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Educational Blogging (Classroom Notes Plus, Online Only, June 2010)

by Betsy Potash

My first overflowed with stories and images of the beautiful bleak landscape here in Sofia, Bulgaria.

My second organized my I.B. English 12 class, sharing updates, videos, and handouts with students.

The third published book reviews by 10th graders, sharing their opinions with readers around the world.

The fourth became a hub for my school’s faculty to share professional development ideas, the fifth, a colorful portfolio of my work as a teacher.

What incredible program facilitated all this?

Free online blogs, a powerful tool for educators and students alike.

My seniors create online portfolios of their strongest writing, complimented by the graphic features blogs promote and kids love. Their work improves exponentially as they discover the whole world can read it; their eyes go wide when they find out they can connect their writing to favorite songs and videos, or post their original digital images. They have partners across the ocean in Kentucky, and they read and comment on each others’ work. 

Learning to set up a blog two years ago changed my teaching. Blogs have quickly become one of the building blocks of my pedagogy. Why blog? It’s not just about media literacy. Blogging allows teachers and students to collaborate online, to publish their work in a professional format, and to incorporate multiple forms of media into the study of English. Fifteen minutes signing up for a Google account will allow free access to their Blogger program, or try another free host like Wordpress. It doesn’t take long to learn to post images, text, videos, and links, and soon you’ll be designing blogs relevant to your own work.

Let me take you on a tour of the possibilities.

Stop #1: The Class Blog

Many classrooms around the world stay in touch outside of school through a class blog. Here, teachers post course information, interesting optional material, photos, links, and more.

My class blog is at www.potashibenglish.blogspot.com. When students drop by, they see photos of themselves, descriptions of our class activities, and links to the handouts they may have lost at Google Docs. When a student created a video montage of military clashes in Ireland during our study of Dubliners, I posted it to the blog. When I wanted students to see examples of excellent past papers without wasting hundreds of sheets of paper, I posted them to the blog. When I needed students to have ready access to each other’s portfolios and the portfolios of their partners in a Kentucky classroom, I posted links on the blog.

A class blog offers teachers myriad options for out-of-class engagement. Many teachers even use it as a discussion forum, posting prompting questions and having students respond to it and each other with the simple comment function.

Stop #2: The Project Showcase

Every teacher has some project or moment in the year that is special. Sometimes a proud tradition forms—the annual poetry slam, the production of Death of a Salesman, the Outside Reading Festival. What better way to document excellence in your students and prepare to inspire next year’s than by posting documentary images, quotes, and videos to a blog?

Inspired by Nancie Atwell, I devote a lot of time in my 10th-grade classes to promoting outside reading. At our 10th grade reading blog (www.acsreads.blogspot.com), students share reviews of their favorite books with each other, knowing they will also have a chance to influence next year’s students and readers around the world.

Stop #3: Collaboration

When our school decided to do an in-service on teaching with technology, it was clear we needed a forum to share useful links and ideas. So I set up a Professional Development blog (www.acsfaculty.blogspot.com) to post the handouts and ideas teachers sent me, promoting internal collaboration but avoiding the dozens of the usual mass e-mails.

Blogs allow collaboration within a department or faculty, or even between schools in different regions or countries. This fall, my Bulgarian 10th graders shared writing and photos with 11th graders in Washington, D.C., via an exchange blog (www.dcandsofiaexchange.blogspot.com). They responded to discussion questions about their homes and identity, and posted related photos to give each other a vision of their very different countries.

Stop #4: Student Blogs

It took me a few hours to understand the basic functions of my blog program. In general, it took my students about half the time. When I asked a group of seniors recently how many hours they think their peers spend on line each week, answers ranged from thirty to sixty hours. I introduce my students to blogging on the first day of school, and require them to post their best work online. They remain focused during days in the computer lab, eager to experiment with the many multimedia options available to express themselves. You can see my students’ portfolios linked on the right sidebar from our class blog (www.potashibenglish.blospot.com). I also teach a blogging elective to 9th graders. Over the course of one semester they develop professional voices in their chosen fields—fashion, travel, sports or music writing. Several of them receive hits from all over the world each week, and it’s easy to see the sense of accomplishment they feel in this forum. 

These four types of educational blogs give you an idea of how easy it is to incorporate blogging in your professional life. They by no means cover the whole spectrum of education blogs, but hopefully they are enough to tempt you to find out more. If you can give blogging technology a few hours of your time to learn the functions, it can give you much, much more. 

Links

For a complete guide to setting up a blog:

http://docs.google.com/View?id=d2vxwwv_101fb7fncfq 

A course blog:

http://potashibenglish.blogspot.com/

A project blog:

http://acsreads.blogspot.com/

Collaborative blogs:

http://acsfaculty.blogspot.com/ and http://www.dcandsofiaexchange.blogspot.com

“Creating Character Blogs” Lesson Plan: 

http://www.readwritethink.org/classroom-resources/lesson-plans/creating-character-blogs-1169.html

Betsy Potash teaches at the American College of Sofia, in Sofia, Bulgaria. She can be reached at betsymork@gmail.com.

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