Sunday, March 7, 2010

Children as bloggers

As a keen blogger I know the various benefits of blogging as I'm sure do the readers of this blog. But how might we make better use of blogging with children? Many teachers have already experimented with blogging for children as have some parents. Most children don't need to be convinced of the wonder and worth of the Internet, but could we make better use of the Blogosphere? It has been estimated that as many as 12 million American teenagers maintain their own blogs. In this post I thought I'd outline a few basic ways in which children could become bloggers, and why.

Why might blogging be good for children?

There seem some obvious reasons for using blogs in the classroom or at home:

1. The Internet is an important form of technology that this generation needs to understand and learn to use for varied purposes. Just as we seek to introduce children to varied purposes for literacy and different texts and genres, we need to encourage them to explore the many applications of the Internet for communication and learning.

2. Each application that we experience on the Internet requires a range of web-based generic skills as well as some that are unique to the application.

3. Children need to experience web applications like blogs as creators. Just as we want children to use written narrative forms like literature as readers and writers, so too we want them to explore some web applications as creators not just users or consumers.

4. The act of writing a blog post can lead to significant research and related learning. For example, it is an excellent way to develop web comprehension and research skills.

5. Blogs offer authentic readers and audiences for children. So much classroom writing is simply for the teacher 'as examiner', but blogs offer 'real' readers who will respond as learners and fellow writers. This is powerful.

6. Blogs can offer a means for children of many nationalities to communicate and share their ideas across the globe.

7. Blogging can offer a wonderful means for children to practice a second language.

8. Using blogs as creators as well as consumers highlights the need for children to consider issues such as truth and fiction, privacy, copyright and so on.

How can teachers and parents use blogging to promote learning?

a) Showcase blogs

One of the most common ways teachers use blogs is to showcase children's work. The blog can be set up to showcase work in specific subject areas or can vary by form. For example:
  • Poetry and narrative writing
  • Drawings
  • Videos (class activities, class performances, readers' theatre etc)
  • Podcasts (personal stories, public speaking, family history, oral reports etc)
Here's a great showcase blog for a grade 5 & 6 (here).

b) Classroom News blogs

This is a common way for teachers to blog. It can have an important role in keeping parents informed about the work that their children are doing as well as being an excellent way to showcase children's work. Here is a 4th Grade class blog in the USA (here). News blogs offer less opportunities for children to compose than other forms of blogging but has a place.

c) Literature response blogs

This application offers children a greater opportunity to respond to the writing of other students. It is simply a way to take activities online that require children to respond to literature that they have read (or which has been read to them). Often the teacher posts the first entry or task and students then respond to the book that has been read. Here's one 7th Grade blog that does some reader response (here)

d) Writing blogs

These are simply blogs that allow children to share their writing. Here is a wonderful example of how one parent set up a blog to allow her child to write his own 'Choose Your Own Adventure' story (here).

e) Mirror blogs

This blog application typically encourages students to respond to a blog entry (often written by the teacher) that invites some form of reflection or comment. For example 'Mr Crosby's 6th Grade' blog (here). The name 'Mirror blog' is simply a metaphor that relates to the fact that the sites encourage students to reflect on their learning.

f) HOT blogging

Lisa Zawilinski has an approach to blogging in class that she calls 'HOT Blogging'. While I don't find the name that helpful, the idea of using a blog to develop higher order skills is useful. It involves encouraging children to share different perspectives on a topic and exchange information with one another. The aim is to develop online comprehension and communication skills while promoting collaboration. It builds on Nancie Atwell's idea of the Dialogue Journal. She suggests a 4-step process that involves:

Step 1 - Providing background knowledge - this first stage is for the teacher to set activities that require the students to find relevant sites and resources that relate to a topic (e.g. understanding the background to a book).
Step 2 - Offering invitations to share ideas or an interpretation of the topic (e.g. responses to characters, events, events in the story etc).
Step 3 - After reading the responses of classmates, students begin to summarise content, develop their ideas on the topic further etc.
Step 4 - Considering varied responses and appreciating the views expressed.

The Zawilinski approach (as she describes it) is too complex in my view, but simpler variations on the approach could be useful. The key elements are to prime background knowledge, invite responses, encourage students to consider and integrate varied views.

Summing Up

Encouraging children to explore blogging is a useful way to get them to explore the Internet while writing and reading for varied real world purposes and with authentic audiences.

The above should not be seen as the only options there are; be creative with blogs. Once you are familiar with the various options for setting up a blog, play around with your site and think creatively about how you might use the technology application to stimulate children to read, respond, write, reflect and learn.

Look for writing opportunities that encourage children to write for 'real' audiences.

Think of creative ways to get children writing together; for example, try using a 'never ending' story strategy with different students writing each entry to build on the previous entries.

Related resources

1. Interesting article on blogging by L. Zawilinski (2009, May). 'HOT Blogging: A Framework for Blogging to Promote Higher Order Thinking. The Reading Teacher, 62,(8), 650–661 (here)

2. Reading to Learn: Using 'Text Sets' (here). In this post I talk about an approach to learning that can incorporate the use of the Internet.

3. Classroom blog service providers - while you can use existing blog providers like Blogger and Word Press, there are a number of providers that offer templates for classroom blogging. These include:

a) Edulogs - offer advertisement free sites that can allow the teacher to control comments and limit access to the site. They also offer templates for students that allow them to build their own blogs.

b) Class Blogmeister - once again this is free to educators and allows teachers to connect to varied blogs. While there seem lots of inactive blogs here there are good examples and ways for teachers to connect with other teachers and classes.

c) ePals SchoolBlog - this allows teachers to connect to other blogs and offers varied design templates and useful templates for surveys, calendars, parents-only sections, controlled public access etc.


Sandy Fussell said...

Excellent post Trevor. As an author visiting schools, I am often asked by students: How can I get published? I talk to them about the traditional options available and magazines that specialise in children's work - and then I encourage them to blog. It's a great way for kids to find a creative writing space complete with readers.

SquiggleMum said...

I was so pleased to see you blogging about blogging and read your thoughts on the topic. I especially liked your comment about children being creators of content and not just consumers. Completely agree.

allyson adeney said...

Hi Trevor,
Funny I should come across your post today, as I helped one of our children start a blog today.
For her it is one of the options given for presenting a 3 week long project. You can find it at

Our hope is that if she blogs for 3 weeks to complete her project, she will then continue.
She loves to write, so I am going to show her the choose your own adventure blog idea. It's a great one.
Thanks for the post.
Ally <'v'>

Trevor Cairney said...

Thanks Sandy, Cath & Ally for your comments. It's nice to hear from you Sandy and to have an author's perspective. Glad you liked it too Cath, children get far too few opportunities to create things (including written text) in the classroom. And thanks Ally for telling me about Bronte's blogging. The blog looks fantastic (I left a comment).



Unknown said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this blog about children writing blogs. With technology transforming the education realm, I feel that it is important to incorporate it in my lessons as much as possible. I honestly haven’t done much blogging personally, but now see it as a great learning experience for students. Blogging could not only be a great experience for the students, but also an assessment to be used by the teachers.
I can see myself incorporating this into my lessons in the future. I feel that the students will really enjoy it and it is something that they will be able to easily relate to. This technological era of students thrive on any assignment that has to do with or involve technology. Blogging could give students confidence in their voice, writing and keyboarding skills. Blogs could also be a great addition to the classroom website.

Ali said...

I love this post and all the different angles you address. Blogging is multifaceted, and I appreciate the ways you have laid it out here. I think blogging is an important method of writing that all students should be exposed to. I like that blogging can be for all ages and scaffolded depending on the age. My students use Seesaw and we have a class blog. Student request to post their work to the blog where parents and peers can see and comment on it. As my students complete assignments, I can have it set so that all students can see, like, and comment on each other’s work. I did turn this feature off, but as I read your post, it made me think of the bigger picture and its true potential. I love the idea of the critical thinking blog where students can build on each other’s ideas. This idea is perfect for upper elementary onward. I think if lower grades can set the foundation of blogging, older grades can really take it far. This notion really sets students up for the real world and an online presence.

Trevor Cairney said...

Thanks Ali, I appreciate your comments.