Whenever I’m talking to teachers about blogging I hear myself talking ad nauseam about the importance of tagging blog posts yet I can point to relatively few examples of schools using tagging to its full potential. Make no mistake, tagging is one of the most powerful and important skills you can teach your community to help them unleash the power of blogging, and I’m not just talking about children here, I’m talking about teachers.
What is tagging?
Tagging is simply the attaching of labels to things in order that you can categorise them in multiple ways that are meaningful to the individual attaching the labels and/or their community. Because tagging is unstructured in the sense that you can make tags up as you go along, and because it is defined by the user and his community it is sometimes known as a “folksonomy” as opposed to a taxonomy which is an externally imposed classification to which users must adhere if it is to make sense.
This short 2 minute video by Chris Betcher explains tagging in the context of a digital image:
Tagging with Blogs
Imagine 30 children in your class write a blogpost consisting of a story set on a different planet. It might be tagged the following ways:
- The child’s name
- Avatar topic
- Learning skills used
Equally, the child who wrote it might add the name of the planet that they invented as a tag, they might add the people they collaborated with and so on.
As the children write more and more blog posts, they will create more and more tags, and these will be displayed as a “Tag cloud” in the sidebar of the blog. By clicking on the individual tags visitors to the blog can find content in which they are interested. Here is an example of a blog with a well developed tag cloud: http://6d2012.highlawnprimary.net (see left hand sidebar).
It should be immediately apparent that at its simplest level the tag cloud acts as an index to your class blog. Take your 30 children again and assume that they all write a single blog post a week. In a 38 week school year that equates to 1140 blog posts. Try and find that excellent poem that Sarah wrote when showing her work to her parents if your class have not tagged all their work!
It should also be obvious that tagging represents a way to group posts together by topic so that your community can find content relevant to their interests. Other uses might include tagging special events such as “Art Week” or “Visit to the Museum”. Tags might be used to highlight achievement such as “Lead learner”, “Star of the week” and so on. Finally, it could also be used as a way of exemplifying attainment, for example you could choose a “Post of the week” and add that tag to a single piece of work every week. Some schools (e.g. Leamore Primary School in Walsall) have developed a series of tags to exemplify the Early Years Curriculum. So when they add a photograph of a child to a blog (they use private blogs as e portfolios) it might be tagged “KUW” i.e. “knowledge and understanding of the world.”
What should also be obvious is that any content on your blog that is not tagged effectively is lost. Luckily, if a child has forgotten to add tags to a blog post it is easy to edit the post later and add the required tags. Going back to those 1140 posts a year, without a tag cloud once a blog post is gone from the homepage of a blog it might as well be posted into a black hole.
Teaching Children to Tag
Teaching children to tag is a vital part of teaching children to blog and its one of those things that will require constant discussion, exemplification and nagging if it is to become embedded in the good habits of your learners. For the very young bloggers it might be enough to start them off by tagging everything with their names (use a first name only or a nickname – see unique usernames below). Getting children to agree a set of tags through discussion prior to writing a post might the next step. It will be important to display these tags on a board for children to refer to. Later it might be sufficient to display a few agreed tags such as topic titles, or genres as part of your classroom display to act as an aide memoire. I also like to make the link between tagging and search engines. By using tags you are creating your own keywords for search engines to use when looking for your content. Try developing a unique tag for a piece of work and then searching for it in your favourite search engine a few days later (search engines will take a few days to index new tags).
Adding a tag to a blog post is extremely simple. On the right hand side of the post screen is a box headed “Tags”; simply type the chosen tag into the box and click “Add”. Use a comma separated list to add multiple tags or simply add them singly clicking “Add” each time. To choose from tags that have already been used click on the “Choose from the most used tags” link below.
Here are a few common issues that I come across when teaching children to tag:
Some children have complex names that are difficult to spell so create the tags before the lesson and show them how to use the “Choose from the most used tags” feature;
When working collaboratively children will often tag a piece of work as “Billy and Sarah” rather than as two separate tags, “Billy”, “Sarah”;
Get the children to add tags singly by clicking “Add” after each tag rather than using the comma separated list to avoid tags being combined as above;
Demonstrate the importance of the consistency of spelling and form (how many different tags could you use for your World War 2/WW2/WWII/Second World War topic?);
Show children how to edit their posts to add tags after they have submitted them (note: checking for tags should be one of the steps of the review process along with checking for spelling, punctuation etc).
Tagging as a learning tool
One of the most powerful uses of tagging is to enable children to reflect on their learning. By searching their tags they can look at past posts and identify where their writing has improved. For example, a child might have written a story at the start of term that demonstrated little in the way of descriptive writing (scene setting, use of adjectives etc.). They might have been given a target to use more adjectives in their writing and at the end of the unit of work they could write a reflective post exemplifying improvement through the use of hyperlinks to past posts (hyperlinking is another key skill to teach bloggers – blogpost on this soon).
You may be working in a school that teaches learning skills by using De Bono’s Thinking Hats, or Guy Claxton’s Building Learning Power. Because these toolboxes use simple labels to identify key skills they can be easily employed as tags on a blogpost. Through deciding themselves which skills they have used in creating their blogposts tagging becomes a self-assessment tool through which the teacher can receive valuable feedback from the children.
It needn’t be limited to using thinking skills as tags. Perhaps the children could tag their work with how challenging they found it, how stimulating they found it and so on. Be aware though that this approach will require some discussion and sensitivity as the tags will be displayed on your blog and if the children tagged everything as “Boring” it might prove quite challenging for you in lots of ways!
Tagging in a multisite environment
Tagging usually works independently on individual blogs, however, if you are a school with the Creative Blogs blogging platform we have included a global tagging feature which is immensely powerful if used correctly. Global tagging allows you to search for tags across all the blogs in a WordPress multisite rather than just a single blog. This can be used in two contrasting but powerful ways:
- Imagine Billy joined joined your school in 2006 and using your username convention (see this blogpost on usernames), Billy’s username was “13billys“. Now supposed Billy used that unique tag on every blogpost that he wrote from reception (his teachers will have used the tag) all the way through to when he leaves school in 2013. It doesn’t matter which blog that Billy wrote on (he might have contributed to seven different class blogs and various other blogs such as school council, football club etc), a simple global tag search will find every blogpost that Billy tagged in his time at school. Now use a plugin like “Anthologize” and Billy can curate every post into an e-book which he can take away with him. This is an instant e-portfolio requiring nothing more than a consistent approach to tagging.
- Supposing the literacy subject leader wanted to exemplify story writing across the school? A simple global tag search of the tag “Story” will show posts across all ages and all blogs hopefully demonstrating progress. For this to work in a meaningful way it will require staff to agree on a simple set of standardised tags that everyone is going to use across the school.
Popular global tags can be displayed in a global tag cloud on the school homepage.
Ways to Embed Tagging
- Discuss an agreed set of tags for subject leaders at a staff meeting;
- Set up a CPD blog for teachers to reflect on and share all INSET they have attended highlighting the importance of tagging;
- Make tag displays;
- Make checking for tags part of the editing process in literacy (include it in your display);
- Use tagging to find content on blogs as often as possible.
Get the Tagging Habit
Tagging doesn’t just apply to blogging. Once children are skilled taggers they can apply that to all manner of different web services:
- Use Delicious to create a class collection of useful links (Here’s my collection);
- Use Flickr to collect photographs and tag them (they then become a searchable resource for children to use in blogposts);
- Use Vimeo to create video collections;
- Use Slideshare to collect PowerPoints and other slideshows.
In fact virtually every web resource that is designed to collect and share content will use tagging as a way of cataloguing the content and making it searchable. This, in my opinion, makes tagging one of the most important ICT skills that you can teach.