12. Do you have a visitors map or a flag counter and check them every day with your class to see who has visited and where they are in the world?

13. Have you considered a class Twitter account to share learning and tweet your posts to other classes?

14. Have you thought about blogging as authentic writing, rather than another separate thing you have to fit in?

15. Do your students choose where to post their writing and thinking, with the blog as just one option?

16. Have you exposed your students to great blogs (not just class ones) so that they can discover what makes a blog appealing and interesting?

17. Have you helped your students see how blogging is different from other writing? Can they drill down to the essence of something, add images and use  hyperlinks?

18. Do your students see the blog as an additional place to share and provoke thinking, and to make thinking visible?

19. Is your blog a place to continue the learning conversation from school to home and back?

20. Are you working on building a learning community which includes yourself, students, parents and other learners in your school and the world?

10 steps to get teachers into blogs…

Flying for many hours means I have had plenty of time to catch up on reading saved blog posts. I think I’ve learned more from reading (and writing) educational blogs than I have from any other professional learning during the many years that I have been in education.

Some of my favorite posts contain examples of great practice, thoughtfully written, that make you wish you were there. I enjoy open, honest posts about dilemmas and failures and what was learned from each experience. I like posts written in the writer’s authentic voice, without self promotion or pretentious language.

How can I encourage those teachers at my school, who haven’t yet opened this book, to read (and maybe write!) blogs regularly, to see what teachers are doing globally, further their awareness of what’s possible, engage with new ideas and see their existing beliefs validated, questioned, or shared by teachers around the world?

Here’s my plan for a series of short, supported sessions for those teachers in the new year. Let me know what you think…

10 steps to get teachers into blogs…

1. Read.
Start by sharing a print-out of a powerful blog post.

2. Discuss.
Print off a number of posts on a similar topic. Discuss the different perspectives.

3. Connect.
Bring your device. Each one gets a link to a different blog. Read and share highlights.

4. Navigate.
Find your way around blogs. Follow links. Go to other places..

5. Subscribe.
Set up a reader with recommended blogs. Learn how to subscribe to feeds.

6. Communicate.
Talk about something interesting you discovered via your reader. Share a newly discovered blog.

7. Participate.
Join the blogging conversation. Start by writing a combined comment. Choose a post and write your own comment.

8. Collaborate.
Work together on a collaborative post for our teacher-blog (to date most posts have been written by me, and not widely read!)

9. Create.
Each teacher creates a post sharing an idea from a blog they read, how it influenced their thinking, or a picture of practice from their class.

10. Reflect.
I used to think… Now I think…

Might it work? Am I missing anything?

11 favourite posts from ’11

Adam’s reasons for posting  his 11 best posts of 2011 at  One Year in the Life of an English Teacher made me smile!  I liked the idea of linking back to my own ’11 from  ’11’  for a different reason.  It sent me down a reflective path, reminding me of successes and challenges during the course of year. It made me realise how much has changed and what still needs to.

The posts I have chosen are not necessarily my most popular posts, but I write as much for myself as for anyone else, so here are eleven of my favourite posts from 2011…

1.  10 things to do on the first day of school  (January)

2.  How do teachers learn? (February)

3.  Open the gate… (Things have changed!) (April)

4.  Does your school..? (June)

5.  A school in Pune  (July)

6. Embracing technology (August)

7.  Play House  (August)

8.  Ignite, Engage, Inspire  (September)

9. What do you mean? (October)

10. Thoughts from my own inquiry (October)

11. Where do great ideas come from? (December)

10 reasons students should blog…

… and they all come from 12 year olds!

1. I think the blog has turned me into a global learner, who loves to share their learning and opinion. The disadvantage is that sometimes the blog deletes your post. The advantages are endless. You can share a video, picture and writing. I think my learning has improved from the blog because it has made me a enthusiastic learner. Its great that anyone in the world can access and comment on OUR blog. I hope to create my own blog sometime in the future. (Emily)

2.  I have learnt a huge amount of information from looking at others’ thinking and asking questions. You can post videos, texts, images, google maps, any embed things and links. One thing that really gave me information about the world was a voice thread that I set up about education around the world and after a few days comments were just flying in. I got comments from nearly every continent. This shows that the blog is wide open which is great. (Leor)

3. I think that the blog is great because we get to be a big community of learners and share with people from around the world and it’s like exchanging learning. We learn from people and people learn from us. The advantages were sharing learning with the class more… and we could have a conversation about learning. (Ieva)

4. By being able to look at other people’s learning and learn from theirs… I am more clear on what I have to do sometimes and I can get ideas from others. I also enjoy the blog because I am able to get feedback on what I do from people all over the world and improve myself to make things perfect. (Cassie)

5. I think that it’s a great tool for learning and communicating! It has many advantages like you can access it from anywhere school, home etc. also people from other countries can comment on our learning and tell us their opinion and we can learn about their country by commenting back and asking about it. We can share our learning with each other, the rest of the school and anyone from any other country. (Alicia)

6.  As a learner I think the blog is great , you can put so much effort into something and not only your friends and family can see it but the world, you can learn so many new facts from the public. The blog is like a room with different people in it. I have created my own blog and I think its great because it’s what I have to say and people all over the world can help me discover more. (Justin)

7.  At the start of the year I wasn’t very sure about using the blog and I wasn’t quite sure how to write a good post. Since then I have learnt all the skills and techniques to make a good post/comment. I am now very confident with using the blog. Looking through all my blog posts it shows how far I have come and towards the end how much better all my blog posts are. (Lexie)

8. It helped me as a thinker because when you look at other people’s posts on sometimes the same thing, they could be very different and it could change your thinking too. Because you realize the other side of what you are thinking. My comments now are very different to the start of the year because now I am thinking as a learner, but before I was more thinking about being a worker at school. This helps a lot because you want to get something out of what you do – that is what a learner does, a worker does it to get it done. (Josh)

9. Using the blog as at tool, has extended my thinking is so many ways. It has helped me communicate with people all around the world and get to know about them a bit better. The advantages of being on the blog, is learning about different people and seeing what other people post on the blog to compare! (Amy)

10. Using the blog as a tool has really helped me with all my learning because people comment from all over the world and are able to see what we are learning about. When they comment we can use that information for our inquiry. The blog has helped me as a learner because you get everyone’s opinion from around the world and you learn a heap. (Jay)

Edublog Awards 2011… or not.

Just a little over two years ago, I wrote my first blog post. I never expected to have readers at all, let alone readers all over the world, many of whom would, over time, become my friends. A year later, I was thrilled to be nominated for the Edublog Awards and proudly displayed the nomination badges in the sidebar of my blog. I didn’t care about winning, it was enough to have an acknowledgement that people out there valued what I had to say. I nominated some of my favourite blogs, knowing that as soon I hit the publish button, I would think of others I could have or should have included.

Another year later, a self-confessed addict to both reading and writing blogs, I wouldn’t know which to choose if I had to nominate favourites. Instead, I have some thoughts to share…

  • Sometimes I have so many unread posts in my reader I just mark them as ‘read’ and start all over again.
  • Sometimes I have so many tabs open with posts which I am still enjoying that my browser crashes.
  • Sometimes I clean out my reader and reduce my subscriptions, in the hope I will be able to keep up with fewer blogs.
  • At other times I keep adding new blogs till my reader is unmanageable and I would need a week off work to catch up.
  • There are some blogs I like because they echo my sentiments and every post resonates for me.
  • There are others that I like because they challenge me; they make me question and think, rethink and justify my thinking.
  • I have learned an amazing amount and grown as an educator (even after 30 years!) from reading other educators’ blogs.
  • I believe that teachers who aren’t reading education blogs and furthering their learning by engaging in social media are being left behind.
  • I often read posts that inspire me to comment, but I can’t quite find the words to add something new to the conversation.
  • I constantly email blog posts I discover to colleagues at my school because they are inspiring or challenging or interesting or all three.
  • It sometimes bothers me that my most read posts are those in my ’10 ways series’ while other posts I regard as more valuable are read less.
  • Most of the time my blog is a space to write my reflections and process my learning, as much for myself as anyone else.
  • I always, always appreciate comments on my posts, even when I don’t respond individually.

I do have two favourite blogs I’d like to mention, for different reasons, even though I have personal investment in both.

One is Inquire Within, a blog about inquiry learning in all its forms, which now has contributors from 14 different countries, across six continents. It’s great that many of the contributors are PYP teachers as I am, but even better that many are not as they provide different perspectives. I like the fact that anyone can contribute and that every post is a surprise because of the variety of voices. I love the commonality and the diversity.

The other one is a class blog. Every class at my school now has a blog, and each one is at a different stage. My favourite is the 6D blog and only partly because I have taught that class and have an attachment to both the children and their class teacher! The blog is an extension of the classroom learning, a home for visible thinking and an opportunity for promoting authentic inquiry. I love that it’s messy and creative, as learning should be.

Here’s what the two blogs have in common: inquiry, learning, authenticity, multiple voices, diversity, big ideas … and they each represent a community of learners.

Leaders as learners…

The more I connect online with other educators through blogs and Twitter, the more I see how those who don’t are lagging behind in their learning. I was invited this week to share with my ‘leadership team’ (admin.)

We looked at what leaders get out of blogs…

We looked at what kids get out of blogs…

We had a quick overview of Twitter and educators worldwide shared what they get out of it.  The plan was to Skype with Patrick Larkin, a principal in Burlington, USA, but it didn’t happen because…

Feedback from my learners…

There is a world of people out there willing to share, learn together and support each other- You are not alone.

This provides the most wonderful, exciting opportunities to be a part of a learning community

I have spent time reading blogs – I came away feeling inspired, yet a little apprehensive  to write one.

Would love to explore twitter – it was a little bit too fast for me

We live in exciting times in terms of education.

I cant wait to begin exploring.



10 ways to motivate students to blog…

Collaborative post with Mitch Squires, a primary school teacher in Sydney. Cross-posted at his blog. I wrote some, he wrote some, we both wrote some. We had fun… kids could do this too!

From Ed: I love to blog. I’m an addict.

I like to blog about things that matter to me, things I’m thinking about and things I learn. I respond to things I’ve read. I share things that I discover. I reflect.

I’d find it difficult to blog if someone told me what I had to write about. I’d hate to have deadlines by which my posts were due. If I was expected to blog about things that didn’t interest me, I’d never produce another post. I don’t think I’d like someone correcting my writing. I wouldn’t like writing on the same topic everyone else was writing about today!

Why should younger, possibly smaller people feel any differently?

From Mitch: I was only ever an occasional blogger until this year, writing in fits and starts, however starting a class blog opened up a whole new world . Students loved having their work on show to a global audience, able to provide genuine feedback. Parents loved the ‘window into our classroom’. I loved the excitement I saw in the students, the motivation it sparked in them. After the initial buzz wore off, however, I had to find ways to keep the students interested…

10 ways to motivate students to blog…

1. Hook them in.

Post a powerful provocation to get them thinking. Get them to respond as a comment. Use photos, artwork, video clips. Suggest a thinking routine to scaffold responses. eg ‘Connect, Extend, Challenge‘ or ‘See, Think,Wonder’. Ask powerful, engaging questions about big ideas and accept all kinds of responses. Sam Sherratt’s class blog is a great example.

2. Freedom of choice.

Allow choice. Encourage students to write about what matters to them. Don’t expect everyone to write about the same thing at the same time in a uniform way. Encourage creativity rather than compliance. (I love this point. I struggled initally with the idea of set tasks vs student choice. While it sometimes bothers me that some of my students won’t post great classwork because it doesn’t fit with their own view of their blog, if I look at the bigger picture, it makes their blogs more authentic and relevant to them. (Mitch)

3. Don’t over correct.

Ed: Actually the jury’s out on this one. Some say blog posts should be final draft pieces, with spelling and grammar correct. I tend to disagree. I’d allow students to express their opinions, grow their thinking, be creative… but I may be wrong! Mitch: My general rule on this one is if the work is an assigned class task, I expect students to have thoroughly checked the accuracy of their spelling and grammar. If it is a personal interest piece written in their own time (most of what makes up their blogs) then I am happy as long as it all makes reasonable sense.

4. Help provide an authentic audience.

Share student blogs with other teachers at your school. Invite parents and grandparents to comment. A comment from a grandmother interstate, a cousin overseas or a teacher from a school on another continent is a powerful motivator for students. Tell your online PLN about them. Add a Clustrmaps widget showing global visitors.

5. Model good writing.

Blogging is writing. Share your own blog with your students. Write posts that model the sort of writing you’d like them to produce. John Spencer writes beautifully. So do his students at Social Voice!

6. Encourage different modes of expression.

Blogging isn’t only writing. Encourage creativity. Students might create videos, images or cartoons and post them. Great examples here from David Mitchell’s class blog.

7. Make global connections.

Students love to hear what their peers think. Help them connect with both an in-school and an online PLN. Collaborate with classes in other countries. Read about Australian Kath McGeady’s collaboration with a class in the US. Their Uganda project is inspiring! And have you seen the Alice Project, where ‘Three 10th-grade Honors English classes tumble down the rabbit hole to discover Alice’s journey first-hand’?

8.  Encourage students to support each other.

Who doesn’t get a kick out of working together to solve a problem? Students love to show each other how to use that photo of their artwork to make a Jigsaw Planet, or record their speech as a podcast for their blog. If they have the skills, let them share them! (I love this one. ‘Kids showing kids’ is much more effective than teacher as boss of learning! -Ed)

9. Let them own it.

The theme. The widgets. The blog name. The posts. Kids love to take full control and place their own stamp on their patch of online space. Mitch Squires’ Year 3 student, Emily blogs here.

10. The power of embedding.

Help students master embedding web 2.0 and multimedia tools. They’ll be empowered to experiment and include an almost endless range on their blogs. See Steve Davis’s middle school English class understandings of text, expressed through different media.


Learning in Sri Lanka…

This is the first in a series of guest posts about learning in different contexts…

Guest post by Clive Elsmore

I ‘met’ Clive though his fascinating blog about his time volunteering in Sri Lanka. My children have volunteered in developing countries and it’s something I plan to do myself in the future. I’ve blogged about him before, when he spoke to a group of students on Skype about his experiences. This is a cross post from Clive In Sri Lanka.

10 Reasons Why I blog (alternative title by Ed: Learning in Sri Lanka)

I started blogging in 2008 when I left my 21-year-life as a “senior electronics design engineer” at EFDA-JET in the UK to become a volunteer teacher at SISP, a small social project for the poor in India.  I wrote CliveInIndia for eighteen months and then continued with CliveInSriLanka when I moved to help improve basic computer literacy amongst teachers in the south of the island.

I thought blogging would be a good way to keep in contact with family and friends, to share little adventures, things that amused me, cultural differences, and perhaps to keep contact with people I could discuss ideas with, or ask help from. Another reason was that I’d been warned about volunteer-loneliness so, I thought, blogging might be a possible way of countering the isolation.

I was pretty diffident about my writing skills and didn’t want to offend anyone or look a complete wazzock by rabbitting on about stuff I clearly knew nothing about so I kept my first blog for subscribers only – a few friends and family – and sent a sanitised version to my old workplace.

It was great at first. People liked what I wrote and said kind words. But, as time passed, interest dwindled. By and large my readers didn’t use an RSS aggregator like Google Reader and so would only look when they remembered. Lives moved on. A few faithful folk continued with me but I began doubting my blogging abilities and purpose.

I decided I should be happy just writing the blog for myself. It was OK – I could keep it as a personal journal of things to look back on.  And, besides, pushing my thoughts out to the world somehow made them a little more real and helped to reflect and clarify them. As for countering loneliness, I’m sure it helped.

However, one thing which had bothered me right from the start was the nagging, perhaps conceited, notion that there might be unknown people who’d be interested in what I had to say or might find my anecdotes of life in India useful. Writing for myself was all very well but how much better would it be if others benefitted too? I decided the only way to know for sure was to remove sensitive things and then make the blog public for all to read.

When I came to Sri Lanka I was working with a whole new demographic – teachers and not children.  In India the school hadn’t been able to get a decent Internet connection so I just taught with client-based applications.  Here my office was wired and my role was to help local teachers communicate electronically with their overseas counterparts to support the organisation’s programme of cultural exchange. It opened up a world of possibilities.

The first thing I did in Sri Lanka was to introduce collaboration through Google docs.  Not only did it win me friends in the organisation but it also helped me organise my own time more effectively by allowing my colleagues to book teachers into a Google spreadsheet timetable.

The pressure was on to efficiently produce a curriculum and learning materials. I felt I needed to tap into the online community so I subscribed to blogs and got going with Twitter. (I haven’t exploited this fully yet – I still wonder if there might be people willing to help me develop a general learning resource for teachers or volunteers in developing countries.)  I was very fortunate to quickly find people who went out of their way to help me grow my Personal Learning Network. This had an unexpectedly positive impact on my blog hits. Unexpected because I didn’t think my posts as an amateur would be of much interest to any qualified teachers, and because I was trying to introduce local teachers to Web 1.0 when Western teachers were talking Web 2.0 minimum. But feedback from a few teachers and children has informed me that some of my photos have helped kids in their studies, and some of my tales have been of interest to new readers.  This is great encouragement!

So there you have it.  Ten reasons why I blog:

  1. To keep a journal for myself
  2. To keep in contact with family and friends
  3. To inform and share
  4. To counter isolation
  5. To crystalise thoughts
  6. For the pleasure
  7. To reflect
  8. As an aide-mémoire for my fallible and failing memory (did I mention this above?)
  9. To let off steam
  10. To develop and benefit from my PLN

10 ways to attract readers to your blog…

I discovered by accident that people enjoy lists. Readers appreciate easily accessible information. If  ideas are packaged in point form, everyone wants to read and pass them on. Perhaps this is a sign of our times. People are busy. We like things that are quick and easy to digest. We’re used to flicking from one tab to the next in the browser, skimming for items that catch our attention.

10 ways to attract readers to your blog…

1.  Start a ’10 ways…’ series.

2. Write a post on 10 ways to get students to own their learning

3. Write a post on 10 ways to foster a love of learning

4. Write a post on 10 ways to create a culture of thinking

5. Write a post on 10 ways to grow as an educator

6. Write a post on 10 ways my thinking has changed

7. Write a post on 10 ways to think about your learning space

8. Write a post on 10 ways to help students develop a PLN

9. Keep the posts short and to the point.

10. Number the ideas.

10 ways

I’m happy to present some of my posts  in this way. It’s an easy format for organising my thoughts and drawing on my experience.

But, now that I have your attention, let me be honest. I find it disappointing that these are the posts that attract the most readers. Sometimes I write posts that I think are really important about things that I want to share and discuss. And sometimes those posts are read and passed on far less enthusiastically than the ’10 ways…’ posts. Sometimes hardly anyone comments on the very posts that I hope will be read, considered, debated, shared and responded to. Do I need to assemble my ideas into lists of 10 points each?

My intention was never to write to attract readers though.  I write my blog as much for myself as for anyone out there who wants to read it. My blog is a place to reflect. It’s a place to clarify my thinking and synthesize the parts of my learning. It’s a place to share examples of great learning at my school. It’s a way to think through ideas and grow as a learner myself.

If you want to join me, please do… even though my ideas might not always be presented  in a convenient ’10 ways’ package!