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Voice of ExperienceEmerging online communication tools have the potential to unleash a new level of creative thought in the classroom. This week, educator Brenda Dyck shares her recent experiences with an online journaling tool called a blog (Web log). Included: A special rubric for measuring the learning value of blogging, plus a variety of online resources for implementing blogging in the classroom.

I've been trying my hand at blogging.

Don't be concerned! It's not dangerous; in fact, it might be just what you need to get your students "re-interested" in journaling or writing!

Blogs (short for "Web logs") are web-based diaries or journals -- online thinking spaces where students can write their thoughts. A blog can be a private space or a place where readers can respond in a bounce-and-catch style of communication.

In Writing With Web Logs authors Glen and Gina Bull herald blogs as having "the potential to reinvent how we work with journals in classrooms, challenging teachers and students to think about writing in authentic ways." I have to agree. After a term of experimenting with classroom blogs, I have a sneaking suspicion they have the potential to entice the NetGeneration to write and reflect -- willingly, that is.


I first introduced blogging to students in my enrichment class. The focus of our class was The Eleanor Rigby Project, a telecollaborative project that explored the issue of homelessness. Through this project, I wanted my students to learn the facts and figures surrounding homelessness. My other goal was to shake up their mental models about why people live on the streets and what keeps them there, and to encourage them to consider possible solutions to this ever-growing social problem.

I thought blogging might be the perfect format for students to record their thinking on this big issue, so I introduced my students to the free blogging site I created a blog for each student. Their blogs would be their workspaces; they would be places where students could "debrief" -- write their thoughts -- after our daily classroom discussions, and they would be jumping-off points for future classroom interactions. I would read and respond to students' blogs, and I would post questions, as well as primary and secondary resources, to encourage students to explore their questions and conundrums about the homeless and homelessness.


What kind of thinking did my students express in their blogs? Here is one entry from a student blog:
"One of my own opinions on homes and the homeless is that there are people in the world who may have a roof over their heads but can still be homeless, like orphans and wives whose husbands abuse them. To me a home is more than a house; it is a place where you feel " at home." How can you call a place a home if you feel alone and insecure there? There is a song by the Dixie Chicks called "A Home" and it sort of talks about that. The chorus goes: 'Not a night goes by that I don't dream of wandering, through a house that might have been a home. I listen to my pride... and every day I wake up in, in a house that might have been a home.' The song also touches on the fact that a lot of people are homeless because of decisions they have made. I would like to explore that a little more. I know that I would never get over myself if I knew that I was on the street or all alone just because I did a few stupid things."

Amazed at the depth of this student's insight, I blogged back:
"You have shared some extraordinary ideas here. You are right. Someone can have a roof over their head and still feel homeless because of fear or discord. Your song effectively communicates what you are saying. Do you think it is possible for a homeless child to feel like they have a home even though they don't have a permanent place to live?"


When the topic of learning is one such as homelessness, assessing the affective learning that takes place is always a challenge. "How do I take a qualitative-based activity like a blog and turn it into a quantitative grade?" That was the question on my mind as I began work on my report cards at the end of the Eleanor Rigby Project.

My solution was to design a blogging rubric that would enable me to attach a grade to something I previously had had only a gut feeling about. I assigned excellent, satisfactory, and unsatisfactory to

  • how well students' blogs integrated the concepts and principles from class discussions and activities;
  • how effectively students' writing conveyed their understanding of the problems and myths surrounding homelessness;
  • students' use of higher-level thinking (analysis, synthesis, and evaluation) in their blogging; and
  • how well students' blogging entries demonstrated a personal connection with the topic and applied course readings.

The virtual workspace provided me with a body of evidence to determine the understanding and learning connections made by my students during the project. Reading through their thoughts and observations allowed me to not only see if their work was completed, it gave me a bird's eye view of deep learning in action.

Additional student blog rubrics can be found here and here.


Blogging and RSS -- The "What's It?" and "How To" of Powerful New Web Tools for Educators
Will Richardson, a high school teacher and an expert in educational blogging, shares his knowledge about blogging in the classroom.

Blogging Across the Curriculum
Quinnipiac University offers this thorough guide to blogging. provides a free blogging space that's worth checking out.

A Space of Your Own
Find out how Pam Pritchard, a reading intervention specialist for elementary students in rural Ohio, uses blogging in her program.

Uses of Web Logs in Education
Scott Leslie, an educational technology researcher and emerging technology analyst, has created a matrix of uses for Web logs in education.

Brenda Dyck teaches at Master's Academy and College in Calgary, Alberta (Canada). In addition to teaching sixth grade math, Brenda works with her staff in the area of technology integration. Her "Electronic Thread" column is a regular feature in the National Middle School Association's Journal, Middle Ground. Brenda is a teacher-editor for Midlink magazine.

Article by Brenda Dyck
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Updated 2/29/2012