Quad Blogging Reflection

Back in January, I made a commitment to:

walk the path of Action Research…. to find out if blogging:

  • teachers, who are “actively” learning about and participating in the blogging process (beyond attending a workshop or reading “about” blogging), are setting the stage and building a solid platform for their own ongoing professional development and life long learning?
  • educators, who are blogging with their students,  can (are) learn(ing) to teach through a 21st century lens (skills & literacies)?
  • improves students’ writing skills?
  • motivates and engages students?
  • touches on multiple 21st century skills and literacies, as well as contribute and support learning fluency.
  • amplifies curriculum content, objectives and skills?

You can read my train of thought in the following posts:

My reflection is structured on three levels:

  • Student level
  • Classroom teacher level
  • Coach or (Tech) Coordinator level (support for classroom teachers)

The question we posed ourselves at the beginning was, if four weeks of blogging could improve quality student writing. We wanted to see if blogging with an authentic global audience would engage even the “not so motivated” writer. After the quad blogging concluded, students talked about how they  appreciate the time and enjoyed writing at school. They discussed in class how they felt about getting grades for writing, specific writing assignments vs. writing about what they chose and liked. All of them felt (and could see by looking and comparing posts and comments), that they had became better writers over the course of the four weeks.

Picking their own “best work” (comments) and using the rubric,  seemed to help them be confident in their improved accomplishments.

A comment left during the first week of the Quad Blogging month:

The same students wrote this comment at the end of the month:

Here is a blog post from before the Quad Blogging started:

and here is a post after the quad blogging month

Take a peek into the classroom and hear students talking about their blogging experience.

Other student reflection about the quad blogging experience:

After writing, Stepping it Up- Learning to Blog FOR Your Students, I was keen to observe the learning curve of the classroom teacher as a participant in the quad-blogging process. It was, no doubt, an intense four weeks. As a disclaimer, you need to know that I chose the classroom teacher I was going to work with during the Quad Blogging month carefully. I chose our 4th grade teacher, Stephanie Teitelbaum, because of an already established coaching relationship and her willingness and openness to try new methods, projects or “crazy ideas” :)

Stephanie was committed to being a student right alongside the children in the classroom. She was willing to try and test on her own, be reflective along the way, tweak when her teacher instinct told her something wasn’t working and ask for help from her students too. She was willing to jump in without “knowing it all”, a quality that seems to become more and more important for a teacher. We are all exploring new frontiers, creating new forms and learning by “failing forward“.

Here is our 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Teitelbaum’s reflection.

This was our final week of “quad blogging” and it was a wonderful learning experience for my class.  Four weeks ago, when we started, my students would comment on somebody’s blog with a sentence or a line saying “Great Post”.  Now they are writing one to two paragraphs and adding information that they either knew already, or that they researched to add to someone else’s post.  They are reflecting, expressing feelings, finding connections and asking great questions. They can instantly recognize a comment that is of poor quality based on the grammar, punctuation or lack of a true reflection.

Their blog posts have been pretty incredible from the start, however, I have only seen an improvement from the quad blogging experience.  They all want to hit the “EXPERT” level on the blog writing RUBRIC so they try to challenge each other to get there.  I saw students researching related links, photos, and other information to add to their posts.  They have all been peer editing and asking each other for advice and/or their opinions.

My only negative reflection would be the timing.  This week was our week to blog, and with it being the week of testing, I was not able to follow the process the way I would have liked to.  I didn’t assign homework all week, due to testing, so all of our blogging was done during the day and most of my students weren’t as inspired, due to being exhausted from testing.  Ultimately, they all wrote some really wonderful posts and I think they will continue to strive to reach expert level based on the rubric we used.

Without a doubt, I see such a difference in their writing abilities since they started blogging in January.  They seemed to really like the quad blogging and are looking forward to continuing the communication with the three other schools.  They were all so delighted to receive the numerous comments during our “blogging” week.  They each wrote back and many exchanged emails so they can continue to correspond.

What did we, as a literacy coach/tech coordinator, learn? How did we support the teacher? What kind of “help” did they need or want?

There is a need for a healthy mixture of teacher led mini lessons and modeling, co-teaching and coaching from the technology/literacy specialist. Teachers cannot rely on the specialist to be in their classroom at all times and “the blogging” cannot be just a an add-on or special project, when the specialist/coach is in the classroom. It was valuable to create and leave a step-by-step guides for the teacher to be able to review and for support as they reinforced skills and concepts and continued blogging  on their own with the students.

The goal in the end is the one of sustainability. What good is it for a teacher to blog with students for a month or only when a “technology teacher” is in the room? Teachers learning to blog FOR their students will be able to continue the learning journey with their students. The blogging platform is a perfect framework for all curriculum connections, 21st century skills and literacies.

There were plenty of opportunities for us to teach students via mini-lessons, but these lessons were also designed with classroom teacher in mind:

In addition to mini-lessons for the teacher in the classroom, the following were important one on one opportunities to make the logistical part of the work load of reading, evaluating and giving feedback to students easier on the teacher:

  • Setting up and managing an RSS feed of all participating blogs (Google Reader)
  • Planning of student auditing of blog posts and individual student/teacher conferences (coach/teacher share workload)
  • How do you document (in different media) the learning process?

I felt that the success of the quad blogging was largely due to the classroom teacher’s commitment to embed reading, commenting, writing and connecting them to the curriculum content. Her ability to seamlessly pick up, continue and build upon lessons learned was crucial to the success in the classroom with the students. It was apparent that Stephanie had taken “ownership” of blogging with her students and their success in improving the quality of writing. What adjustments would have to be made when supporting a less motivated, less self-starting, less tech-savvy or “uncomfortable with technology” teacher?

What has been learned:

The Quad Blogging experience with Chrissy Hellyer, Maggie Hos-McGrane, Nancy von Wahlde and Andrea Hernandez (and the respective classroom teachers), was a successful one. Four years ago, I wrote about my frustration with collaboration projects in a post titled Collaboration Projects- Doomed to Fail. Why was this collaboration any different?

Although each team was located in a different country, all of us had previous connections and we had cultivated virtual  relationships. We knew that all of us were committed to test our theory of improved quality writing, document and share our reflections.

We  learned, that this kind of COMMITMENT was crucial when working together, especially across large distances.

We learned, that learning the TECHNOLOGY SKILLS necessary to “do the blogging” was ALWAYS secondary. Teachers and students did not learn how to:

  • insert a hyperlink for the sake of learning HTML, but to make connections and point their readers to further information.
  • upload a video or image for the sake of embedding it into the post, but to support their writing.
  • create annotated screenshots for the sake of doodling digitally, but to explain something visually.

We learned, that INFORMAL ASSESSMENT of students in the blogging process, is sometimes the most important one:

  • seeing students passionately use their blogs
  • take pride in its appearance
  • the joy of receiving a comment
  • the anticipation of sharing with their global audience their work/experiences/writing
  • feeling a connection with someone from another country

We learned, that blogs can be used as a FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT TOOL.
As Heidi Hayes Jacobs, in Curriulum21, asks: What can be replaced? What can be upgraded? What can be thrown out? For the sake of time when quad blogging, it is important to know when a blog post or comment can replace a traditional method of assessment and become the evidence of learning.

We learned, that participating in a quad blogging experience (and doing it with commitment) TAKES TIME. There is no doubt that the intensity of four weeks of reading, commenting, writing, editing, mini-lessons, evaluating and, and, and… takes time. There is a learning curve, but it is worth it. I am eager to see how subsequent quad blogging sessions will go with teacher and students having the previous experience under their belt.

We learned, that although the quad blogging session did take a large amount of time for the classroom teacher, it did NOT “take away” from “covering” other CURRICULUM CONTENT. The challenge lies in learning how to recognize the connections between  traditionally taught methods and TEACHING THROUGH BLOGS.

We learned, that students IMPROVED their writing skills tremendously. You might say that focusing 4 weeks on writing (without any blogging involved) would have also improved students’ writing skills. Would the engagement and student motivation have been as high? What about the possibility of connecting to all or any curriculum content? What about the global connections and writing specifically for a world wide audience?

We learned, that the blogging platform can be the tool for teaching writing and that quad blogging month can be a CATALYST for an amplified, global and connected writing for your students.

21st Century skills:

  • collaborating
  • communicating
  • connecting
  • creating
  • critical thinking

21st Century Literacies:

  • Global
  • Network
  • Information
  • Media
  • Basic
  • Digital Citizenship

Technology skills:

  • inserting and resizing of images
  • embedding of code
  • widgets
  • hyperlinking
  • formatting

Writing skills:

  • editing
  • peer editing
  • auto-evaluation
  • writing for a specific audience
  • reflective writing
  • transmedia writing
  • writing with a voice
  • informative writing
  • creative writing

Timing:

  • find better timing for all 4 participating classes
  • not close to standardized testing week
  • be mindful of country/school specific vacation/holiday times

Rubric:

  • too difficult for ELL students
  • language was too high for primary students
  • Needed to deconstruct the rubric for and with students
  • Idea of possibly recording the rubric with audio explanations by teacher
  • we might need three versions of the rubric: teacher, students (native speaker), students (ELL)

ELL- English Language Learners

  • we need to do a better job in keeping ELL students in mind
  • Native speakers need to be prepared and continuously reminded of barriers, limits and necessary accommodations they need to make when reading and writing to/for their blog  buddies.

Privacy Settings

  • Testing privacy settings of all classroom or student blogs to make sure it allows incoming comments to be posted or placed into moderation.

After we debriefed, all participants were eager to express their desire to “do it again”. We are planning to have two quad blogging cycles next school year, one at the beginning of the year and one at the end.

I would really like to bring in more blogging “experts” for the students (as well as classroom teachers) to hear first hand how reading and writing has enhanced, improved and changed their academic lives. I want students to be able to articulate why they blog, what it means to them and how it can and has helped them. In return, I would like the students to take on the role of being the “experts” to others by offering to skype into teacher workshops and presenting at an upcoming conference at our school in April 2013.

We would also like to “recruit” and “groom” parents, grandparents or pre-service teachers to become blogging buddies to students in addition to the four classes involved. These buddies would receive training regarding quality commenting skills in an “International Commenting Mentor Program”.

So…. if you have made it this far in reading this mega long post of my thoughts about quad blogging and quality writing, I am safe to assume that you are at least interested in exploring the options of teaching writing THROUGH blogging . What are your concerns? Have you tested the waters? Have you found ways to recognize and replace traditional methods of teaching and assessing writing with blogging?

Join our reflection by leaving a link in the comment section or sharing your experience directly.