I remember my college years at Rutgers (about twenty years ago already!) I would go to the nearest computer center, line up with the other students to sign my name on a roster, and wait for about thirty minutes to an hour until a computer was finally freed up for me to “type” my assignments on a word processor. I appreciated how “valuable” computer time was back then. So... can you guess what I did with my very first paycheck from Montclair BOE when I started teaching? I bought myself a personal computer! Since that time, computers have come along way, finding their places in many more homes and in many more common places. Now I have four working computers just in my home!
Just recently, I did a quick classroom survey of how many computers each student had in their homes. The responses were varied, but one thing was common; Every one of my students had at least one computer in their home! This just proves that all students whom we serve daily come to us from an environment that is permeated with much more computer technology than we were ever used to. And as educators, we must too change the way we teach these children if we are to meet the needs of these students who are sometimes more technologically savvy than we are.
If you remember or read Kristen’s Blog, I made this statement less than a month ago: I am hesitant about starting my own blog due to fear of being judged or criticized.... What if parents post comments about what they don't like in my classroom? Or what if parents ask for things which I can not provide them with? With blogging comes the “unknown territory”, and letting go of "control", which I think is sometimes a scary thing to do as a teacher.
Well, talking about change, I have finally taken up enough courage to face my fears; I have decided to just delve into blogging! Although my blogs are very simple, probably in the simplest form, I thought I would share with you my initial reaction to its use in the classroom. My general reaction is that blogging is not as difficult as I had imagined, and there are many “positives” to blogging that I hadn’t even considered before.
So here are the positives: First of all, blogging creates a learning community where students enjoy and respect reading each other’s views. Blogging has sparked enthusiasm for writing in my students. Many students wrote, “I love writing!” on their blogs. Secondly, blogging creates an authentic audience for children, helping them find their own voices. Students showed signs of "pride" in their work as they shared their posts with each other, their parents, grandparents etc...Thirdly, blogging helps with differentiation. The children who are quieter in the classroom came out of their shells online and wrote their thoughts more easily. This may be due to the fact that there is a much longer "response time". Children can respond to questions in their own time, in the comfort of their own home. With blogging there doesn’t have to be a, “I should have said that before-moment,” because students can write their thoughts anytime after some thinking and reflection of what they want to say. And finally, I believe blogging creates encouragement for reading. Students seemed to genuinely enjoy reading each other’s comments online.
Here is a little example of a blog posted on my Blackboard classroom. I asked a question,“How do you feel about writing?” One student responded by saying, “I don't really like writing. I find thinking of what to write hard.” I replied to his comment, “I agree with you that it's the "thinking" that is the hardest part of writing!” Another student added, “Just try your best, and you'll be fine:)”
This is very encouraging to me, as I see a student responding positively to another. And do you remember my fear for being criticized online? Here is another comment to the question, “What do you like best about third grade?” One student writes, “I love that we get to do experiments that others can't. I like my teacher very much. She's so nice, funny, and FUN!!!!!!!!!!!!! I hope we get to do more science experiments this year! To be honest, I love this school very much since I came here in 2nd grade, there's so much to look to the future in this school. Northeast is the BEST school I've been to ever. And I think Northeast will continue to do great things:)” Now I don't just feel good about this, but I feel great! :)
Certainly, blogging in the classroom is not perfect. It creates one more thing on the already over-abounding “to do list” for teachers. I have to spend time posting and reading children’s posts. Also, through blogging, I have come to the realization that children in the third grade do not know the conventions of writing. My students’ spelling and punctuation mistakes have been my greatest pet peeve so far! Although I do have a game plan for teaching “editing skills” (using their posts/comments), this lesson will be an ongoing process. Teaching editing skill is one thing, but it will be much more difficult to reinforce to students that writing in a published form must require much more attention and thought. I will have to make a conscientious effort to place greater importance on teaching the conventions of writing all throughout the year and keep them accountable to higher standards.
In sum, having a blog for my classroom has required more time spent on my part. But if the small amount of time I spend can add to teaching children to write more authentically, find voices within themselves, and be an encouragement to others writing, I find this time well spent. I am still treading new grounds with this blogging and new fears and questions arise within me. How can I hold my students accountable to some kind of standard before their posting? How can I teach children to organize their thoughts and interest without being too sloppy? How can I teach “Netiquette” so that we can prevent cyberbulling before it ever starts? How do I let the children know that outside of our Blackboard classroom, blogs are less private and less controlled, and one must be very cautious and careful about what is posted?
In the midst of these thoughts, I am carried away to the phrase, “If you can not beat them, join them!” I know that blogging may pose more questions for me to answer, but for now I must go join my students online to post my new question. This week's question will be, “ What is your favorite book and why?” In the meanwhile, I welcome your thoughts on classroom blogs and any ideas and suggestion for its use here on THIS blog. :)
by Kay Whang
3rd Grade Teacher