Saturday, June 7, 2014

Reflective teaching and learning - the blogs


If you landed here, you might consider reading what I wrote for my students on "Why the blogs are important..."

This year, all of my students (grades 5 through 8) were tasked to create and maintain a blog, where they reflected on the learning that had taken place from week to week. At first, everyone was excited about the prospect, and they created their blogs with gusto, adding all sorts of sounds and mini-games to them. However, the novelty wore off rather quickly, and even though the blogs comprised 30% of their grade (graded using a rubric), some students started to invent excuses for turning them in late and/or plain not doing them. Right around that time I came across Annette Vee's post "How to teach with blogs" and the external motivation point she makes resonated with me.


That prompted me to attempt to gamify the experience (Gamification starting really small), and also to give the opportunity of writing "Option 2 blogs". I also started accepting paper blogs and videoblogs. Although this sounds a little bit like a management nightmare, it actually turned out so well that I am definitely doing it again.

I will, however, modify the assignment a little bit. My students became pretty good at writing about the content, but the reflective piece did not improve much as the year progressed. I am currently developing a more explicit assignment that should take care of this issue, borrowing the reflection question set from Edutopia .


Pros:


  • Students who blogged consistently saw a marked improvement in their writing ability. One particular student of mine comes to mind. This student lives with dysgraphia, and at first I had all sorts of accommodations for his blogs (the videoblog option was developed with him in mind). It took lots of perseverance and determination on his part, but by the end of this school year, he is able to produce weekly typed,  coherent blogs, with minimal errors, graded without differentiation. His ELA score soared, and he is more engaged in school.
  • Blogging students saw an increase in their understanding of the material, and through the conversations that ensued because of the blogs, I was able to cover the material more in depth. Student blogs also helped me become aware of misconceptions and plain errors in what they were thinking or understanding. Because of the blogs, these misconceptions and errors were addressed in a more timely manner.
  • Blogging gave my reluctant participants a voice and status as someone with something to share. I am reminded of another student, who I would seldom hear in class discussions. However, his blogs showed not only that he had understood the content, but showed his peers that his ideas were relevant and important. As the year progressed, he was one of the first students to obtain the rank of "Supreme Blogging Grand Master", and the pride he took in his blog and this accomplishment  cannot be understated.


Cons:

  • If I am to be honest, there were several times throughout the year where I disliked the blogs. Sitting every week to rubric grade and give pointed feedback on 140 blogs each week is tiresome. 
  • Even with the gamification and choice aspects, about 10/140 students across grade levels just did not blog with any consistency, or turned them in with little effort. In trying to solve this I began awarding blog immunity (top 5 scores from all classes), and tying blog XP to access to group projects (for example, in order to participate in the Eco-house group project you must have at least 100 blog XP, otherwise  you are working on the individual sustainability project). I implemented this at the very end of the school year, so it was a little late to see major changes. As this becomes part of the routine, I hope that this increased external motivation will yield results.
So, what do you think? I would love to hear from other teachers that have implemented blogs; how did they impact your students and your practice?


Further reading:

  • "Edublogs Teacher Challenges." Edublogs Teacher Challenges. Edublogs, n.d. Web. 08 June 2014. <http://teacherchallenge.edublogs.org/blogging-with-students/>.
  • Couros, George. "5 Reasons Your Students Should Blog." Connected Principals. Connected Principals, 20 Mar. 2013. Web. 08 June 2014. <http://connectedprincipals.com/archives/8007>.
  • Lampinen, Michelle. "Blogging in the 21st-Century Classroom." Edutopia. Edutopia, 8 Apr. 2013. Web. 08 June 2014. <http://www.edutopia.org/blog/blogging-in-21st-century-classroom-michelle-lampinen>.