In a world of high-flying, ever-changing, flavour-of-the-moment digital tools, the good old blog can often be an overlooked and underappreciated tool.

A blog has a lot of hidden potential though when you start to think of it less as an online newsletter and more of as versatile tool for enhancing learning.

For example, consider how a class blog might have the potential to help parents have more informed and purposeful learning conversations at home.

“What did you do at school today honey?” *grunts* “I dunno…” NO MORE!

Blogs can help parents have better learning conversations with their children. And when parents, students, and teachers are all on the same page, having the same learning conversations, everyone benefits.

Here are a few ideas for how you could use your class blog to encourage more specific parent – student dialogue at home:

  • Add posts to your blog as prompts for discussion. “With your parent at home, discuss this issue and record your joint reflections in the comment section.”
  • “Ask your child about one of the following… Record his / her ideas in the comments.”
  • Do a weekly “Prompt” post: “This week we’ve learned about X,Y, Z. Here are some questions you can ask your child about their learning…”
  • Embed different Web 2.0 tools into a blog post to gather feedback, opinions, and ideas. Padlet, Popplet, or FlipGrid are great for this. Ask students and parents to post together.
  • Make it the parents responsibility to comment: “Billy talked to me about X. He said that…”
  • Many international schools have parents with varying degrees of English, be sure to post lots of visual content – photos, videos – to remove that barrier. Make sure parents and students know it’s OK to comment in their first language.
  • After a field trip, post about the experience on the blog. Ask: “Parents who couldn’t make it, have you ever been to X? What are your thoughts / perspectives on this issue?”
  • “With a family member at home, give this image a caption. Record it as a comment.”
  • “Teach a family member one of the math strategies you learned at school today. Were they able to solve the practice problem you gave them? Leave a comment about the experience!”

You get the idea.

If you’ve only considered blogs as a one-way communication tool you’re really missing out on a lot the potential here.

Dust off the old blog, advertise it with parents, co-author posts with students, put in your homework grid, read comments together in class, consider how it can be used to facilitate conversations at home… and get blogging!

How else might we use blogs to enhance the student – parent learning relationship? Leave ’em in the comments!

When thinking about outward-facing learning, what is your greatest ‘take-away’ in terms of your own professional development and personal practices?

Key Question 1:

If you know it [it = what ever you are creating] will be shared before you start, does it change how you approach the task?

Answer:

For me, yes.

Key Question 2:

Is that change positive, negative, or neutral?

Answer:

It’s a positive, mostly. To ensure an audience / reader could grasp what I’m saying in a blog post, I need to make sure my writing is clear and the ideas well articulated (as much as is in my power to do so). To do this I need to plan, synthesise, and draft all my posts. I combine ideas, I expand others, and I explore the topic of the post through the initial generative process then hone in on my main points through the drafting, cutting, and synthesizing phase.

This is a particular strength of written communication and why I assume assignments are still in (predominantly) written form: it allows a full exploration of a topic in a structured, guided, referenced manner.

But blogging is different from writing an assignment, as anyone with an internet connection could potentially stumble onto it. (Note: I still put all my assignments up online though after I get them back, just because).

Someone is able to leave a comment, to add their perspective to the issue, and therefore help take my own thinking into new directions. This means when publishing online, it’s never really publishing for good – the story is evolving and iterative. The knowledge is not static. There is rarely one right answer.

Even so, if I’m blogging, I take it seriously. Someone reading my blog (lol?) is able to get a sense of who I am professionally, what I stand for, and what I believe through each blog post. I don’t want a reader to think “he doesn’t know what he’s on about”, “this is rubbish”, or “he hasn’t done his research.” I take pride in my blogging, and I want it to show the kind of professional, reflective teacher I am.

To be honest, I also know future recruiters / schools may peruse my blog before an interview, so I want this digital reflection of my personal persona to be up to scratch.

But because of this, I’ve suffered from analysis paralysis on many occasions. The amount of blog posts I’ve thought up, planned, then shelved because I think they are not “good enough” ideas are many. Which is a shame – that many of my ideas and reflections are tucked away in an Evernote folder somewhere, not able to be shared, commented on, or connected to. Even if they are half-baked, or useless, they still should be out there – someone could stumble upon one of the thoughts or ideas I’ve published, and even though it might not resonate with them or they might think it sucks, it might propel them into other more interesting lines of inquiry.

Actually though, while my care levels are still high – I do care what people think – they seem to be diminishing with each consecutive year on this planet. You can’t please everyone, and even if you could, why should you. Perfect is the enemy of done etc. I don’t need to be a perfectionist – I need to give X task a good shot to the best of my ability in the timeframe I have allocated, then move on with life. To do otherwise is the road to stress and burnout.

So, my personal goal this year is to cultivate and practice this attitude more. Publishing my outward-facing learning need not be a big deal. I don’t need to agonise over it. I need to get it out there. Because the more teachers just “get it out there” the more nodes of knowledge there are in the world, the more connections become available, and the more transparency there is in our industry. It’s selfish to lock up ideas and reflections, wins and fails, within the four walls of your classroom.

This was my first shot.

I do not apologise for any spelling errors, run on sentences, or jumbled thinking.

 

CC0 image via unsplash.com

CC0 via Unsplash.com

At school, we’ve introduced “Blogfolios” in Grade 4 and 5. These are, in fact, WordPress blogs with the dual purpose of providing a blogging platform and a digital portfolio platform. They have been received well with teachers and students, but we’re just waiting for the inevitable parent inquiry about the publicness of them, the comparing students issue, or the spelling mistake / grammar error comments. So I pre-wrote our response:

 

At **** we believe in the power of technology to bring people together. And it’s not just us; the research literature is unequivocal. Children learn best when the significant people in their lives – parents, teachers, friends, and other family and community members – work together to encourage and support their development. With current technology access, there has never been a better opportunity to connect in-school learning to this wider network of significant others.

 

In Grade 4 and 5, the platform we use to enable these connections are individual student “Blogfolios”. Blogfolios are semi-public: they are not indexed by search engines, but are accessible via unique URL. This allows students and teachers to extend classroom discussions, feedback, formative evaluations, and reflections into a digital environment, and continue the collaborative, social learning which the Primary Years Programme of the International Baccalaureate highlights.

 

The semi-public nature of the Blogfolios allows significant others to enter into the learning loop: parents, grandparents in other countries, extended family, and friends.

 

In classrooms, we work a lot with students about how to give effective feedback, appropriate responses to the learning of others, and how everyone is different and at different stages of the learning journey. We celebrate diversity and acknowledge everyone has different goals, and that learning will look different from one student to the next.

 

We expect the same level of responsible, appropriate behavior with the stakeholders students and teachers invite into the learning loop (parents, grandparents, friends etc). In class, we do not compare our own learning with others, we are not negative, we do not judge. For parents and grandparents interacting with Blogfolios at home, we ask the same to be true: only have positive, supportive learning conversations over Blogfolios. These conversations will constitute powerful role-modeling of inclusive and respective ideals, and reinforce the kinds of conversations students are engaging in at school.

 

Furthermore, students are learning first-hand how the interactions in digital environments are no different than the interactions in real environments; just because something is online does not mean you can act in a different way. This prepares students well for their growing interactions in digital spaces in their own lives through the development of digital citizenship competencies and skills. Our Blogfolios are sites to practise safe sharing, online interaction, ethics, and the building of a positive digital footprint – key skills to have as students enter their teenage years.

 

We believe strongly in the power of Blogfolios for the holistic development of students in our increasingly digital world.