Teachers are reaching out to students with a new class of blogs
On her blog, Danielle reflected on a Mariners game, the WASL and a trip to Geneva, garnering online comments from Texas and Canada. Her blog was part...
Seattle Times staff reporter
On her blog, Danielle reflected on a Mariners game, the WASL and a trip to Geneva, garnering online comments from Texas and Canada.
Her blog was part of a class project started last year by her third-grade teacher, Mark Ahlness, at Seattle's Arbor Heights Elementary School.
"Never in 25 years of teaching have I seen a more powerful motivator for writing than blogs," Ahlness said. "And that's because of the audience. Writing is not just taped on the refrigerator and then put in the recycle bin. It's out there for the world to see. Kids realize other people are reading what they write."
Blogs, often associated with political rants or social-networking sites such as MySpace, get bashed for encouraging everything from pedophiles to identity theft. But some educators are trying to harness their interactive powers for positive means.
For teachers, the question is: "What is it about MySpace that is so compelling to kids, and how do we take advantage of that in the classroom?" said David Warlick, founder of Class Blogmeister (classblogmeister.com), a blog service for teachers. Education-specific sites offer security features not found on commercial ones.
Teachers use blogs, or online journals, in different ways. Some post homework assignments and links to relevant Web sites; others describe key events of the day to keep parents in the loop. Most commonly, students post written responses to a teacher's query.
When students read each other's blogs and make comments, "the work becomes a conversation instead of a one-way delivery of information," said Warlick, a former teacher who wrote "Classroom Blogging: A Teacher's Guide to the Blogosphere."
A blogging boom
Edublogs.org, which offers free teacher blogs, saw unique page views jump by 50 percent in a month, from 10,000 to 15,000 views a day, said founder James Farmer. More than half of Edublog's nearly 18,000 blogs are U.S.-based.
With all adult Internet users, the percentage of blog readers more than doubled from 2004 to 2006; this year, nearly 4 out of 10 American adults check someone else's blog, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
At Class Blogmeister, Warlick receives 15 to 20 new registrations a day. "Overall, there's enormous interest in teachers blogging," he said.
Bob Mueller, who runs the computer lab at Bothell's Skyview Junior High School, set up a virtual book club with blogs for Honors students.
"Some students who might be reluctant to join a classroom discussion could feel more free to participate online," he said, noting that students were respectful. "Students embraced the technology by making the blogs their own, with interesting designs, added music, etc."
In Ahlness' class, some of the 8- and 9-year-olds continued blogging over the summer, even without an assignment.
"It allows teaching to take place not just during the school day, but 24/7," he said.
At the end of the year, the third-graders reflected on their experience. "I like blogs because you get to share a creative idea with the world," noted one. "I think I'm a better writer because of my blog," commented another. Added one: "I think that other kids should blog because it's fun and it really helps you learn more and more."
Marilyn Mears, mom of a student from Ahlness' class last year, checked her son's blog and many of his classmates' sites once a week and encouraged his relatives to visit it. "Writing wasn't a favorite subject, but his excitement about the classroom blogs grew throughout the year," Mears noted. "Receiving comments from around the world [New Zealand and Scotland] was energizing."
Classroom blogging is sometimes mistaken as an academic version of MySpace, said Shannon Palermiti, a teacher at Sammamish's Samantha Smith Elementary School who blogs with her fourth-grade class. "The type of blogging my students do is nothing like that. The students cannot add certain personal information and cannot add friends. Because of the way I have it set up, only people with our class password can view [student] blogs."
At Class Blogmeister, for example, teachers approve each posting and comment before it "goes live." They also can edit submissions and ask students to resend the corrected version.
Even with these safeguards, teachers review Internet safety guidelines. All Ahlness' students — who go by first name only — signed an agreement to "always write in a way that brings respect and honor to my school, my family and myself."
"It's like blogging with training wheels," Ahlness explained. "I'm preparing my kids for their future."
Still, educators run into problems with district filters; many are unclear as to how the Deleting Online Predators Act, which would require public schools and libraries to block commercial social-networking sites, might affect class blogs.
Others start blogging but find the extra work — dealing with technical bugs, reading every comment — daunting. If teachers don't have enough classroom computers, blogging is limited to homework (assuming every student has home access).
The other drawback, Ahlness discovered, was how bummed students were when they learned their blogs would be supplanted by his current class. (His page still links to their archived writing.)
"I love my blog, and I don't want to lose it," opined one. Wrote another: "I think I'm going to try to get my new teacher to start a blog."
Stephanie Dunnewind: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-2091