This page is devoted to teaching blogging in the primary school. I’ll paste a series of excerpts from an essay I wrote recently (for a Uni assignment on the topic). If you prefer the ‘drive-through‘ version, by all means skip the theory and scroll waaaaay down to the Take Away Menu. There you’ll find a suggested process for setting up classroom blogging with links to a range of useful resources to help you get started. I use the process outlined below with Year 3 classes but you could start with younger students by scaffolding the reading and writing tasks.
Many Birds, One Stone:
Blogging toward essential literacies in the digital age primary classroom
by Maria Mead
The students who will graduate this year from Australian secondary schools spent their first few years of schooling in a world without Facebook, Bebo, Twitter or YouTube. Today, as they stand on the threshold of adulthood, social media has become an integral part of their daily existence and a crucial means by which they engage in personal relationships and with popular culture. Such rapid social and technological change has initiated a major revision of education systems, school curriculum and classroom pedagogy throughout the developed world. Though too late to affect today’s school leavers, the launch of a new Australian Curriculum (Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority, n.d.) attempts to address the rapidly evolving needs of 21st century learners and equip them for uncertain futures. Digital literacies, student-centred inquiry and multimodal texts are key components, infusing all Learning Areas and General Capabilities.
For today’s youth, new digital media literacies are essential to a successful future. Engagement with popular social media practices integral to young people’s personal lives must be thoughtfully incorporated into daily classroom practice if we are to fully engage students in schooling and prepare them adequately for success in life and work in the digital age. Blogging offers superlative literacy training as it offers rich, real and relevant ways to develop essential 21st century literacies before children become independent users of social media. This thesis will be argued within the context of Australia’s national curriculum and Web 2.0 practices in schools by examining key literacy issues raised by Hall (2011) and Crook (2012), along with reflections on my own experience as primary teacher and eLearning Coordinator, which spans the last several decades of digital revolution.
 Launched in 2004 as a social networking site for Harvard College students. A version was launched for high school students in 2005 (Curtis, 2013).
 An acronym for Blog Early, Blog Often. Launched in 2005 (Curtis, 2013).
 Launched in 2006 as a social networking and microblogging site (Curtis, 2013).
 Began storing videos for public retrieval and viewing in 2005 (Curtis, 2013).
 Literacy, Numeracy, Information Communication Technology Capability, Personal and Social Capability, Critical and Creative Thinking, Ethical Understanding, and Intercultural Understanding (ACARA, n.d.).
 The second generation of internet services which offer online collaboration and interaction between users.
Connecting curriculum to children’s lived experiences, interests and expertise has been shown to have positive effects on learning and achievement. Numerous research studies highlight the importance of “home-school congruence” (Arthur, 2005, p. 166). Effective partnerships between parents and educators that involve dialogue and the development of shared understandings about social media literacies should be forged in early childhood. Web 2.0 practices, such as blogging, support home-school partnerships by facilitating dialogue between the two contexts (Couros, 2008) and providing the scope to explore and build on students’ interests and expertise in popular culture.
Blogging is a flexible Web 2.0 service that enables instant online publishing with minimal technical or design skills (Lankshear & Nobel, 2006b, p. 139; Penrod, 2007, p. 5). A range of blogging platforms, each accompanied by extensive support services, is readily accessible at no cost to users. Additional blog features allow readers to subscribe to updates and comment on content, exemplifying the “participatory” engagement that aligns closely with young people’s recreational use of social media (Crook, 2012, p. 64; Wohlwend, 2010, p. 147; Lankshear & Knobel, 2006a, p. 7). The flexibility and equitability of blogging makes it equally suited to young and special needs students (Huffaker, 2005, p. 94; Penrod, 2007, pp. 25-30). In my school, we use visual aids and “speech to text” functions on the iPad (see Figure 1) to support these students’ blogging activity, which facilitates their access to the curriculum and encourages positive attitudes towards school.
 KidBlog (http://kidblog.org/home) and Edublogs (http://edublogs.org) are both built on the powerful and widely-used WordPress platform. Access to Edublogs is permitted from within a wide range of school networks. The free version of Edublogs is a versatile tool for establishing a class blog managed by the teacher or for individual student blogs with moderated comments. Kidblog allows teachers to set up private, password-protected individual student blogs within a class space to facilitate collaboration and sharing within a closed community.
Establishing a culture of critical engagement with texts can and must begin early in primary school. I continually see evidence that even very young children can grasp the difference in purposes and perspectives of informational versus entertainment texts. Blogging can orientate children towards a healthy critical media literacy by providing the platform for accessing, critically discussing, publishing and evaluating a range of texts. Blogging practice within a supportive learning community can also help to ease any potential discomfort as learners “come to terms with their biases and recognise the injustices promoted within pop culture texts they may have long loved” (Hall, 2011, p. 303).
Rather than mimic students’ informal uses of digital media, a rigorous and critical approach is required (Buckingham, 2007, p. 98) that acknowledges the learning landscapes of the digital era and recognises students’ desire for autonomy in directing their own learning (Hall, 2011, p. 297). Blogging offers scope for student-centred inquiry, engagement in multimodal texts, critical evaluation of content, metacognition and reflection, making blogging an immensely flexible and empowering package, which facilitates the social and collaborative learning advocated by a connectivist learning model (Seimens, 2004).
Within the ‘blogosphere’, there exists a rapidly expanding educational blogging community, which offers the novice teacher-blogger inspiration, helpful insights, support and exemplary models for blogging practice. Early years children at my school participate in class blogs, contributing comments and reflections in multiple modes, mediated by their teachers. As they progress and develop greater independence in written and digital fluency, individual student blogs are established, affording students greater autonomy, freedom of expression and management of an online identity.
Children will inevitably engage with other social media as their internet use diversifies. Participation in social networking services by Australian youth rises from 11% of 9-11 year olds to 90% of 12-17 year olds (Australian Communications and Media Authority, 2010, p. 40). Amongst 14-15 year old Australians, the most popular social networking sites are MSN Messenger (80%), MySpace (66%) and Facebook (59%) (ACMA, 2009, p. 30). More recent surveys show that youth social media use is diversifying and microblogging tools such as Twitter and Instagram are increasing in popularity (Luckerson, 2013, para. 2). Notwithstanding specific preferences, social media remains integral to youth participatory culture. Digital literacies developed during primary school will shape students’ recreational use of popular social media sites as parental monitoring and supervision declines. Over the last decade, colleagues in my wider professional network have commonly experienced a significantly higher incidence of cyberbullying and inappropriate out-of-school social media use in their upper primary classes than occurs in my school, where students are accustomed to scaffolded in-school use of social media.
 Two well-establishing class sites that I frequently show beginning blogger-teachers are: Mrs Yollis’ Classroom Blog (http://yollisclassblog.blogspot.com.au) and 4KJ @ Leopold Primary School (http://4kmand4kj.global2.vic.edu.au).
 Sample size: n = 222
Blogging is indeed the stone that targets many of the birds populating today’s digital and cultural learning landscapes. An adaptive and popular social media practice (Hagood et al, 2010, p. 25), blogging offers the ideal platform for engaging primary students in curriculum content and essential digital age literacies before recreational social media use is established and extended outside school. Schools must aim to understand the tensions between in- and out-of-school uses of participatory online tools and overcome the constraints that prevent the rich and authentic integration of social media practices. If Web 2.0 practices are “shaped and constrained by the socio-cultural settings in which [they] are used” (Crook, 2012, p. 63), then metacognitive inquiry into the contrasting demands of various socio-cultural landscapes can enlighten the teaching of critical media literacies: as students learn to think critically about what they consume, their insights will inform their production of texts.
Many commentators lament the slow take-up rate of new technologies in education (Crook, 2012; Davies & Merchant, 2009, p. 112). I would argue that this is more a reflection of an education system poorly structured to match the rapid evolution of ‘literacy’ than the suitability of participatory digital tools. Globally, education paradigms are already shifting (New Media Consortium, 2013, p. 7). In the knowledge that pedagogical transformation is easier to execute in the more flexible setting of the primary school, establishing the critical in-school use of popular social media may be more effective as a bottom-up process. Beginning rigorous blogging practice early in primary school will equip young people with the literacies necessary to assume their social and civic responsibilities in a multiliterate world.
Take Away Menu – Classroom Blogging resources
Appetiser: A Selection of Exemplary Blogs by Children
First, show your students some great blogs by kids. Here is a selection that should whet any young appetite.
- Never Seconds – “Veg”, a young Scottish girl, started a blog about her school lunches when she was nine years old. She became quite famous as her blog gained interest worldwide (see links to articles about Veg below). Veg used her blog to raise money for Mary’s Meals, to feed school children in Africa.
- Jake’s Bones – Jake is also from Scotland. He loves to go walking with his Dad to collect animal bones and writes about his adventures. His blog has gained a LOT of interest from museums and newspapers, as you can see from his header.
- Flea Reads – Flea was six when she started this video blog, with some help from her Mum. She reviews books and video games.
- Danny: My Life with Half a heart – Danny journals about his very full life with a heart problem.
- Art Splotch – You’ll find some great creative craft ideas on this arty-themed blog from a seven year old.
- Amelie’s Animals – Amelie is eight years old and has been posting on her blog since she was 5. It’s all about animals from around the world.
- Spider – Spider reviews toys. And creates Comics. And Sprites. And knows lots of other things that big people just don’t understand.
- Sky’s Cars – Nine year old Sky is crazy about cars, so he’s dedicated his blog to them. A great example of how to build a blog around a theme.
Veg’s Never Seconds blog is a fantastic story of initiative and civic participation by a young person that may inspire many of your own students to try out their own online soap box. Here are a few of the online articles so you can read up on her story:
- Article on Wired: “9-Year-Old Who Changed School Lunches Silenced By Politicians“
- Veg has kit Wikipedia!
- Article in the Mirror: “Pride of Brittain 2013: Jamie Oliver surprises schoolgirl who raised £130,000 to feed Africa’s hungry children“
- Article on ScienceLine: “The 5 things I learned from Veg and the Never Seconds blog“
- Article on WAN-IFRA‘s Editor’s Weblog: “Never Seconds: Little blogger gets big support“
Entree: Teaching Commenting
Learning to write good blog comments is like (sensibly) learning to walk before you try to run. The point is to exploit the participatory potential of the blogging platform and engage in conversation with the blogger. Blogging guru Linda Yollis has been classroom-blogging for years and has produced some excellent support materials for teaching commenting that I have found very useful. Linda’s great gift to teachers everywhere is her Educational Blogging Wiki which is packed full of resources. You should also check out Mrs Yolllis’ Class Blog to see what’s possible. Here’s a video she made with her students about commenting:
Also, check out Linda Yollis’ blog post on Learning How to Comment.
I suggest you have your students (perhaps in pairs) pick one of the blogs in the list of “Appetisers” above, choose a post and draft a good comment. Once you’ve helped them refine their drafts to publishing standard, you can post the comments on their behalf. They can continue writing regular comments once you establish your own class blog.
This is a great time to talk about the necessity for screen names and avatars to protect students’ privacy online. Check out my resource page on avatar makers, “Screenify Me“. Your students may not have their own email address or blogger profiles as early as Year 3 unless you have a one-to-one program at your school, but they can create a personal avatar to use on class work (print a few in colour for each student) or as their online identity for your school’s LMS (learning management system).
Shared Platter: A Class Blog
Once the students have a concept of blogging and understand the benefits it offers, it’s a good time to set up a blog for your class. Plan a celebratory launch once you have your first post ready and make sure you let parents know about your exciting new project. Here are two platforms you could use:
Edublogs is built on the widely used WordPress platform and is designed especially for the educational community. You may have to put up with some advertising however.
Blogger is Google’s blogging platform. It’s super easy to use and the free templates are highly customisable. You can easily remove the “Next Blog” link to ensure that students aren’t linking to inappropriate material. Blogger may be blocked in some schools however. Sign up for a class Google account here to use blogger, or build any number of blogs with your existing Google account.
A class blog is a fabulous way to give parents a window into your classroom and your students a real life audience. Like Linda Yollis, you could transform your teaching and make connections with a global audience. You might eventually join other collaborative projects.
You compose the posts at first, projecting your screen for the students to follow what you’re doing. Use think aloud strategies to model safe online behaviour which maintains the privacy of personal information. Gradually include the students to participate in composing posts, in a joint construction process.
Make sure any images and video you post do not show students’ faces and seek permission from anyone whose work or image you want to publish. Even if students have media consent from their parents, err on the side of caution so that they become super conscious about online security and ‘netiquette’.
As students are ready, encourage them to write ‘guest posts’ themselves that you publish on the class blog. You could have two students rostered each week as “class bloggers” to capture images and video and write a report on what you are learning. Encourage parents to become involved by commenting and questioning students so this valuable two-way, iterative practice becomes part of the literacy landscape in your classroom. Establishing a participatory culture amongst a group of busy families can be a tough call. Linda Yollis has a fabulous tip here she calls Family Blogging Month. Kathleen Morris has also posted about involving parents.
Side Order: QuadBlogging
David Mitchell’s QuadBlogging concept is a great way to focus your blogging experience. Your class teams up with other classes around the world which offers a diverse audience for your posts and a chance to make global connections. Teachers simply fill out a form to participate in an upcoming round. Classes are allocated to teams of four (Quads). Each week, a different class takes the spotlight and posts about what they are doing and thinking about. The other three classes respond through comments. The “spotlight” rotates through a 4 week cycle until all classes have had 2 – 3 turns in the spotlight. Simple as that.
If you have 10 minutes to spare you can watch David Mitchell himself tell you the story of QuadBlogging:
Dessert: Personal Blogs
Once you feel your students are ready, you may like to help them set up a blog of their own. In early years classes, this may not be something all students do but it could be a great extension project for more competent readers and writers. You would need parents’ consent to have students blog on their own account. Here’s how Linda Yollis does it. You might also set up a little “driving test” or quiz to check students’ awareness of cyber safety guidelines before awarding them a personal blogging license.
If you want all of your students to have their own blog, KidBlog provides a safe way to do this. You set up a class account and allocate student accounts under this umbrella. All blogs are linked to the class blog and protected by a password. Parents and guests can be given a password to read and comment. I didn’t recommend it earlier as a platform for a class blog because the other two options offer a more authentic experience for teacher-managed blogs. With Kidblog, the restrictions which keep the blog private also prevent a wider global audience. But it’s a good way to begin personal blogs for younger students.
Petits Fours: Other Reasons to Blog in Schools
There may be other good reasons to start a blog in your school. Teachers in my school use short-term blogs to share news and photos about school trips for example. I’ve used them to communicate with parents about special programs such as our iPod Touch trial or our One-to-One program. Here are a few examples:
Digestif: Further Reading
- “10 Tips for Introducing Blogging into Your Classroom” by Kathleen Morris (my other most revered teacher-blogger, also Linda Yollis’ blogging partner) offers some fantastic tips for starting out with classroom blogging.
- “Making Educational Blogging Work for You” – a more reflective piece about classroom blogging from Kathleen Morris.
- “Five Steps” – print or download Kathleen Morris’ guide document from her post. …What the heck, just read her whole blog, you’ll need look no further!
- “There’s Blogging and There’s Blogging…” – (especially this one)
Condiments: Need Help with Blogging Tools?
The blogging platforms mentioned above are fairly straightforward to use and like most Web 2.0 tools, these sites have Support pages where you can seek help. Another great source of “how to” or troubleshooting tips is the web. Just Google the issue or question you have with the name of the platform (e.g. “Edublogs” or “Blogger”) and you are sure to find answers in various forums or articles.
Do you have a class blog or blogging experience to share?
Featured image: “A Pompeian Beauty, Blogging, after Raffaele Giannetti” [CC BY 2.0] by Mike Licht on Flickr
Essay Reference List:
Arther, L. (2005). Popular culture: Views of parents and educators. In Marsh, J. (Ed.), Popular culture, new media and digital literacy in early childhood, (pp. 165-182). London: Routledge Farmer.
Australian Communications and Media Authority. (2009). Click and connect: Young Australian’s use of online social media: 02 Quantitative research report. Canberra: ACMA. Retrieved 3rd September, 2013 from http://www.acma.gov.au/webwr/aba/about/recruitment/click_and_connect-02_quantitative_report.pdf
Australian Communications and Media Authority. (2010). Trends in media use by children and young people. Canberra: ACMA. Retrieved 3rd September, 2013 from http://www.acma.gov.au/webwr/_assets/main/lib310665/trends_in_media_use_by_children_and_young_people.pdf
Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority, (n.d.). Australian Curriculum. Retrieved 1st September, 2013 from http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au
Buckingham, D. (2007). Beyond technology: Children’s learning in the age of digital culture. Cambridge: Polity.
Couros, A. (2008). Open, connected, social – Implications for educational design. Readings in Education and Technology: Proceedings of ICICTE 2008. Retrieved 19th August, 2013 from http://www.icicte.org/ICICTE2008Proceedings/couros041.pdf
Crook, C. (2012). The ‘digital native’ in context: Tensions associated with importing Web 2.0 practices into the school setting. Oxford Review of Education. 38(1), 63-80. Retrieved 12th August, 2013 from Queensland University of Technology Course Materials Database.
Curtis, A. R. (2013). The Brief History of Social Media. University of North Carolina, Department of Mass Communication. Retrieved 1st September, 2013 from http://www.uncp.edu/home/acurtis/NewMedia/SocialMedia/SocialMediaHistory.html
Davies, J. & Merchant, G. (2009). Web 2.0 for schools: Learning and social participation. New York: Peter Lang.
Hagood, M. C., Alvermann, D. E. & Heron-Hruby, A. (2010). Bring it to class: Unpacking pop culture in literacy learning. New York: Teachers College Press.
Hall, L. (2011). How popular culture texts inform and shape students’ discussions of social studies texts. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 55(4), 296-305. Retrieved 15th August, 2013 from Queensland University of Technology Course Materials Database.
Huffaker, D. (2005). The educated blogger: Using weblogs to promote literacy in the classroom. AACE Journal, 13(2), 91-98. Retrieved 19th August, 2013 via ProQuest database http://search.proquest.com/docview/61864571?accountid=13380
Lankshear, C. & Knobel, M. (2006a). Blogging as participation: The active sociality of a new literacy: Paper presented to the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco. Retrieved 15th August, 2013 from http://reocities.com/c.lankshear/bloggingparticipation.pdf
Lankshear, C. & Knobel, M. (2006b). New literacies: Everyday practices and classroom learning (2nd ed). Berkshire: McGraw-Hill.
Luckerson, V. (2013). Is Facebook Losing Its Cool? Some Teens Think So [Web log post]. TIME: Business & Money. Retrieved 6th September, 2013 from http://business.time.com/2013/03/08/is-facebook-losing-its-cool-some-teens-think-so/
New Media Consortium. (2013). NMC Horizon Report K-12: 2013. Retrieved 12th August, 2013 from http://www.nmc.org/pdf/2013-horizon-report-k12.pdf
Penrod, D. (2007). Using blogs to enhance literacy: The next powerful step in 21st century learning. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Education.
Wohlwend, K. E. (2010). A is for avatar: Young children in literacy 2.0 worlds and literacy 1.0 schools. Language Arts, 88(2), 144-152. Retrieved 30th August, 2013 via ProQuest database http://search.proquest.com/docview/762484205?accountid=13380