I started planning my student blog project last fall. I mentioned that I had tried a variation of student blogging with previous classes, but didn’t care for the results. Although it is still very early in the project, I really like the changes I made and the results so far are encouraging. Let me start off by describing how I organized this project.
Purpose: I want my students to produce written communication for an authentic audience. I also want my students to self-select and internalize vocabulary that is of interest to them, and that in turn, they might be able to use in other forms of communication. Another goal for this project is to allow students to gain confidence using web 2.0 tools, and develop an academic presence online. It’s my hope that students will continue to write in their blogs as long as they are enrolled in a Spanish class at my high school, giving them a digital portfolio that reflects their growing fluency over the next two and a half years.
I wanted a component of this project to be student driven, so I allowed them to select any topic that was school appropriate to write about. I gave them a week to think of what they might want to write about. This has been the biggest difference between previous blogging projects. Last time I attempted a blogging project, I gave my students a prompt or assignment, and had them write to that.
Audience: Although I would like for my students to have an audience of native Spanish speakers, I have not been able to successfully find that audience for them. I teach a total of 120 intermediate language learners, and I believe that they can be their own audience. I have assigned a specific “blog buddy” to each student. This student is in their physical class, and will be the primary peer editor during this project. In addition, I had my students self-select 3 other blog buddies from any of my Spanish classes. They signed up for their partners on a spreadsheet that identified the blog topic and blog url. When a student’s slots were filled, the student would need to select a student that still had available slots. Some students selected blog buddies based on the topic, but most selected blog buddies based on friendship. Each student has at least 4 blog readers, but I have noticed that some students are visiting and reading other blogs beyond the 4 that they have selected.
Organization tools: I am using Google Docs and our class Ning to help manage the organization. I loaded my class roster on a Google Spreadsheet, and had each student type in their blog url and topic. I have each of these documents posted online on the sidebar on our class Ning. Students can always go to the Google Doc to get the url if they need to. After they added the urls, I change the permission on the Google Docs so that students wouldn’t accidently delete information. I printed a spreadsheet with the student names and had the students use this one to sign up for their blog buddies. I kept the hard copy in case I have to refer to it or if the students forget who their blog buddies are.
I did a little research on blogging formats and decided to use Blogger. Our district is using Google Apps, so the same account that they use for Google Docs, and Gmail should also work for their blog. Our high school is in the process of rolling out these web tools. Most of my students are just starting to use some of these tools this year, so that meant that my students were using their Google account for the first time when they signed up for their blog.
I found out the hard way that having more than 25 blog requests coming from the same IP address raises a flag at Blogger, and after my first class created their blogs, my third bell students were denied the requested blog. I believe Blogger thought it was being spammed. I switched platforms with my fifth bell class to Wordpress. The same thing happened there after 20 or so blogs were created. This means that I have students working off of two blogging platforms. The good news is I get to compare the two, and see which is easier to use for future projects. The students who were not able to create their blog in class did it for homework. Both platforms are easy enough to figure out, and with one or two exceptions, the students successfully had a blog to start writing on the following day.
If you are doing this with a single class, I don’t think you will have any problems. If you have more than 30 students, you will want to have the students create their blog at home or stagger the classes that are creating the blogs over the course of a few days.
Previously, my student’s blogs were housed on our class Ning. Although this is very convenient and easy to use, the blogs would not follow them when they moved to Spanish 4. They can also customize what their blogs look like with both Blogger and Wordpress, and I think it helps give them a sense of ownership over them. Another advantage is other readers can comment on these blogs outside of our school. The class Ning has a limited membership, and non-members cannot leave comments.
I will do my best to write a follow up post on how I have been grading this project, and share a few sample student posts within the next few days. If you have any experience with student blogging, I would love to hear from you.