If I had a pound for every time I was asked, “What evidence is there that blogging raises standards?” I’d be able to stop building blogs and retire. The problem with this question is defining what exactly you mean by blogging. Put it another way, you could equally ask, “What evidence is there that writing raises standards?” A blog, like an exercise book, is simply paper, albeit digital paper. The blog itself will have absolutely no impact whatsoever on writing standards; the teaching and learning strategies that you employ when blogging, will.
The first model of blogging adopted by many will, I think, have a negligible impact on the learners in your classroom:
- The teacher is the blogger and children respond to his or her questions or tasks via the comments;
- The teacher asks certain children to copy great pieces of work out to showcase on the class blog;
- The children never comment on other children’s blogposts either within their class or on other class blogs;
- The teacher never models what great comments look like;
- The teacher and children believe that the point of blogging is to publish a story.
This is a very teacher centric approach and it dismays me to find all too many examples of class blogs like this lauded as great, even award winning, practice. That’s not to say that all of these characteristics don’t have their place: I would, for example never say to a child who had just written a great poem in a book that they couldn’t publish it on the class blog if they felt it warranted it. The point being that blogs like these will rapidly lose their appeal to children as they aren’t engaged directly in the process beyond a fairly superficial level. The fundamental issue here is the last point. Just clicking the “Publish” button is not blogging. Blogging is what happens next: the conversation and networking that follows on from that publication.
Where I think blogging makes a real difference is where the teacher believes it to be a collaborative affair. Children have real ownership of their class blog:
- Children have their own logins and post stories themselves;
- Teachers regularly model commenting and great peer review;
- Children are encouraged to visit and comment on other class blogs;
- There is an understanding that the comment conversation that follows the post is just as valuable, if not more so than the original post itself;
This is blogging as networking. Much more teacher time and effort is focused on fostering great peer review (critical thinking) and building networks. Much of the actual posting on the class blog is done by children in their own time and children are actively encouraged to visit other class blogs and comment on their work. Back in the early days of blogging every blog had its “blogroll”, i.e. a list of blogs that the blogger enjoyed visiting and interacting with. This is why David Mitchell’s “Quadblogging” project is so important to teachers starting off with blogging as it creates a small and manageable network of blogs for the class to interact with. The networking should not end there, and every great class blog I’ve seen always has a network of at least 10 other class blogs for the children to visit. Moreover, the teacher will actively encourage and reward children for leaving great comments on blogs other than their own.
Last Year’s Class 6D from High Lawn Primary in Bolton is a blog that I have regularly used to draw attention to what great class blogging can look like when the emphasis is placed squarely on quality peer review. Have a look at the comment thread on this blogpost:
- The child replies to every comment that is left on the post – she gets that she’s operating on a social network;
- The best comments are left, not by teachers, but by a classmate who totally understands the point of peer review.
One of the most interesting notions to come from talking to the children in this class about blogging is that they realised that, in the end, it was the quality of comments that really engaged them and made a difference to their learning rather than just the raw audience metrics. Certainly, the excitement of the dots on the globe were a hook to get them engaged and interested in the blog, but by the end of the year they clearly saw the value in the write a post/feedback through comment loop that the blog sets up. Here’s Yaya, one of 6D’s bloggers on how to write a quality comment: a great starting point for your class on peer review.
I recently discovered a quote from Howard Rheingold, the digital literacies guru, that sums up the importance of social networking in the 21st century,
“The digital divide now has to include the divide between those who know how to get and to verify information they need just in time and just in place, those who can cultivate and call on social networks, those who can persuade or educate from those who do not know how to apply the power a networked PC or smartphone makes available.”
It is my belief that blogging has the potential to teach children enormously valuable lessons in how to use the internet to build social networks safely, critically and creatively. Every single list I’ve seen of important skills for 21st century employers include teamwork, communication and digital literacy as being core competencies and these lie at the heart of what I consider great blogging to be. It’s also clear that when classes like 6D learn to think and comment critically on each other’s posts and the posts of others around the world then the impact on their learning (and sometimes their writing) can be profound. So, if your initial motivation to blog with your class is framed around standards in writing, be quite clear that simply replacing writing in a book with writing on a blog is very unlikely to have the results that you hope for.
- Spend lots of time modelling peer review;
- Visit lots of class blogs (as a whole class) and comment;
- Encourage children to reply to comments received on their own posts and those of others;
- Praise and reward great comments ahead of great posts;
- Link to and share examples of great comments via your social networks such as Twitter;
- Make it easy for your children to visit other class blogs by curating a great blogroll;
- Join Quadblogging