Learning About Blogs FOR Your Students- Part I: Reading

When thinking about “BLOGGING” , the untrained eye (in regards to blogging) of an educator usually will think of “Technology Integration”. When digging a little deeper he/she might recognize that blogging is more about WRITING than technology. But let’s roll blogging back even a little further and we will discover that blogging starts with READING!

Part I- Reading

Becoming an avid blog reader of a variety of blogs is the first step for a teacher contemplating blogging with his/her students. Reading blogs with metacognitive analysis in mind, will help expose teachers to the potential blogging holds in relationship to LEARNING.

Will Richardson in his book “Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful We Tools for Classrooms” (Corwin Press 2006) states about blogging:

Connective writing is, for the most part expository writing, but the process starts with reading […] But more than just reading, bloggers that write in this way learn to read critically because as they read, they look or important ideas to write about. It is an important first step, for as Samuel Johnson said, “I hate to read a writer who has written more than he has read”.

We need to formulate and address intended learning outcomes for our students when blogging. These outcomes need to go BEYOND checking off “technology integration” on our lesson plans.

As teachers read blogs regularly, the better they will become in

  • RECOGNIZING learning opportunities via a blogging platform
  • FORMULATING learning outcome for their own students as they see quality examples of other blogs
  • IDENTIFYING curriculum learning outcome and match them to blogging
  • UPGRADING and REPLACING blogging can replace traditional assessment
  • GAUGING the quality (or lack) of blogs they read, but also the quality of their own students’ blog (relevant to their age group)
  • GETTING USED to the new genre of digital reading and writing
  • RECOGNIZING that writing is changing (thank you Terry Heick). The writing process used to end with the last period in the last paragraph. Hitting the publish button on a blog, might just be the beginning, not the end of writing.
  • UNDERSTANDING the grammar of social/networked writing. How ideas are linked, connected, expanded, influenced, etc. (thank you Alec Couros)
  • EXPERIENCING the culture of sharing (Alec Couros)
  • BROADENING their horizon by being EXPOSED to an array of content (Alec Couros) and global points of view
  • ENGAGING in reflective practice (thank you Mike Gwaltney)
  • being AWARE that there is a Global Learning Community out there and available to them anytime/anywhere (thank you Akevy Greenblatt)
  • LEARNING and CONNECTING in their own professional journey (thank you Dean Shareski)
  • REALIZING that blogs are self-designed, self-directed, and interdependent with all other media forms. (Terry Heick)
  • OBSERVING the ability of blogs  (over time) to function as a tool to curate learning (Terry Heick).

Dean Shareski, on his blog post Student and Teacher Blogging that Succeeds, expresses the obvious, but sometimes hidden truth for the novice blogging teacher:

Blogging is about writing, but it begins with reading. […] Teachers recognize that in order to be a good writer you have to read good writing. Yet when it comes to blogging, most want to write immediately and sit back and wait for the world to pay attention. It won’t happen. Provide as much time for your students to read blogs as write.

I wholeheartedly agree with Dean, but would like to “remix” his statement with the following:

Blogging is about writing, but it begins with reading. Teachers recognize that in order to teach about blogs, they have to read good blogs. Most want to jump immediately in and have their students start blogging, sit back and expect students to write quality blogs. It won’t happen. Teachers need to take time in reading other blogs, before they expect to be able to lead their students in quality blogging.

So let’s take a look at READING blogs. Where does the novice blogging teacher start?

There are literally millions of blogs out there:

  • some of very poor quality
  • some of topics that holds no interest to you
  • written in a voice that offends you
  • some expertly written that you can’t believe you get to read them for free
  • some that will change the way you view the world forever
  • some from which you will learn everytime you just think about them :)

Start with your PASSION! Passion is what will make you read when you are too tired or have too many other things to do.

Make a commitment to:

  • Read at least 4 blogs regularly (Thank you to Chic Foote for suggestion)
  • Add them to your RSS Reader (ex. Google Reader) or add them to an iPad app (ex. Flipboard ).
    Make it as easy as possible for yourself to have access to your chosen reading material.
  • Set aside a few minutes EVERY day to read them.
    Like every other routine, you have to practice to make it a habit.
  • Metacognitive analysis
    ( Merrian Webster’s Online Dictionary defines metacognition as “awareness or analysis of one’s own learning or thinking processes”. )
    Be aware of your own learning as you are reading.
  • Take notes (yes, with a notebook and pencil is ok!)
  • Read the comment section of the posts as well to get a feel for the conversation style and learn to recognize quality commenting
    Start to practice commenting on your chosen blogs to become part of the conversation

As you are reading, keep the following in mind:

  • What do you like about the blog writing? Style, visuals, content, language, author’s voice?
  • What don’t you like about the blog writing?
  • Do you recognize techniques that extend the traditional forms of writing?
  • Be always conscious about your own learning as you are reading.

Here are links to sample blogs for different grade levels and subject areas to give teachers a head start in finding quality examples. You want to choose a variety of blogs. A classroom blog, a professional blog, a student blog, etc. Some are part of my own RSS feed (with my own recommendations), in addition to links and recommendations contributed by others in response to a previous blog post.  If you have other QUALITY blogs to share, please add the links and a short recommendation in the comment section.

Elementary School

Linda Yollis’ Classroom Blog

Recommendation:

This blog is a wonderful example of how to showcase authentic learning experiences in the classroom. Linda also engages her students and readers to comment and contribute content throughout the year.

Miriam’s Magical Moments (Student Blog)

Recommendation:

•  Quality student blog (She earned her blog last year as a third grader, she continues to publish as a fourth grader.)
• Variety of subject matter
• Integration of digital images
• Comments back to all visitors/Great blogging etiquette

Librarian/Media Specialist

Jenny Luca’s Intercepting the Web

Recommendation:

Jenny is Head of Information Services at a school in Australia. She blogs regularly on a variety of subjects, among them 21st century learning, libraries, and information literacy. I enjoy Jenny’s blogging style very much, because her thoughts are outlined clearly and supported with quality links (leading to interesting resources or an older, related blog post) or relevant embedded media (images or video).

Castilleja Library Site

Recommendation:

This site has won the 2010 Edublog Awards in the Library Category. The site does a wonderful job in exemplifying the extension of a physical space into a virtual space. Student work, book reports are being showcased, as well as images videos and other “Cool Stuff”. Links to further resources and to online databases are easily accessible. The design of the sites complements the information it shares and is invites visitors to explore more.

 Technology in Education

Rodd Lucier’s The Clever Sheep

Recommendation:

The blog’s title is intriguing enough to start reading Rodd’s blog, but it is the tag line that makes me come back and look forward to his posts: “Leading in a new Direction”. In his own words he is “on the lookout for opportunities to engage in meaningful conversations with others who see themselves as learners.” On his blog you will find ideas and resources to upgrade your traditionally taught lessons to the 21st century. As a teacher and consultant, Rodd shares specific examples, illustrated with images, to broaden his readers’ horizon and to start them THINKING about ” leading in a new direction”.

Maggie Hos-McGrane’s TechTransformation

Recommendation:

Maggie is a fabulous writer. Her voice comes through on every post. I especially like how I can follow her train of thought as she reads books and connects ideas to her own experience and thoughts. Maggie also shares great practical tips as she coaches and supports teachers in technology integration, teaching and learning in general. Her advice is backed up by research and her own extensive experience as an international educator.

Education (Teaching/Learning/Pedagogy)

Bill Ferriter’s Tempered Radical

Recommendation:

Bill writes with a very honest and clear style about topics that will be immediately relevant to any classroom teacher K-12. He uses his blog to reflect on his practice, establishes networks, lesson successes and failures, and anything else related to the practice of teaching. His blog seems to be for him to make sense of his own experience more than any kind of a public soapbox. A blog is simply a means to express. It doesn’t have to be heavily editorialized, chock full of great tools, or connected to every other blog on the planet. If you speak clearly about something you’re interested in, chances are you’ll find an audience. And even if you don’t, a blog is an easy way to document the progression of your own thinking as you develop as a professional.

Andrea Hernandez’ EdtechWorkshop

Recommendation:

Andrea has been blogging for almost 4 years. It is an interesting read to follow her journey from a computer lab teacher to a 21st century learning specialist. No matter where she was/is on her journey her voice as a “I AM A TEACHER FIRST” comes through. Andrea is extremely reflective and does not shy away from asking herself and her readers some tough questions. She does not jump on every bandwagon because it has the word “technology” attached, but continues to probe deeper, if it can/could/will make a difference in the kind of teacher she is/can be and to her students’ learning.I have also enjoyed very much how Andrea has grown in her  strategical use of  visuals in her posts.

Terry Heick’s TeachThough

Recommendation:

TeachThought covers an existing (and perhaps saturated) topic (education) from new and interesting perspectives (culture, media, and technology).

It also has a combination of thorough editorials, easy-to-read digital essays, news, and helpful tools and multimedia for all stakeholders in education. Among other things, blogging is about serving others with through your passion and expertise. It also features guest posts from other related blogs to expand its reach.

Mathematics

Dan Meyer’s dy/dan

Recommendation:

Dan has figured out how to not only write about his own learning journey, but how to share lesson plans, resources and anecdotes from the classroom at the same time His use of videos and images to break up his posts and are enriching by visualizing a concept or lesson.

 Science

David Wetzel’s Teaching Science and Math

Recommendation:

As the tagline of David’s blog states, he shares ” Resources and Strategies for the Science and Math Classroom”, in a very straight forward way. His posts are direct and to the point. The use of sprinkled bullets and sub-titles in the post appeal to my “stepy-by-step” and “list making” brain.

STEM

Max Goldstein’s Dethorning STEM

Recommendation:

Max is a Sophomore at Tufts University, but don’t let that fool you. He has an incredible insight in how the STEM subjects sh(c)ould be taught in schools. He writes about an array of subjects related to STEM and education including his own experiences as a student. The insight of the way he sees the world around him is refreshing. His blog is a true gem, considering that traditionally (as a generalization), not all “logical-mathematical” brains enjoy or can write well at the same time. Max’s enjoyment of writing is evident in reading his blog.

Language Art

Kelly Jordan’s Teaching Literacy in the Early Years

Recommendation:

Kelly Jordan is a Literacy Coordinator at a school in Australia. Kelly’s focus on her blog is LITERACY. She explores different tools and methods as she is implementing these with her students. Her blog is backed up by real experiences from the classroom, which she describes beautifully in text and images. There are many student samples to look at to support her lesson implementation. Every blog post is ended with questions she poses to her readers in order to gain new perspectives, resources and advice.

Art

Hillary Andrik and Theresa McGee’s The Teaching Palette

Recommendation:

The blog focuses mainly on posts in the following categories: classroom management, music + art integration and teacher-authored product reviews. I like the clean professional look of the blog. No wonder that the visuals/images used on the blog are not generic images or clipart, but specifically taken or created to support the content of the post.  The owners of the blog are doing a terrific job in inviting their audience to contribute content via guest blogs, reviews, recommendations and image submissions.

Music

Gareth Ritter’s Ask a Music Teacher

Recommendation:

Gareth is a music teacher from the UK. He has student video tutorials and audio examples to share, which help make his blog real, not theoretical. As the title of the blog already gives away, Gareth encourages his readers to ask questions, especially in  “around the topic of innovative teaching and the use of technology in the classroom, particularly within music.”

World Languages & ESL

Greta Sandler’s About a Teacher

Recommendation:

Greta is originally from Argentina. She is an English teacher in Buenos Aires and in love of being a teacher. This love shines through in her blog posts. Following her blog, will give you an insight how technology has/is connecting so many global educators who all share the love of teaching.

Lauren Beversdorf’s Be The Change

Recommendation:

Lauren is a K-8 Spanish teacher. On her blog, Be The Change, she not only explores teaching a language to her students, but also how she can make a difference in their lives. As a relatively new blogger, she is embedding media into her writing and her voice shines through.

Lissa Laymann’s Te(a)ch French

Recommendation:

Although a brand new blog, Lissa not only shares examples how she is integrating technology in her world language classroom, but also makes room for reflection (**Notes) throughout the posts. She embeds Google forms as well as video into her posts.

Administration

Connected Principals

Recommendation:

The Connected Principals site is a group blog. Principals from different school communities share openly and transparent their trials and errors, successes and thoughts around education and leadership. You will find different writing styles on many topics of interest to administrators.

Miscellaneous

Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings

Recommendation:

The diversity of content, use of images to fill out content, linking to other blogs (very important part of blogging), and, perhaps most of all, it covers an interesting topic with passion and consistency.

MacKenzie Smith’s Grilled Cheese Social

Recommendation:

While there are a lot of great educational blogs, I think it’s great for teachers and students to look at the breadth of the landscape of informational text that blogs can provide. (This is specifically related to Common Core reading and writing standards as informational text, but also opportunities to fulfill the capacities of the College and Career Ready Student.)  That said, I like this blog as a source of informational text about my favorite food: Grilled Cheese.  I like the way the author gives step by step directions, visuals, and commentary on her artful creations. It would be a great model for someone to emulate as they start their own blog, no matter the topic, and no matter whether they are student or teacher!  Take a look at the comments (but perhaps overlook some of the colorful language…). These are not just touchy-feely remarks…people are articulating WHY the post mattered to them. Metacognition and connections are what we want from these online interactions!