Blogging : The writing’s not on the wall (or window)

A few years ago, I attempted a class blog with Year 5 students. Not many of them contributed and now I know why. I was asking them to express their thoughts about a topic of little interest to them. I thought the technology would be the catch but as Jenkins et al explain, although technology is important, it is more important that it fulfill a need for a particular user.

Image: Geralt
Image: Geralt. CCO Public Domain

I’d do things differently this time. My research on blogs has led me to three conclusions to support the use of blogging in the classroom. First, blogs provide students with an authentic audience for their writing. Second, and following on from the first, blogs provide an authentic opportunity for students to learn about appropriate online behaviours. Finally, blogs can be a useful tool to trace students’ learning journeys.

Blogging can improve Writing

Maria Howard (2011, p 33), a primary teacher, describes the enthusiastic and on-task behaviour of her students as they write posts for their class blog. She claims blogging encourages students to write because they’re writing for a real audience. Hani Morgan notes this may be particularly applicable for reluctant writers. When introducing students to blogging, teachers may feel more comfortable limiting this audience to parents, relatives and peers.  As students and teachers become more familiar with the process, the audience may be expanded to more distant students, similar to the traditional pen pal setup. Morgan describes how quickly students identify the need to attend to grammar, punctuation and clear sentence structure when writing posts on which others may comment.  Blogging for an audience may be a great way to improve the quality of students’ writing, but as Morgan points out, blogging for blogging’s sake will yield few educational benefits. This is where I went wrong with my first attempt to encourage student blogging.

Image: Jeff Peterson. laptops 001. CC BY 2.0
Image: Jeff Peterson. laptops 001. CC BY 2.0

Blogging can teach Online Safety

Another spin-off from blogging for a real audience is that it naturally teaches students about their online presence. Kathleen Morris writes that class blogging provides her students with almost daily discussions about online safety. No-one’s suggesting formal digital citizenship lessons be abandoned, but concepts covered in these lessons can be reinforced as students put theory into practice.

Blogging for Reflection

There are many ways to incorporate blogging in the classroom to improve writing. I’ve written about fanfiction in a previous post, and to my mind blogging and fanfiction fit like hand and glove. I can picture my students now, blogging about their favourite texts (including movies and games), commenting on the characters, images, and game strategy. But I would also like to try using blogging for reflection. Howard (2011, p. 33) describes how she plans for blog time before, during and after lessons to catch students’ before-and-after understandings. Presently I have student inquiry questions about living things on my classroom windows. It’s a visual reminder of the students’ ideas at the start of the unit, but they could have also blogged new questions and new understandings as the unit progressed, tracing how their learning evolved. Blogging can be a great way for students, teachers and parents to trace students’  learning journeys.

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Science wonderings written on the classroom windows.
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Blogging could trace this student’s learning over the unit.

I’d love to hear your experiences and ideas about blogging. For further information about blogging in the classroom and tips for teaching students about posting comments see Traci Gardner’s Teaching with Blogs Strategy Guide.

References:

Howard, M. (2011). Not an unfeasible “extra”. Science and Children, 49(4), 32-35. Retrieved 24.10.15 from http://search.proquest.com/docview/916226299?accountid=13380

Writing in the Treehouse: Fan Fiction

I don’t write fanfiction, but I think it’s a great thing. It’s got to make the process of writing easier to start because you already know the characters and their world. Presumably, you’re really into them. Fanfic can be inspired by books, TV, movies, games.

Image: Lucélia Ribeiro. CC BY-SA 2.0. from https://www.flickr.com/photos/lupuca/8720604364
Image: Lucélia Ribeiro. CC BY-SA 2.0.

Students as Producers

The really awesome thing about fanfic is that it helps kids to become producers, not only consumers of texts. Christina Olin-Scheller and Patrik Wikstrom use Toffler’s termprosumer to highlight the importance of fans’ participation with the text. Katie Behrens emphasises that fanfic needs to be transformative rather than derivative and therefore contain substantial original material. Yet fanfic etiquette requires writers stay within the canon i.e. the world of the text created by the author. In the primary school context this might be less rigidly enforced, particularly for reluctant writers. But, remaining within the canon could enable teachers to gauge students’ comprehension of the text, particularly character traits.

Image: Carissa Rogers. CC BY 2.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/goodncrazy/5437572328
Image: Carissa Rogers. CC BY 2.0.

When students are inspired by a text to write fanfic, there is potential for them to become involved in a community of similarly inspired writers, or an affinity space. An authentic fanfic community provides members with the feeling that their writing matters to someone. Group members share and receive feedback on their work. To nourish such a community within a classroom/school the teacher can encourage several groups of students to write fanfic based on texts that are relevant to them. Debra Sprague has created a wonderful forum for primary school students to share and receive feedback on their fanfic. Where the Story Never Ends is a purposefully created site for primary school writers. Alternatively, students could upload their fanfic to school based websites.

Image: Debra Sprague, from https://kidfanfiction.pbworks.com/w/page/44891487/Kid%20Fan%20Fiction
Image: Debra Sprague, kidfanfiction

Inspired by The Treehouse Books

Survey results suggest my Year 3 students could be inspired to write fanfic by Andy Griffiths’ and Terry Denton’s The Treehouse books. I know most of them have read these books. Some of them were in my Year 2 class last year and I read them The 13-Storey Treehouse and took them to a theatre adaptation of it. The boys especially loved drawing their own treehouse designs; they would create group drawings that required up to 12 pieces of A4 paper taped together. This was a wonderfully collaborative experience for them.

Image: The 52-Storey Treehouse audiobook on ipad
Image: The 52-Storey Treehouse audiobook on iPad

How to start writing after reading any of these books with the class? Students could collaborate to produce group drawings and discuss possible story lines as they draw. The exchange of language and ideas can propel students to write individual or shared fanfic. A fantastic idea from Debra Sprague is to provide students with fanfic mentor texts written by the teacher (or other teachers or older students). Simple innovation on a text, a common classroom writing strategy, can be the beginnings of fanfic. Students could also create cartoon strip fanfic using Comic Creation Apps.

Book Fair: Treehouse Series display
Book Fair Treehouse books display. These books sold like hotcakes and have potential to inspire readers to write fanfic.

I’ve looked at how The Treehouse books could be a perfect fit for many of my Year 3 students. What texts (books, games, TV shows, movies) can you see inspiring fanfic with students? I’d love to hear your ideas.