Earlier in the year, I posted about my attempt to encourage wide reading with junior students via the Taieri Hotreads blog. As the year thunders to an abrupt halt, and after sharing this information at a recent Educamp session in Dunedin, I thought an update was timely.
Firstly, I used wordpress! No surprises there. I chose WordPress because I have experience using it for on c21learners for personal reflections. Anyone interested in using this platform just needs to visit WordPress online where online tutorials take you through the basics. I find it easy to post to, add links and tags and embed images and videos. I’m aware that other schools have blogging facilities available through LMS systems, Google and Onenote. These would be great if you want/need to keep your site private and could well be easier for students to use if they are already familiar with those systems. I opted for a public site in the hope that it might attract comments from a wider circle of people than myself and classmates to further inspire/motivate reading.
I started by introducing students to the concept of blogging, discussing how blogs differ from other formats, showed them examples and discussed in groups acceptable rules for commenting. Those rules were then displayed in class to ensure we were all on the same page. This seemed to work well as there were no silly/nasty incidents (phew). I also created a handout summarising the steps in how to write and submit a post which they referred to while blogging (happy to email that to anyone if you are interested, just leave a comment here with your email). I know handouts are old school but when you’re working with 30 kids in a lab and they are all asking the same question three times an hour, “refer to handout” is the way to go!
Students were invited to join the blog via their school email accounts. Initially I set deadlines (2 posts and 2 comments per term) and displayed their progress on a chart in class. We used our school labs and library for blogging but ideally, my aim was to get them blogging independently. Some did and are still happily blogging away, others have struggled to complete blogs for a number of reasons. These include lack of familiarity with using digital tech, literacy issues (writing is not a forte for some) and the fact that some of them are not reading independently beyond set class texts. At all.
Successes have included:
- students who have become engaged in blogging and are writing good posts on their own
- students making links between texts
- students engaging in conversations about books
- students learning how to be good digital citizens
- students having an opportunity to write in a new (digital) format
- students discovering new books to read through the site
- Students loved getting personalised feedback on their posts, I’d always comment before publishing a post
- Encouraging critical analysis of texts and introducing the making links concept is a good way to prepare students for NCEA tasks and terminology
- Using tech angels – students who had successfully set up posts, added links or pics were able to help others
- Encouraging problem solving – when there is one of me and lots of them, sometimes they have to work things through
- creating a culture where the importance of reading is regularly, passionately and unreservedly promoted and rewarded
Downsides have included:
- students taking ages to sign up due to inexperience using school email accounts
- students inadvertently setting up a blog site rather than accepting my invite (easily fixed by deleting the site in settings options)
- students defaulting to visual texts (I relaxed rules to allow one each when it became clear some would never experience blogging at all if I was too rigid and stuck to novels!)
- too many posts on the same text – not sure if this is a negative in terms of my aims but it did make the site repetitive for our followers
- cutting and pasting comments on novels/films from the internet into posts – Grrr. The old authenticity chestnut but again, good for junior students to learn about this issue now rather than miss a senior assessment later for trying the same
- overly simplistic comments – “cool” “nice one Snoop Dog” “you rock” etc etc. Because I was the site administrator, I would go back to the author and request better responses
- students not having the confidence to experiment with the full range of functions available such as adding hyperlinks
- having to moderate each post and comment – yes time consuming
What would I do differently?
- ask students to supply the email account they know how to use – gmail, hotmail, whatever
- ensure students are invited as contributors not followers
- create credit card sized cards for each student to record their user name and password on – so much time was wasted having to rest passwords! Suggest they make it the same as their email accounts so this is less likely to happen
- create categories together to ensure everyone is using same archival system
- limit tags to text titles and authors to avoid tag cloud explosion
At the end of last term, the most prolific bloggers were rewarded with a book each in recognition of their efforts and next week, I’ve organised a pizza lunch for those who met the deadlines. It would be great if students continued blogging at the end of the school year (that’s my utopia!) but I won’t hold my breath. I will certainly keep sharing my (young adult) reading with them over summer and if it inspires even one student to pick a book they might not have otherwise read, I’ll call it a win.