I have to start by saying I’m not always thrilled with the push to get technology into the classroom. It often feels like tokenism or trying too hard to connect with “kids these days” – oh, hey, they like Facebook, so I guess if we do some computer stuff in class they’ll learn better? Technology for technology’s sake is not a magic solution for motivation/engagement/whatever you’re trying to accomplish, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be useful and fun… and I finally found a way to use it that has been super effective so far!
My sixth graders just finished a unit on feature articles, and since most of our mentor texts came from news sites and blogs, I decided I wanted their final draft to be published in blog format as well. A coworker had suggested Kidblog a few months back, so I decided to check it out.
It’s pretty simple, and one thing I loved right away was that students don’t need an email address or any other Internet “presence” – which has been a real problem in the past since many of my students are still too young to sign up for accounts without lying about their age. You create the class blog, and students can edit their password and profile from there. You have access to their accounts, which came in handy when several of them immediately forgot their passwords :) Only members can view blog posts, so you don’t have to worry about information becoming public, although we still discussed internet safety and protecting your privacy before getting started.
I posted a blog entry with the assignment details so students could check the expectations without needing to dig through their folders for a handout, and I used my own blog to teach them how to format their work and provide an example to refer back to as needed.
My students loved posting their feature articles online. Many of them actually went and read each other’s posts when they were finished, rather than playing games or other “when you’re done” computer lab activities, and they had a lot of fun commenting on each other’s work. I randomly assigned three classmates to each student, and they had to read those three articles and post positive, constructive, and meaningful comments (we’ve gone over how to do this during other publishing activities throughout the year), but beyond that I allowed them to more casually interact with one another. Of course, I still moderated all the comments so I was able to make sure students were behaving and expressing themselves appropriately, even if they weren’t particularly academic about it.
Two things really sold me on using Kidblog in my class. First, a few students asked if they could use the blog outside of class to post other things (writing for fun?! I’m not sure if I should allow such a thing!). Secondly, some of the students who didn’t publish before the grading period ended actually went back and finished the assignment later, knowing they wouldn’t get a grade for it – they just wanted their classmates to see what they’d written!
Our next unit is drama and I hope to go on a field trip to a movie or play, so I’m thinking we’ll use the blog to write reviews or advertisements for the show. I’m also considering finding a way to use Kidblog for reading responses or book club discussions!