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Why bother blogging?

Georgia Constanti

Literacy underpins all learning, not just learning in the English classroom. Learning to read and write is necessary for success in every curriculum area including science, social science, maths and visual arts. Furthermore, literacy is important in all real world endeavours.

Social constructivist learning theory advocates that learning occurs through social contexts (Vygotsky & Cole 1978). The ability students have to learn from each other cannot be underestimated. One only needs to look at the results of the ‘Hole in the wall’ experiments (Mitra 2006, TED 2007, TED 2010) to realise the potential of students working in groups for making learning happen.

Blogs, resemble personal journals, by their very nature encourage self-expression, conversation and collaboration. Since we know that language develops in social contexts it follows that blogs support students developing language by building community. This paper explores the role of blogs in developing students’ literacy and presents a practical approach to starting your students’ blogging.

What is a blog?

The word blog is a shortened combination of the words web and log. A blog is a website which facilitates the maintenance of an online diary. In its most basic form a blog has three main components (see Figure 1):

  1. A header — giving the name of the blog and it’s purpose
  2. Posts — a chronological list of entries, authored by the owner of the blog which appear in reverse chronological order
  3. Comments — a place that allow readers to add comments to entries (Blood, 2002a)
Screenshot a a blog layout labelled

Figure 1: An example of a blog and its components. Source: ICT in the Classroom Blogspot

Blogging history

Originally the web was a ‘one-way’ form of disseminating information. Companies and organisations would build a website which gave the visitor to that website information about that particular company. The user of the web page was simply a viewer of the content. This phase of internet history is termed Web 1.0.

The first blogs appeared on the internet in the early 1990s. The web was still in its infancy. The maintainers of these early blogs required some knowledge of webpage coding and therefore these early blogs were limited to computer ‘insiders’. (Blood, 2002b)

By 2004 the web took on a new feel. Blogs, wikis, podcasts and social networking websites became the norm. These websites not only allowed the user to read information off a website but also allowed the user to become a participator in the website by creating content. This was the beginning of a new web era aptly named Web 2.0.

It was during this time that blog hosting and publishing became available on a large scale. Blogging hosts provided an easy way for web users to publish content on the web without the need to know the technicalities of computer programming. With this simplification of web publishing came an exponential growth in the number of people blogging (Blood, 2002b).

Why bother blogging?

Blogging affords many benefits to literacy learning. From a simplistic perspective it is just another writing tool, another medium for written expression. Look deeper and you will find that the power of blogging to motivate students to write and think deeply is much greater.

Blogging motivates students to write

If students are motivated to write they will write more and more often and therefore gain more experience in the process of writing. The motivation for writing that blogs facilitate cannot be underestimated. In one of their studies in a primary classroom, Kajder et. al. (2004, page 34.) note that students ‘appeared hungry for writing on their classroom blog’. The main reason for this was that blogging provided a real audience and purpose for writing. (Witte, 2007)

In the traditional classroom students are asked to write in many different genres and styles and to imagine their audience. Unfortunately the real audience they are writing for is limited to the teacher or a parent who may read a student’s writing.

Due to the online nature of blogging the audience becomes wider and more real. A blog can have a worldwide audience. The motivation of having a real audience to write for is very powerful. Students want to write because ‘real people’ will read what they write and possibly provide real feedback through comments. In this way the purpose of writing is demystified for students as the connection between audience and purpose is clearly exposed.

In the online world it is very easy to connect the students’ blogs to a real audience outside the school walls. It is extremely validating for a student to realise that people the student doesn’t know are commenting on their blog — complete strangers providing feedback by way of blog comments. Furthermore the kudos is amplified when experts from the ‘blogosphere’ are enlisted to make comment. Huffaker (2008) points out the positive effect an author commenting on a student’s storytelling blog would have.

Witte (2007) cites a number of examples where blogging has motivated and appealed to the most reluctant writers because of the real-audience aspect that blogs afford. For example, a student who was reluctant to put pen to paper, was producing pages and pages of writing on her blog every night. Posts included poetry and creative writing. Her motivating factor was identified as the real audience and feedback which blogs facilitate.

Example of a simple student blog post

Figure 2: Example of a student blog post (Year 5, US elementary school). Source: Examples of student Blogs in Mr Schwartz‘s class

Comments on blog post in Figure 2 above

Figure 3: Comments to blog post in Figure 2

Blogging supports storytelling

Telling stories is an essential element in promoting the growth of students’ literacy (Bransford et.al. 1999). When students tell stories they explore language as they attempt to express themselves. Storytelling also supports the development of imagination and creativity (Cassell & Ryokai, 2001).

Blogs provide the platform for students to tell their stories and realise the benefits in literacy development. Their stories can take a variety of forms on the blog, for example, a written post; an audio recording (podcast) posted to the blog or even a video post.

The real blog audience further proves to validate students and the stories, yet another blogging benefit. Students who would otherwise not have the confidence to contribute to class discussions have in many instances found their voice once they started posting to a blog.

Blogging allows collaboration

By collaborating students develop their language abilities, building on each other’s knowledge. Blogs are by nature conversational as readers are encouraged to comment on the posts they read. Furthermore the author of the blog can then comment on the reader’s comments. Therefore blogging facilitates collaboration and communication between students and subsequently helps to improve students’ literacy. (Ryokai et al., 2003)

Blogging promotes quality writing

Richardson (2004) and Huffaker (2008) both confirm the ability of blogs to make students more aware of the quality of their writing. As students realise how real their audience for writing is, an improvement in the quality of writing can be observed. Once a blog is started it is not uncommon for students to start putting in extra effort to produce quality pieces of writing, ensuring that they are making meaning for their real audience.

Promotes a deeper understanding of the elements of quality writing

As stated previously, as students become aware of their real and wide audience they become more conscious of the quality of their writing. This makes students more interested in what makes a quality piece of writing. Quality writing criteria developed with the students suddenly make sense to them. (Huffaker 2008, Asselin, 2004)

Promotes deeper thinking about writing

Students who are blogging will be in a better position to actively participate in developing writing criteria as they experience first hand which pieces of their writing have worked and which have not, with their blog’s real audience. Blogging allows classroom conversation to go beyond the semantics of literacy and into the realm of techniques that writers use to affect their audience.

Blogging supports the development of visual literacy

It is not a new understanding that communication also occurs through visual means. It can be argued that now more than ever to be literate means more than simply the ability to read and write. Our exposure to multimodal texts is forever increasing. So for students to be truly literate they must also be comfortable in making meaning from visual text and also creating meaning with visual text (Gee, 2003).

Students’ visual literacy development is supported through blogging when students use graphics and video to express themselves (Huffaker, 2008). Blogs also become a platform for conversation about multimodal texts and choosing the best text type to convey a message.

Blooms’ Taxonomy and blogging

Blogging can be used in a variety of ways to get students writing and moving up the orders of thinking according to the revised Blooms’ Taxonomy (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001). Figure 4 gives examples of how blogging fits along the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Blooms’ Taxonomy Schema (text left)

Figure 4: Examples of how blogging fits along the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy (Adapted from Churches 2007)

Figure 4: Text version (for accessibility). In descending order, categories from higher- to lower order thinking skills:

Creating: Students publish to the blog. The blog facilitates the publication of many varied forms of media to be received by a wide and authentic audience.

Evaluating: By their very nature blogs facilitate constructive criticism and reflective practice. Students make considered posts to their blog and others blogs.

Analysing: Students break information into parts and connect this to other information in order to construct understandings and relationships. Students then post their analysis to a blog in order to generate further discussion and analysis.

Applying: Students use a blog to post podcast, video, audio or text, to apply their learning.

Understanding: Blog journaling is the simplest use of a blog, where the student writes a blog post explaining their understandings of a particular activity or experience.

Remembering: Recalling information and relating this in a list on a blog post

Decisions, decisions

Once you have decided to blog there are a number of practical decisions you will need to make in order to get your blog up and running.

Choosing a host

Before you start blogging you will need to decide where your blog will be hosted. In some states the education authority your school belongs to may have their own preferred service. Some may even have a blogging application specific to that organisation. There are also numerous freely available blogging services.

When choosing a service consider: How easy is it to use? Does this service allow you to quickly add posts with the least amount of fuss? Does the service allow you to include videos, photos and audio to your blog? Make sure you read the terms and conditions with regards to age restrictions. To moderate or not to moderate?

Moderation is a way of monitoring what gets posted to your blog. It is a way of protecting your students from inappropriate comments and posts. Most blogging services allow moderation. You can set up moderation so that as posts are sent to the blog or as comments are made you are sent an email and you will need to approve the post or comment before it is posted to the blog.

Public or private?

Whether you make your blog public or private will depend on the purpose of the blog. For example, if your blog is meant to provide parents and the community a window into your classroom then it is best to make it a public blog, accessible to the general public. If on the other hand you intend the blog to be a discussion board for students in your class then it would be more appropriate to make the blog private, accessible only to selected members.

Making it work

Computer to student ratio

Blogging works in classrooms with a variety of computer to student ratios.

In a classroom with one computer to every student, students can all be working on their blogs at the same time or as appropriate since there is ready access to technology.

In a classroom with 4 to 5 computers, students can be set to work on blog posts individually or in pairs. Blogging can be made one of the literacy session learning experiences, or part of contract work.

In a classroom with only one computer, after orienting the students to the blog, they can be given time to access the blog. It would be beneficial to have a ‘how to’ sheet made up and kept close to the computer so the students can work on their blog posts independently. Alternatively, depending on your teaching goal, the rest of the class can be set to work independently whilst the teacher can work on a guided lesson with the student at the computer. In this instance you may consider a class timetable for working on the blog to ensure all students get equitable access. Or, you can leave things a little more fluid where students request access when they have material to blog about.

Take the first step

  1. Orientation: To begin with you may like to read the blogs of other educators or blogs on topics that interest you. Finding blogs is as easy as doing a Google search for the term ‘educator blogs’.
  2. Dabbling: Get involved by posting comments on blogs that you read.
  3. Getting your feet wet: Set up your own blog. This will help you get comfortable with the blogging application and how it works and will also give you an insight into what it is like writing for a blog.
  4. Jumping in: To start blogging with your students you simply need to start a blog. A class blog is the simplest blog that you could maintain and if your students are new to blogging, a class blog is a good way to start.
  5. Explore and experiment: Let the students lead the learning. After gaining experience you will find that students will be keen to start their own blogs.

Classroom practice

Huffaker and Calvert (2003) advocate that students should be given the chance to construct their own learning journeys as they blog. As students blog teachable moments will emerge, where literacy learning comes at the time it is needed. Teachers should at times also provide some directed context for blogging.

Quality writing criteria should be developed with students and systems should be put in place in a classroom that allow the proofreading of work before it is published. This can be done by the teacher but will be more effective if a peer tutoring system is set up in the classroom (Huffaker, 2008). When implementing public class blogs a wider audience should be encouraged to read the blog and comment. One of the ways of doing this is by contacting the authors of the blogs that the class is reading. Experts, such as authors, should also be sought to comment on the student blogs (Richards, 2004).

What to blog

Blogs and blogging are just like any other tool used for learning in the classroom. So how do you decide when you should use blogging? When is blogging the best tool for the job? Well it all depends on the purpose of learning.

Some examples of blogs and their uses are detailed below. Each example is also linked to literacy outcomes.

Collaboration, connection and creativity

If a task requires mass discussion, debate or collaboration to develop ideas then blogging is the way to go.

Discussion blog and gathering opinions

In this type of blog the teacher initiates posts to the blog and the students are encouraged to comment on the posts. For example, the teacher may make a post about a particular topic ‘Nuclear energy should be used as an alternative to fossil fuels’. Students can then comment on the post with their opinion. Other students are able to see these comments and can either support them or alternatively explain why they oppose them. (Literacy outcome — reading and writing persuasive texts.)

Literature circles are another way blogs can be used to support student discussion. The benefits of using blogs for literature circles as opposed to face-to-face discussion is the time that students are given to actually think about the comments on the blog and respond. Thus encouraging deeper thinking. (Literacy outcome — discusses techniques used by authors to convey meaning.)

In visual arts the teacher may post artwork and elicit student responses. In HSIE/SOSE the teacher may post controversial topics that students need to formulate opinions about. (Literacy outcome — Formulates and clearly articulates an opinion in response to a stimulus.)

Project blog

A project blog may be set up where students can ask questions about their learning. In this type of blog the students initially tend to see the teacher as the expert and the one with all the answers. With encouragement the teacher can become the ‘guide on the side as opposed to the sage on the stage’ as students begin to direct their own learning and build the confidence to start answering each other’s questions. In these situations a real learning community is created as students see themselves not only as learners but also as experts. (Literacy outcomes — using language effectively to clarify understandings.)

For example, students are given the task to design a transport vehicle for another planet. The planet has a heavy atmosphere and rocky terrain. The design brief has been purposefully left ambiguous. Students begin asking questions on the blog to clarify their understandings of the task. Others see the questions and start answering them. Soon the students begin sharing links to relevant websites by posting to the blog. In this way the students drive the project and their learning and a collaborative learning environment is created.

Homework help blog

A homework blog works the same way as the project blog but this time students are encouraged to ask questions regarding homework. The teacher and other students are encouraged to answer each other’s questions. (Literacy outcomes — using language effectively to clarify understandings.)

Contemplation and celebration

If you want to keep a public chronological journal of events then blogging is the way to go.

Class blog

Posts to the blog might be text, photos or video of what is happening in the classroom. This sort of blog provides a window into the classroom and is another way of celebrating student learning. Class blogs also help to build community within a classroom. (Literacy outcome — recount events using a range of multimodal texts.)

Story blog

This can either be a class blog where all students can post their story writing or you can set up a blog for individual students to post their story writing. This sort of blog motivates students to write and also helps to improve writing as students realise they are writing for a real audience. (Literacy outcome — uses language to tell a story.)

Learning reflection blog

Each student can have a learning reflection blog set up where they can post their learning reflections after a lesson, a day or a week. This sort of blog is a great way to assess student learning as students reflect on their learning as they write. (Literacy outcome — reflective/ journal writing)

Education blogs

There are many educators in Australia and around the world that write a blog about their personal learning journeys.

The enduring Aussie Educator website has a good listing for both individual Australian and International education blogs.

Find blogs on lists of the top 50 Education Technology blogs at the Teacher Certification Degrees website, and at EdTech Magazine.

Other resources include the blog of Educational Technology Solutions magazine.

Find a source of general education research (including in areas of technology) at the Edu Research Matters blog.

About the author

At the time of writing this PETAA Paper Georgia Constanti was a classroom teacher at Hampden Park Public School. She has worked with students and teachers at school, regional and state level, to scaffold the integration of ICT in quality ways into classroom practice. In 2007 she received the Minister’s Award for the Excellence in Integration of ICT into classroom practice and the 2007 Microsoft Scholarship. Georgia was a co-researcher in the Teachers for a fair go project, a joint research project of the NSW Department of Education and the University of Western Sydney.

This PETAA Paper was originally published in 2010 and was republished in digital format with editorial updates in July 2015. Georgia Constanti is currently the Principal at Nicholson Street Public School in Sydney.

References

How this content relates to AITSL teacher standards

Standard 2: Know the content and how to teach it

  • 2.1.1 Graduate Content and teaching strategies of the teaching area. Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the concepts, substance and structure of the content and teaching strategies of the teaching area.

AITSL Illustration of Practice: Developing detailed content knowledge of subject area — text detail and analysis in English<

  • 2.1.2 Proficient Content and teaching strategies of the teaching area. Apply knowledge of the content and teaching strategies of the teaching area to develop engaging teaching activities.

AITSL Illustration of Practice: Using a Dictagloss to support EAL/D students

AITSL Illustration of Practice: Building the field in science to assist students to make connections

AITSL Illustration of Practice: Developing social media profiles to build and represent content knowledge in geography

Standard 3: Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning

  • 3.3.1 Graduate Use teaching strategies. Include a range of teaching strategies.
  • 3.3.2 Proficient Use teaching strategies. Select and use relevant teaching strategies to develop knowledge, skills, problem solving and critical and creative thinking.

Standard 4: Create and maintain supportive and safe learning environments

  • 4.1.1 Graduate Support student participation Identify strategies to support inclusive student participation and engagement in classroom activities

AITSL Illustration or Practice: Approaching differentiation in the early weeks

  • 4.1.2 Proficient Support student participation. Establish and implement inclusive and positive interactions to engage and support all students in class activities.

AITSL Illustration of Practice: Differentiating language access to engage a variety of students in learning

AITSL Illustration of Practice: Using drama and performance based approaches to explore and engage with texts

AITSL Illustration of Practice: Using music to support inclusion and language development in early learners

AITSL Illustration of Practice: Holistic care to support learning

  • 4.5.1 Graduate Use ICT safely, responsibly and ethically. Demonstrate an understanding of the relevant issues and the strategies available to support the safe, responsible and ethical use of ICT in learning and teaching.
  • 4.5.2 Proficient Use ICT safely, responsibly and ethically. Incorporate strategies to promote the safe, responsible and ethical use of ICT in learning and teaching.

Standard 6: Engage in professional learning

  • 6.2.1 Graduate Engage in professional learning and improve practice. Understand the relevant and appropriate sources of professional learning for teachers.

Illustration of Practice: Using professional learning to improve teaching with ICT resources

  • 6.2.2 Proficient Engage in professional learning and improve practice. Participate in learning to update knowledge and practice, targeted to professional needs and school and/or system priorities.