I have used student blogs in my classroom, inconsistently, over the past few years. I have seen both the benefits and drawbacks of blogging with students. However, it wasn’t until last term that I became convinced blogging is something to pursue more with students. Despite the benefits of writing fluency, I have had quite a negative view of student blogs, especially since I do not feel blogs are an example of writing for an authentic audience, as many claim. However, last term, the writing my students did really shifted this perspective.
I had several requirements of my students’ blog posts, one of which I feel really impacted their writing. They had to write two posts a week and several comments to other students posts. For one of their posts, they were free to write anything. However, for the other post, they had to write based on some outside source. That is, they had to read something and then post a summary-response, an analysis, use it as a discussion piece in writing, etc.
This last requirement I think made all the difference. The posts that were written on outside sources were often more interesting, usually synthesized several sources, and always connected back to their own personal experiences, especially their student experiences. I had posts about the best ways to study, the benefits of meditation, and lots of inspirational quotes.
Their other posts, the ones in which they were free to write about anything, were also very good. One post celebrated being a woman, experiences studying with students from other countries, the university experience, vegetarianism, and the importance of criticism.
Not all posts were golden. But, for the students who took the blog more seriously (and often made the most comments) the blog was a great outlet to express their ideas, was great English practice, and was in general beneficial (according to their evaluations).
If you have not done blogging with students, I highly recommend it! It will give them an opportunity to grow as writers and you an opportunity to learn about your students from a different perspective.
Notes about Blogging
In the past, I used WordPress for blogging. I use WordPress for my own blog. But, WordPress requires more set-up, more explanation, and more practice. This time, I chose Google’s blog platform, Blogger. I couldn’t have been happier. There were no new accounts that had to be created (students either had their own Gmails or the Gmail-linked university email) and the writing platform is extremely easy to use.
Typically, when I have students blog, I have them do so for fluency, not accuracy. I typically do not comment on their grammar or language usage. Instead, I focus on their thoughts and ideas. However, this time, by student request, I did give some feedback on language usage. I used Genius, a simple web-annotation tool, to provide comments on their blog. Genius is really simple to use for both the teacher and the student. Here’s how to use it:
- Visit your student’s blog post, read it and enjoy it.
- Example: http://elivoices.blogspot.com/2016/02/how-has-your-thinking-been-affected-by.html (non-annotated blog post)
- When you are ready to make some annotations (e.g. grammar and language use comments) add the words genius.it/ before the URL and click enter:
- Example: http://genius.it/elivoices.blogspot.com/2016/02/how-has-your-thinking-been-affected-by.html (annotated blog post)
- This will bring you to the annotation page. Simply highlight some text, click “annotate” and make a comment. (You may have to create an account first.)
- Share the Genius.it URL with the student in their blog comments.
- That’s it! Give it a try.