This week, I read the next two sections of Kathy Cassidy’s Connected From the Start: Global Learning in the Primary Grades. During these sections, she focused on actually setting up and using student blogs.
The timing for this was very appropriate for me as my team and I have moved on to the next stage of our blogging project. Last week, as I wrote earlier, I met with my team and lead them through the many Digital Citizenship lessons that help lay a strong foundation for successful blogging. Over the course of this week, my coworkers and I completed the lessons in our classrooms. We then had our students pick blogging aliases. My students and I had an important conversation about the aliases. Why do we use an alias? What do we share and what do we keep private? What makes a good alias?
By the end of the week, my students had identified an alias that they felt comfortable with. This is interesting for my students to wrap their heads around. They are building characters in their writing right now and they have a hard time understanding that their alias is not a “character”. They are in fact just themselves under a false name. This gives the students a sense of anonymity that I need to make sure doesn’t make them careless while they’re blogging.
Now that the students had aliases, I met with my team again. I walked them through the process of physically setting up a classroom blog and then creating the student blogs within that. My team and I are using Edublogs. With a $39 yearly fee, Edublogs provides a lot of wonderful features for educators and allows students a space on the internet to customize and showcase their learning.
Now that the blogs are physically set up, the students are ready to start their first blogs this week. In order to prep their families for blogging, I’ve put together a research-based letter to the families. This explains the purpose of blogging along with the many safety measures put in place to keep their students safe. Kathy Cassidy writes about how she approaches this with families and she said something that I found to be very powerful. She wrote that in her classroom, blogging is not optional. I always worry about what I would do if parents objected to their children blogging. Cassidy does not show blogging as an option. She has ways to enact more safety measures to make parents feel comfortable, but she has never had parents wish to opt out.
As I get ready to jump back in to blogging, I took a few things away from Kathy Cassidy this week. The first is the importance of parent participation in the blogs. I’ve never thought to encourage parents and families to comment on their student’s blog. Cassidy points out that the comments that students find to be the most meaningful are the ones from their parents and extended families. I have frequently encouraged parents to read the blogs in the past, but I never thought about having them comment! This is a bit of a game changer for me. I am excited to open up that option to parents to engage in their child’s learning.
Cassidy also offered up a list of Widgets that she likes to include in student blogs. I hadn’t considered having my students add personalized Widgets to their blogs. One that I would really like to look into is Clustr Map. This shows where website visitors are in the world. This shows that the students’ blogs are truly being seen by other people than just students in our classroom. This would be a wonderful way to show students that their posts really are meaningful!
The final piece that Cassidy brought up that I wish I’d thought about before is student choice. In the past, I always typed up specific prompts I wanted my students to write to. Cassidy talks about the importance of allowing students to highlight the pieces of their learning that are important to them. She said that no two student blogs look exactly the same. Reading about her experiences are helping me see the ways that I can continue to make this blogging experience even more rewarding for my students. We’re jumping in tomorrow! Updates to come next week!