Over the past week, I’ve been sharing sets of tips that I always recommend to teachers who are beginning classroom blogging projects.
The first entry covered questions connected to common technical questions: Should I have one classroom blog or a blog for every student? Should our blogs be open for commenting? The second entry addressed the steps that teachers can take to connect readers and writers in classroom blogging projects.
Today’s third (and final) entry is sort of a grab bag, sharing general thoughts about topics ranging from the role that visitor maps play in blogging projects to the importance of emphasizing high-quality writing in student entries:
Emphasize the important role that quality writing plays in successful blogs
Because writing and publishing online is so easy—and because interactions between students in electronic forums are often defined by casual grammar and language use—many students approach blogging with a careless attitude, failing to invest significant time into crafting polished entries. While they crave audience, they misunderstand the message that mistakes send to readers.
Not only should teachers interested in blogging projects encourage students to work through the steps of the writing process (brainstorming, drafting, revising and editing) before publishing—just as they would on traditional tasks—they should also reinforce time-and-again that the credibility of writers is dependent solely on the quality of their written work.
Students must know that the potential for having influence in online communities exists only when students present ideas in ways that will impress readers.
Consider naming and training student editors
Teachers who are starting classroom blogging projects often enthusiastically jump in with two feet, encouraging classes to churn out dozens of entries, promoting posts with parents and peers, and building new lessons with their blogs in mind.
Then, they end up buried by entries that are poorly written or by students who need technical help to get new pieces posted online. Eventually, they begin to question whether the time that they are investing in monitoring student work for quality and in facilitating digital novices is really worth it. Enthusiasm is replaced by exhaustion.
That’s why student editors are so important for successful classroom blogging projects. Training a handful—three to five per year—super motivated students to proofread new entries and to support students struggling with technical skills can ensure that teachers don’t suffer from “monitoring burnout.”
Over time, you’ll have veteran student editors who take great pride in the blog that your class is producing. Not only will they continue to write for you once they’ve left your class, they’ll serve as competent gatekeepers, polishing entries that aren’t quite ready to be published, monitoring comments that are being posted, and generating enthusiasm for the work that you are doing online.
Require that students use pseudonyms while writing
For many schools and districts, the risks involved in introducing students to tools for communicating, collaborating and publishing content online far outweigh the rewards. Frightened by stories of internet predators, restrictions are placed on the kinds of information that students can reveal and the kinds of opportunities that students can be engaged in online.
One step that you can take to keep your students safe—and to comfort district leaders who question your decision to begin a classroom blog—is to teach your students about the importance of remaining confidential online.
Resist the urge to include the name of your school or yourself in your blog’s title. Refuse to link directly to any sites that readers could connect back to your classroom, and require that students use pseudonyms to sign their writing.
As “cloak-and-dagger” as these efforts at internet safety may seem to you, your students are likely to enjoy them! Pseudonyms and confidentiality allow them to try on different identities and to be judged based on their thoughts instead of their age or their social groups.
And the first time that their work is mistaken for that of anyone older than they really are, your students will be electrified!
Include—and regularly explore—visitor maps and statistics on page views.
As motivating as local readers can be for student bloggers, discovering that visitors from all over the world stop by to read their work never fails to amaze tweens and teens. To prove to your students that they are reaching readers in faraway locations, be sure to include a visitor map in the sidebar of your blog.
While there are many services that will track the location of the visitors that land on your site, Cluster Maps (http://www.clustrmaps.com/) is one of the most popular because it highlights each visitor with a red dot on a digital image of the world. Before long, red dots will cover entire continents, reinforcing the idea that your students are being heard!
Cluster Maps also reports the number of page views that your website receives on a regular basis—and can break those page view statistics down by continent. Consider asking students to track this information carefully in their notebooks or on a classroom bulletin board.
Watching your readership grow over time will be just as motivating to your students as seeing where their readers are coming from.
So what ideas, tips and suggestions do you have for teachers who are tackling classroom blogging projects? Is there anything that I’ve left out? Are there points that I’ve made that you can improve on?
I’d love to hear what other readers are doing to make blogging work in their classrooms!