This lesson gives a detailed description of how to set up and use blogs with middle school students.
Setting up blogs on Blogger is quite easy. Here is how:
At this point I am at the fifth day of instruction so the students now have something to work with for my weekly assignment, the reflective blog. The blog is the basis of the year-long game I have set up for my students, but it can be done without all the XP bells and whistles simply as a weekly exercise in reflection using a journal.
The blogs are always done outside of class, but since this is the first one for the year, I set aside one day to provide directions and clarification on the expectations
I like doing electronic blogs, because then I don't have to carry journals around. My students all have one-to-one access to computers in my class, and I offer time after school to students that might have their home electronics on restriction and/or do not have computers at home.
However, I always give the option of "paper blogs", and even make it a big production of the students that go the "extra mile" to blog on paper, giving all sorts of kudos and incentives (especially when I know that they are choosing this option because of a lack of electronics at home).
Anyway, I start the lesson simply by presenting the video I made for this purpose.
This video is based on the rationale I share in my blog. I share the rationale with parents on back to school night to gather their support and interest in reading their students' blogs.
I also pass out the closing reflection post-its the students have created this week so they can reference this information as they write their blogs.
Once the video is done, I project the Blog Instructions, Summary Frames and Rubric, and we go over each one by one, clarifying each. The process for this includes asking for examples and non-examples.
This process of clarification sometimes takes some time, but I find that the clearer the students are on the expectation, the better work I get.
I also show them how to navigate within our class website where they can find copies of everything we went through.
My students have one-to-one computers in all classrooms and access to Blogger accounts through our school's Google for Education domain. If your school does not have access, students can still create Blogger accounts using their G-mail.
The blog is the background of the year-long game I have set up for my students. This reflective practice is important to me and the students as a way to increase the writing skills and stamina they will need during their lives. It also prompts them to think back on what they learned and the journey they have taken so far. Finally, if done electronically, it helps build a positive digital footprint. I even tell the students, "How powerful would it be that a prospective employer 20 years from now finds this type of record of you as a reflective learner, instead of the collection of funny cat videos you now have!"
Blogging also addresses all Common Core writing standards. Not only do they provide a natural opportunity to write for extended periods of time (W.7.10), but they have to defend their claims with supporting evidence (W.7.1), write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information (W.7.2), and produce clear and coherent writing (W.7.4). Blog writing is, in a way, the obvious choice for W.7.6 - "Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and link to and cite sources as well as to interact and collaborate with others, including linking to and citing sources". I invite you to take a peek into some of my students' blogs: Gradvs, Smadvs, Esadvs, Mnadvs.
As the students are working on their blog, I circulate the room to ensure that all are working on the blog and not on finding pictures for it.
During this time, I also introduce the "screens to listening height" command. This means that screens are down to approximately 30 degrees, and fingers are off keyboards. When I do it for the first time, I don't actually tell them to do anything, I simply lower my screen and a couple of others, and the rest of the class gets the idea rapidly.
Since the screen is a powerful distractor, and I have noticed that if screens are up the students will not actually listen to what I have to say, I use this command often when the students are working on the laptops and I need to get the attention of the whole class.
About ten minutes before the end of class, I have students wrap-up their thoughts and save their work since most of them are not done. At this point I share a Google form in order to collect their blog addresses. The form gives me a spreadsheet with all their names and addresses, so they don't even have to do anything to turn their weekly blog in. They just have to write it and I can visit their blog at the end of each week to grade it/award points.
Once they have submitted their URL, they are dismissed by tables to put their computers away.
For today's closure, we have a brief discussion where volunteers share what went well and what didn't, when composing their first blog of the year.