Student and Teacher Blogging that Succeeds

Originally posted at Tech Learning.

There is a new teacher or student blog created every 2.2 seconds. Okay so I just made that up, but the point is we are seeing blogs created at blistering pace with the hopes of connecting with the world and providing an authentic audience for writers. Sadly, many of these well-meaning blogs die a slow death after a smattering of posts. Well-intended teachers and students often lack perspectives need for success.

Blogs are easy to create. But just because something’s easy doesn’t mean it will stick. As someone who supports teachers in understanding and using digital learning tools, this is a pattern I’ve seen all too often.

So how does a teacher or her students find blogging success? Here are a few things I’ve discovered in both my own blog as well as with my work with students and teachers.

Blogging is mostly about reading
Blogging is way more about reading than it is writing. Many teachers don’t see this at first. Most classrooms provide a good balance of traditional reading and writing opportunities. 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. If you decide you want to blog or have your students blog, don’t feel badly about spending a few weeks or even months reading blogs. Look for exemplary work. Look for blogs that you relate to. Find blogs that have a different perspective on things you’re interested in Talk with your students about the blogs they enjoy. Before you write a post, be sure you are responding to something you’ve seen, read or heard.

To make a friend you have to be a friend
When I talk with students and teachers about blogging I liken it to the playground. How do they go about making friends on the playground? By waiting on the sidelines? Dominating the equipment? Students quickly recognize they need to interact and talk with others. Blogging is no different. If you want to have others read and comment on your work, you’ll need to begin reading and commenting on others.

On my own blog I posted a couple of times about something I’ve called an Updated CommPost Rating. It involves taking the number of comments you’ve left and dividing it by the number of blog posts you’ve created. You should have more comments than posts. Comments generally are clarifications, encouragements or challenges that usually involve less time than original posts. What’s the saying? You have 2 ears and 1 mouth. This should apply with blogging as well. Since I wrote this and began to walk the walk, my readership has steadily increased and, more importantly, so has my learning.

It’s personal
So once you establish a pattern of reading, thinking and then writing, you need to write about what you know. Teachers, who structure their blogging too much, lose the concept of conversation. It must flow from personal meaning. That’s why having your students find others who share their interests is so vital. The best bloggers are able to provide personal perspectives but also connect those personal experiences with others. Good conversations don’t simply involve stories about yourself but stories to which others can easily relate and contribute.

In this effort to connect, hyperlinking is also essential. Hyperlinking is what makes the web work. It is the connecting vehicle. I can’t believe how many students and many teacher blogs neglect to hyperlink to other sources. Most see this as an advanced blogging tool. It isn’t. It needs to be utilized immediately; even with young students. Generally when I read a blog post that has no hyperlinking, I wonder about its validity. How many of us can write without crediting or referencing others? This is when blogs turn into online journals. Unless you are an outstanding writer with highly original ideas, a blog of this nature is not likely to last or at least not likely to gain readership.

Get Graphical
Finally, we have a wonderfully graphical web and are beginning to recognize that writing is only one way we express ideas and communicate. The use of embedded video, audio and images provides a rich communication that goes well beyond words. Text still has importance but allowing embedding pertinent, interesting media can express ideas like never before. Understanding the power of Creative Commons would be a great place to start.

Here are three resources that will provide you some additional tips:

If you’ve had struggles with sustaining blogging, try these tips and if you’ve had successes using other methods, what are they? After all blogs are conversations—so converse!

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  • I really think your opening premise is a great place to start – students (and teachers) need to READ blogs first (and lots of them), take time to think about what they have to offer (reply), and then formulate their reply posting. We still have “sustained silent reading” (called by many names) in our schools, but I have yet to see teachers embrace the ideas of allowing students to read online journals, articles, and (dare I say it) blogs, as part of this reading time. Why is reading often relegated to books and magazines only? Let students read up-to-date blogs, think about their reply, and add their voice to the world’s discussions! I’m hoping the days of blogging are not “numbered”, as I am working to push for more student/teacher/admin blogging at my school this coming year.

  • Ben Grey

    “Teachers, who structure their blogging too much, lose the concept of conversation.”

    This is an issue I think that most plagues teachers who create classroom blogs. Teachers are so afraid that something untoward is going to happen on their classroom blogs, and they fear the fallout and parental wrath they will incur should something go wrong. We live in a society where responsibility is taken away from the offender and misappropriated to the wrong party. There is a percentage of parents who will blame the teacher for setting up the rules and scenario that allowed the students the opportunity to do wrong, and therefore will exonerate their own when inappropriate behavior occurs. It’s sad, but that is what often drives teachers to seek high structure with classroom blogs.

    The over-structuring of a blog, while understandable given the societal context of parental and even administrative pressure, is exactly what makes a classroom blog fail and fade away. When you take something organic like the natural fluidity of a blog, and force unnatural structure into it, it loses the very essence of what made it what it was in the first place. I think that phenomenon happens far too often in the world of ed-tech, and it’s an issue we as a group need to work at to resolve as effectively as we can.

  • I’m introducing a year-long blogging activity in a professional development course on teaching that I’m giving to new professors this year. I want them to think about, read about and write about their teaching. I think that this post will be their first stop — ever write a post that was a required reading for professors before? 🙂

    Anyway, my biggest fear is that they will balk at going public with their reflections…that they will either avoid doing it, or be very careful, cautious and bland with what they share. Your idea that blog postings “must flow from personal meaning” is important, but I’m really hoping they will be willing to share things that are both personal and meaningful. I’ll let you know how it goes.

  • In response to Chris Webb’s comment: I completely agree with you, and I don’t think blogging is dying/dead. In fact, I don’t think blogging has come anywhere close to it’s peak. There are so many great ways we can bring blogs into the classroom, and I agree we need to start implementing and allowing time for dedicated reading and blog writing. It is an untapped media for the most part. Blogging can be very exposing (even if we feel no one is reading our posts), and it may take numerous attempts to place blogs in the right context for some students/teachers. Many, I included, get so caught up in posting and podcasting that I often don’t allow enough time to be a blog reader. It is a great reminder, and an excellent learning opportunity for me before I actually choose to teach blogging.

    Jarreds last blog post..Episode 8- Collaboration

  • I love this post. As a new teacher in the technology world, I have gone through many stages of blogging and came to the same realizations you have wrote about. These are the very topics I plan to discuss with my staff at school year start as we embark on what I hope is a school wide blogging initiative.

    I will be attempting some major blogging in my classroom. I have set my routine to 15minutes a class to read and reply to blogs and 30mintes a week to writing blogs. (this is in my IP10 class)

    Do you think this is a reasonable amount of time to get students interested enough to read blogs at home?

  • Dean, Great Post!
    I’m running a blog session during our staff Tech Camp, and this will be a good resource!
    We’re still struggling with the best venue for student blogs. We had some staff using Blogger/Blogspot, some used Edublogs, and some tried 21 Classes. Since we don’t currently have student e-mail, setting up a class (or 5 classes) on any of these requires more time and energy to coordinate than staff can put in. Anybody have suggestions? Gaggle would be great, but at $3-$4 per student, it seems too pricey!

    M. Walkers last blog post..Thoughts on the Aspen Ideas Festival

  • Eldon,

    The trick is thinking about comment’s like Ben’s regarding structure. What I might try in your situation is spend a couple of weeks reading and discussing offline. Get them to start having some deep conversations and intelligent discussions in an environment they are familiar with and then get them writing.

    The first time I taught undergrads, I had one out of 14 continue blogging. My last term I’ve got 3 out of 23. Not that that was my goal but certainly getting students to see value whether as bloggers or readers is definitely the goal. I don’t think everyone has to blog but to be aware of this participatory medium and its role in culture and life in general is what I think is important.

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  • Mic,

    My thought is to use a service like edublogs or wordpress. To me this is more personal and takes away the idea of it being tied to an institution. Unless you’re able to provide great in house hosting, I think this is the better way to go. It’s more likely they’ll continue on if it’s not associated with an institution. As well I’m thinking they’ll be more likely to post more personal stuff, which can be a good thing as well. With older students I think seeing this as part of their digital identity and portfolio is an important concept.

    That said, blogmeister and 21 classes work well for K-8 students as a starting point.

  • Andrew Kohl

    This is a really nice article, Dean. I’m also going to use it with teachers, as they learn about blogging.

    I really feel like too many people get the concept of blogging confused with “online publishing” or “journalism”. This is probably only worsened by every periodical needing to have a “blog” affiliated with their paper or magazine. The bottom line is that it puts blogging in a box and adds a structure which can really undercut reflection and dialogue. Online publishing has it’s place, but I tend to see it as a different animal.

    Your comment about reading is key. This is especially true if one expects student blogs to succeed. If “blogging” is imposed on a class, and the teacher doesn’t learn to be a reader and sincere commenter, how can we expect students to see it as anything different than another writing assignment?

    Thanks for the insights.

  • Very timely post, Dean. Thanks for sharing it. I will pass it on to my staff here in White Oak.

    Scott S. Floyds last blog post..Here Comes Everybody, but is Everybody Else Prepared?

  • Dean,
    This is all so important! I have been through silent reading from blogs with my third graders for 2 years now and have learned a lot, believe me. One thing I found – and this goes along with your blogging is mostly about reading – is that I absolutely did NOT allow writing at certain times. Otherwise my kids were drawn to writing comments, almost like bugs to a bright light. What a problem, eh? Having to stop kids from writing? But then they stopped reading. Like I said, I’ve learned a lot in the process. Hopefully they’ve picked up a little along the journey as well… Next year I’ll have 4 XO’s as ebook/blog readers.

    Here’s the first of a series from my blog, from early 2007: Is this SSR 2.0? Oh, and the comment thing. Gordon Brune, a classblogmeister early adopter, called it Comment Love. Kind of like getting letters in the mail, like my folks always said – gotta write ’em to get ’em.

    Mark Ahlnesss last blog post..Ednet is now Ednet2

  • It’s not really a mystery why my first class blog failed. It was little more than a static show and tell with some bells and whistles like animoto and a vodpod. Started last September, dead by Remembrance Day. Failure leads to learning, learning leads to success.
    You are right that blogs are easy to create–just a few clicks. But I hadn’t done the reading to really understand what their purpose is.
    I think it was getting involved in Classroom 2.0, and then getting RSS, followed by a tentative step into the 31 Day Comment Challenge that put things into perspective and gave me more courage. Getting hooked into conversations with people is pretty enticing. People like Sue Waters at the edublogger are doing amazing service to help newbies trouble shoot the details, but see the big picture, too.
    I am ready now to start blogging in earnest with my students. My biggest concern is access for reading (and later writing) as we are a school of 500 K-7 kids with one lab of 30. Calls for creativity and advocacy.
    Thanks for the links at the end of the post–I have Jeff Utecht’s K-12 Online presentation on my IPod (as well as yours).

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  • Lisa Eden

    Ben Grey makes a good point with respect to student accountability and parents who blame the teacher for what might go wrong with the blog. So, ultimately, what is the bottom line here? Personally, I am afraid of what might happen to me should a problem arise. Are we protected or not? Your thoughts, please?

  • Lisa,

    I think the lines of responsibility are blurred here. If you use a service like classblogmeister there is virtually no risk. You as a teacher moderate every post and comment if you choose. I often think this is a great place for teachers to begin however even if you simply have students create blogs on their own, the work they produce is ultimately their own. Students already have the power to create spaces outside of school where they can post whatever they like. Schools often choose to turn a blind eye to this and distance themselves from this and avoid creating any similar spaces in schools. This is sad choice since it relegates students to learn how to be responsible and thoughtful with no guidance and support.

    As far as inappropriate comments coming through, other than spam, it’s rare. Clarence Fisher who has been blogging openly with classes for 4 years has had 2 inappropriate comments in that time. He used those as teachable moments.

    The bottom line is expect things to go wrong, expect students to make poor choices but be determined to learn and teach from these situations.

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  • Excellent post Dean. I shall be certainly be directing my colleagues and other teachers to your valuable points. Cheers, John.

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  • Yvette

    our school has just started out with classroom blogging with a few of us trying it out. (a little timidly i must admit – this being my first reply ever) i am grateful to edublogger to reffering this post. just in time. I will be referring to it with my group. thankyou

    to Jan – what are your creative ideas for access? we also have the lab, plus one or two classroom computers (that sometimes work) and i would be grateful for any input

  • Alyssa

    Thank you so much for your insights, Dean. I’ll be introducing a blog-project into a university-level ESL course this fall and I really appreciate your reminder about the importance of reading and providing high-quality, reflective comments as a way to help build readership.

    Also, Jan Smith makes an excellent and (at least in some cases) overlooked point about the importance of RSS feeds. I don’t have my own blog (I know, I know) but I subscribe to a dozen or so blogs through google reader. The subscription feature makes it so easy for me to access the blogs I enjoy and keep up on my reading and commenting. I appreciate the reminder about the RSS feeds – I’ll remember to have my students implement a similar tool.

  • Thanks Dean, I discovered this post at just the right moment! The advice is excellent and, hopefully, just what I need to convince a colleague to persist with her blogging journey. Also a timely reminder for me to comment more on others’ blogs.

    I am running a workshop on blogging at my school and your blog has saved me twice now!!!

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  • Yvette,

    Not sure I have any new ideas regarding access but if you can encourage those students who have access at home to blog, I think you’ll find it continues to expand the idea that learning takes place everywhere. That’s where the real transformation takes place.

  • Looking to start a student/parent/teacher reading blog to help kids share the books they’ve read, and to encourage them to try books recommended by other kids. Glad to find Would be interested in any existing classroom/family reading blogs (written primarily by kids). If anyone knows of any, please share.

  • Because I work at a low SES high school, blogging was not an activity teachers even considered using. Last year I ventured into the activity with my students. I teach accelerated and regular juniors (grade 11) in Language Arts/English. I used my accelerated as guinea pigs and pushed them deeper into the blogging activities than I did with the regulars. Yet the results were amazing. Normally getting homework completed with accelerated students is not too much of a problem, but what really struck me was the response from the regular level students. Homework was completed when it required blogging responses – even by the students without computers at home. This was a learning experience for us all, but quite a successful one. The district office has been monitoring my activities closely, as I am the only teacher currently delving into this realm, but I’m getting results. My test district assessment test scores increased 20 points, and I believe it was greatly due to this activity.

    After completing some research this summer, I sat down and structured the implementation of the blogging – which was a bit bumpy last year. Students completely invest themselves in this. With inspiration from Jim Burke and Bob Barsanti’s ideas, I was able to restructure my website into a workable system for the 175 students I teach during the school year. One of the keys I have found to effectively getting students comfortable with the activity, requires a phasing in of the process – especially since the majority of them have never participated in this type of activity for an academic purpose. I have implemented the assignment in 9-week bursts that align with my grading periods at school. The first nine-weeks the responses are emailed to me, thus limiting the exposure of student writing until we have had time to begin making improvements and build self-confidence in that realm. The second nine-weeks, students begin responding in blogs on the site. The third nine-weeks, students will not only respond in the blogs but also respond to each other. The final nine-weeks, students will create their own blog sites with responses and conversations. Bottomline: I want my students to demonstrate BEST THINKING in their writing.

    Let me know if you have questions. Please feel free to check out my website as well; however, school has just begun, so we are only in our first nine-weeks of the roll-out plan.

    Carol Goods last blog post..World of English…

  • Thanks for helping me think through the value of blogging. I’m fearful of simply embracing technology for the sake of technology rather than looking for the educational benefits that it might bring. I really apreciated the linking between reading and writing as that is something that is foundational to my understanding of literacy.

    I also appreciate the writing in a community of writers and readers. This post has been a wonderful example of that. I’m still picking through the ideas of those who have commented.

    Jeff Jacksons last blog post..Teaching and Student Blogging That Succeeds

  • Ian Smith

    That sounds like great advice. I’d recommend that anyone who is looking for used student books to go to Liverpool Student Books.

    Hope that helps!

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  • Cleide Nascimento

    I find this article very enlightening. It´s amazing what reading can do. Just by reading this, now I understand the importance of reading and commenting on other people´s blogs more than posting to them, which is something I hadn´t realize before now. I´ll be attentive to that. Thanks.

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  • Hello guru, what entice you to post an article.

  • Ну, как сказать, понравилось 🙂 Хотя я все равно практически ничего не понял. 🙂

  • Beyond the basics, literacy skills are an anachronism. ,

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  • Well.. here I am on the playground..  "making friends".
    Reading this post has made me realize that if I want my voice to be heard then I need to listen to other peoples' voices.
    I have been a long time follower of many edublogs, but never figured out that if I want people to listen to me I need to make sure that they know I'm listening to them.  Thanks Dean for this post (I realize this is an old post).
    .-= Roxanne´s last blog ..Back to my old ways.. =-.

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