Blogging -- or Web logging -- most often is thought of as an activity for high school students. Did you know, however, that students as young as kindergarten age now blog on a daily basis in a variety of exciting ways? Read on to find out how elementary blogging works, what topics elementary students and teachers cover in their blogs, which software programs and tools to consider, and cautions and tips for starting your own blog. INCLUDED: More than two-dozen links to blogging software and to elementary blogs across the United States.
At its core, blogging -- or Web logging -- is a method of online journaling. Take a look at any blog and you'll immediately see the connection between it and a traditional diary. Often arranged in calendar format with the most recent post first, blogs contain rantings, wishes, commentary and anything else a writer thinks about, often with graphics and perhaps even with audio and video elements.
As David Warlick points out on his Web site, however, the blog has evolved rapidly into something more:
Number 1: A blog is a Web-publishing concept that enables anyone -- first graders, political pundits, homeless people, high school principals, presidential candidates -- to publish information on the Internet.
Number 2: A blog (a shortening of weB LOG) has become a journalistic tool, a way to publish news, ideas, rants, announcements, and ponderings very quickly, and without technical, editorial, and time constraints. It essentially makes anyone a columnist. In fact, many established columnists now publish their own blogs.
Number 3: Blogs, because of their ease of use, and because of the context of news and editorial column writing, have become a highly effective way to help students to become better writers. Research has long shown that students write more, write in greater detail, and take greater care with spelling, grammar, and punctuation, when they are writing to an authentic audience over the Internet.
ELEMENTARY BLOGGING IN ACTION
Want to hear how blogging really works? Check out Brenda Dyck's article Log On To a Blog. In it, Brenda describes her reasons for using blogs, suggests steps for getting started, offers student feedback, provides a rubric she uses to evaluate student blogs, and recommends links to more information.
Educators know that students write better when they have a real audience -- not just a teacher with a red pen. In the past, finding such an audience was a challenge. But with Internet access and some basic software, any student can write for the world to see. Although blogging in schools is still in its infancy, anecdotal evidence suggests that students' interest in, and quantity of, writing increases when their work is published online and -- perhaps even more importantly -- when it is subject to reader comments.
So, what do students in grades K-6 blog about? In its blog, Mr. Brune's 4th grade class at Mamaroneck Avenue School in Mamaroneck, New York, created an online commentary on today's news stories. At Shepard Elementary School in Columbia, Missouri, Mr. Villasana's fourth-graders contribute to the class blogs.
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO START BLOGGING?
Many middle and high school classes use such Web-based programs as Blogger or LiveJournal. Although easy to use, those tools are not specific to the education community and might not have all the safety and supervisory features a teacher, particularly an elementary grade teacher, needs.
The simplest way to begin is to download a program like Blogmeister. Developed by David Warlick, founder of the Landmark Project, this free blogging tool is completely online; there's no software to install. The teacher sets up the blog and student accounts, and students can add their own entries. The teacher reviews each post and either approves and publishes the entry or returns it to the student for editing before reviewing it again. Click here to read excerpts from student blogs at Blogmeister.
Another easy alternative is KidzBlog. KidzBlog is an affordable, secure, and simple solution for the elementary teacher wanting to blog on just one classroom computer. Downloads are available for both Windows and Mac OS X, and the program resides on that one computer rather than on a school server or elsewhere. Set-up is a matter of just a few steps (choosing a name, selecting design elements, and so on). Then, students write their entries and illustrate them with the simple drawing tools included with KidzBlog. Password protection ensures that what students write or draw will not go online until the teacher enters the password.
For teachers with advanced tech skills and interest in open source software, Thingamablog might be a good choice. Thingamablog runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux machines, but requires a Web site hosted on a school, district, or other third-party server.
SAFETY, SAFETY, SAFETY
Although every K-12 student must be kept safe, the age and emerging critical skills of elementary students make ensuring their online safety paramount. First, find out what your district or school Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) says about posting student work and names online. Often, students' first names may be published, along with group photos, as long as there is no indication which name belongs to which student. Be sure to check your district's AUP before proceeding, however.
Next, consider using a blogging program/online tool that requires a password to publish. That way, you as the teacher have final say about what goes online, and you can edit out any identifying information (such as a student's home address!) before it becomes public.
Blogging in the elementary grades is an exciting and doable activity. Be sure to check out the information in the yellow sidebar above (one teacher's story) before beginning your blogging adventure!
Article by Lorrie Jackson
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