Friday, May 11, 2018

Student Blogging: More than just pushing "Publish"

Passionate learners are infectious. Their enthusiasm for a topic shines brightly, and it rubs off on others. For a small team of students at Banting Elementary, they are working to spread their passion to an audience well beyond the walls of their school using technology.
Several students at Banting Elementary are
sharing their passions through a team blog.

This small team of students at Banting are passionate about different topics, but by working together they are combining their passion, knowledge and energy into a productive outlet to inspire other learners. These students have been working on a passion project over the past few months, and the power of their collaboration is just starting to shine through outwardly.

Deciding on a Publishing Platform
The students began with inquiry, research, and writing. The next stage was thinking about publication. After serious thought about the best way to reach their identified audience of other learners of all ages (both English and Spanish speaking learners), the team decided to start a blog to publish their information to the outside world. 

Their blog address is https://destinformation.blogspot.com/ and they would appreciate readers stopping by to read their first few posts. AND coming back to watch their journey as they continue to post.

Sometimes we can water down the idea of going public with our thinking. Somehow hitting the share button on a Google Doc falls short of meaningful publication for a real audience. However, these students have really put a fine point on what it means to think about your audience, to think about the best way to communicate with an audience. They considered the best digital outlet. A YouTube channel? A website? A newsletter? They ultimately settled on a blog because it gave them an opportunity to regularly update with the newest content at the top. They also could stay focused on writing and inquiry. The blog format gave them time to be thoughtful, play with their ideas in writing, and to ultimately incorporate other media (images or video or links) if needed. And they could work collaboratively on it with a shared blog. And they could keep their identities a bit more concealed by not being on video on a YouTube channel. That was important to this team.

That level of thought and critical thinking around a foundational question, which format is best for our intended audience, is something that showed the power of allowing students to pick and publish to their audience using tools that made the most sense to them.

Topics, Length, and Summary
As for topics -- well, that's where their passion comes into the picture. Each student is publishing posts on their own topic, but they also have to share their thinking and questions with the other students in their group. All of them have an equal say in what goes live to their audience, and they have already had thoughtful talks about pieces that may need more research before going live.

Regarding the length of the posts they are publishing, after some conversation with the team they decided to break down posts into smaller parts that they could publish over time. This gives readers smaller bites of information to digest while allowing the students to publish more regularly over time, something that students learned will encourage more regular, ongoing traffic to visit their site. It also allows the students to really focus in on a key question they are answering with their research for that post.

The ability for students to chunk their entire research topic into smaller parts, summarize the key points for a particular question they are answering within a larger topic, and then decide what parts to publish for an audience to answer these questions completely and accurately, these are skills we hope students can develop by the time they are in high school. These students are showing that with the proper outlet and motivation, they really can begin to develop the skills much earlier on in their academic career.

Personal and Group Accountability
Let's talk about accountability for a moment. This is a collaborative project with elementary students. The teacher is not looking over their shoulder and gently nudging them or requiring them to publish to the blog. This is a student driven passion project. They have to be responsible to themselves to finish the work they agreed to do. They also have to be responsible to the other members of the group to write, edit, and publish on the group's blog.

Student created Google Calendar to outline post deadlines.
Notice that dates extend into summer after school is out.
After some conversation talking about tools that could help to remind them and keep them accountable to one another, they decided two key things. First, they would ALL own the blog. It would not be one person's job to post, but a collectively shared experience between all of the students. Second, they decided to start their own shared Google Calendar. Nobody did this for them. The students created the calendar and then posted a weekly due date for each student who is responsible for posting.

This ability to distribute the workload and hold one another accountable for the completion of work is something our students are ready for at a very early age. The missing component is often a motivation to do the work they are asked to do. In this instance, the students are motivated to do the work because it is something they want to do.

Understanding a Global Audience
Oh, and I should probably mention that the students are also making sure that their articles on the post will eventually be available in both English and Spanish. They know that the world around them and beyond is multilingual, so they decided to broaden their audience by exercising their bilingual superpowers to make the blogs available in both languages.

Understanding that the world includes people of diverse beliefs, languages, ethnicities, and nationalities is something many adults still struggle to acknowledge on a day-to-day basis. These students not only identified this on their own, but they also have an outlet to practice their academic writing and language development in both languages for a real audience.

Underlying all of this is the fundamental reason we need to offer students opportunities to utilize technology in their learning. In this case study, it is about far more than simply writing. The collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, organization, and perceptive thinking about their audience and goals -- these are all value adds to the writing and research that will better prepare these students for success in school and beyond. 

Visit and Share the Blog
Logo located on student blog site Destination Information
The students are actively publishing their blogs now. They have their first three installments in the blog ready to go. Behind the scenes they are actively working on more articles in each series. Their goal is to continually publish throughout the summer and likely into next year, even though they will be headed to middle school. The structure they have built will allow them to continue the project if they personally commit to doing so.

They really would love to get some feedback on their project. Their writing is intended for learners of all ages. It would be appreciated if you could share their blog with your students as well.

To visit Destination Information, their blog, visit https://destinformation.blogspot.com/ .