Each year, one of the mandates set by our school for English classes in 5th grade is that the students keep a journal. The central goal behind the journals is that students practice writing in English, using new vocabulary and grammar picked up over the course of the school year.
Last year, I explored Kidblog, a blogging website specifically designed for classroom use. Teachers can easily upload their class roster and set up accounts for each kid. Teachers have complete control over all of the student’s blogs including the ability to change passwords, moderate comments, and set privacy settings. One of the main reasons I appreciate this website is because it is advertisement-free. Also, I can set the entire class’s blogs to private so that only myself and the other students in the class can read the content. Strangers will not have access to my kids’ pages.
One of the main challenges with the journal project is getting them to write an adequate amount (at least one page). In an electronic format, we can assign word minimums to increase student output, which is a vital part of ESL instruction. Also, they will have access to other student’s blogs that are very well written as an example to base their own work on. Students would be encouraged to learn from one another, instead of just reading the feedback from the teacher.
My main reason for desiring to include blogs in my classroom is that I have a goal to incorporate the writing process into more lessons. Blogs are a terrific foundation to accomplish this with. Students will need to have edited and revised their journals before “publishing” them on Kidblog. This is something that we can work on and practice in class to make the expectation clear. When the teacher and the students comment on the blogs they read, they can write constructive criticism for editing or revising the blog. The types of comments that are appropriate can also be practiced during writing lessons. This type of online community and collaboration will very useful on students’ input and output of English and utilization of the writing process, as well as promote positive interactions online.
Often, teachers are intimated to use an online tool such as Kidblog because it could potentially take a long time to get kids fluently using it. As I considered implementing blogs in place of journal books, I understood that I would have to take some time to teach my students how to navigate the webpage. Also, I will have to conduct subsequent lessons regarding the writing process, digital citizenship, and constructive criticism. This seems like a lot. I then considered, however, that my students write at least 20 journals over the course of the school year. So even though I will have to take a lot of time at the beginning to set up the procedures and expectations, after a while, it will become a norm that other teachers and the students can build on for years to come. Therefore, I feel that my technological tool strongly supports my content and pedagogy.
With the addition of the online community and the writing process, the journals will be elevated. As pointed out by Mishra in the article Too Cool for School? No Way! Learning and Leading with Technology, “Teaching is not a process of picking up a few instructional techniques and applying them. It emerges from thinking deeply about the nature of a discipline in conjunction with strategies for helping students learn that discipline over time.” (Mishra, 2009, p. 15). Participating in commenting will enhance the content by using the tech tool. I think that journals will feel like less of a “burden” for students will complete. They will want to log into Kidblog to see what others wrote about their last post. The overall meaning of the journals will be enhanced, and over the course of the school year, my student’s writing will grow.
Being exposed to other students’ writing styles as well as receiving more feedback on their own writing will help them transfer their skills to more of their writing. For example, in the journal book, I could write to a student a comment like, “Great job using some of our vocabulary words from last week!” That doesn’t guarantee that student will continue practicing vocabulary in future journals. However, if they receive this feedback from me as well as their peers online, they may be more inclined to include vocabulary. This will mean that they are practicing the vocabulary in various applications and are more likely to remember the words. The transfer of knowledge will help them ascend to a deeper understanding of the vocabulary words past rote memorization (Donovan & Bransford & Pellegrino, 2000, p. 43).
Overall, I feel really good about my strategy. Just having it planed out and prepared means that I can jump into the school year ready to bring another aspect of technology to my classroom. With my increased understanding of TPACK and how people learn, I know that I will experience success with journal blogs and I can continue to build my student’s digital literacy.
Donovan, S., Bransford, J., & Pellegrino, J. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience and school. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. Retrieved from http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309070368
Koehler, M.J., & Mishra, P. (2009). Too Cool for School? No Way! Learning and Leading with Technology http://punya.educ.msu.edu/publications/mishra-koehler-l&l-2009.pdf
Lesson Plan PDF
Kidblog Directions Screen Casts
How to Log into Kidblog
How to Change Your Password
How to Change Your Avatar
How to Start Your Blog Post
“About Me” Journal Directions