Blogs in the classroom to boost literacy

Written by: HTU | Published:

Using blogs in the classroom can have a positive impact on pupils’ engagement and success in writing and literacy. Sarah Horrocks and Myra Barrs offer some tips to get you started.

Enthusiasm for blogging is growing and more and more school blogs are being set up all the time. These blogs differ enormously in their scope and sophistication: some are essentially school newsletters but some also contain class blogs. 

Of these class blogs, many are mainly written by the class teacher – describing activities, setting assignments, discussing topics, or responding to students’ work online. In a recent research study for CfBT Education Trust – entitled Educational Blogs and Their Effects on Pupils’ Writing – we set out to explore the specific opportunities which blogs offer as ways to encourage children’s writing and as a learning medium for a class. 

The main aim of our study was to explore the differences in pupils’ writing on blogs compared to their other writing. The secondary aims were to investigate the potential for using blogging to develop pupils’ writing skills and to identify good practice in blogging. 

Before beginning the study, we were aware that too many primary school class blogs rely heavily on teacher input and control and miss the potential to engage and involve children in creating the blog. 

Blogging as an educational tool

Blogging is a remarkable intellectual tool and a potentially powerful educational medium. Blogging is empowering for students and introduces the possibility of writing for a much wider range of audiences, up to and including global public audiences.

Blogging is much more than providing a showcase for students’ work: potentially it is an extension of the learning/teaching dialogue to a new medium which has the power to reach and engage each and every student.

Getting started

Schools use a number of different platforms and services to create blogs. Most schools in the UK use free blogging tools such as Wordpress, Primary Blogger (based on Wordpress), Blogger and Kidblog to create class or individual blogs which are managed by class teachers, but which are usually viewed through links on a school website (see further information for all relevant links). These free services enable schools to work within a template to create a blog site “hosted” by the service provider. These require little technical expertise and do not make any demands on school’s technical infrastructure.

Wikispaces.com is another service which schools can use to create private or public shared spaces which can be used as a blog or as a private digital area for children to research, collaborate or create a learning journal. Schools can set up wikis to pool pupils’ knowledge, for instance to gather research on a particular topic or to share completed pieces of work. Wikis are a great tool for collaboration. Wikispaces has lots of features to make classroom collaboration and group work better and easier.

Google Sites is not strictly a blogging tool, but allows users to create simple standalone websites. There are many excellent website design tools that are available for schools. However, Google Sites stands out as it allows users to collaborate on the construction of a website over the internet. This means pupils can work together on a website at different times and from different places. These websites can then be made public, kept private, or made available to a select group. 

Digital literacy

As well as being able to use digital tools effectively (for example, using a blogging platform confidently to post blogs or being able to upload photographs and videos and use hyperlinks), pupils need to be able to think critically about the information they encounter online and to make decisions about how they create and present their own information for a public audience. 

They need to know how to behave safely online and to think about the kinds of personal information which is appropriate to post on a blog. They need to learn the conventions of commenting on other people’s blogs and to understand about copyright in relation to photos, videos and other people’s writing when they make their own posts.

Audience

Having a global audience is often cited as one of the main reasons why blogging motivates children to write. In our study we did find that many children enjoyed this aspect of the blog: “The blog is good because you’re not just writing for your teacher, you’re writing for the world.” “I like showing it to a big audience best, because they can comment and see what I’ve done and what I’ve done good.”

Most pupils appreciated receiving comments on their work from each other, their teacher or other visitors to the blog and it was definitely one of the features of blogging which added to the sense of an active online community. Henry Jenkins (Provost’s professor of communication, journalism, and cinematic arts at the University of Southern California) and colleagues call this “participatory culture”: “Participatory culture shifts the focus of literacy from one of individual expression to community involvement. The new literacies almost all involve social skills developed through collaboration and networking.” (Jenkins, 2006)

Perhaps the most interesting audience of a class blog is the children themselves and the way they read and get involved in each other’s work in a way which doesn’t happen with work done in exercise books. 

One year 6 child said: “It’s very interesting to see other’s ideas and what they think. You can learn from it. They might do something you didn’t know. You can keep a mental a note in your head to do something like they’ve done, at the same time as keeping it your own.”

And her teacher commented: “I think the main improvement is their attitude to writing – they have all become so much more confident with both writing in their books and on the blog. They are less cautious about typing and publishing their work on the blog and are really starting to find their voice.”

Because blogging can be a two-way process, this kind of online conversation has the potential for raising questions, for exploring issues, for sharing thinking, and for generating ideas. It can lead to real educational dialogue with teachers and with other students. The children in our study became more aware of their own writing and more interested in how they might improve it. Most importantly, they felt themselves to be part of a writing community; the blog established an area of sharing. 

Some top blogging tips from the study

  • Time and care should be given for children to redraft and revise their blog posts.

  • Cross-curricular contexts can provide great opportunities for blogging.

  • Blog-writing, like other forms of writing, benefits from thorough preparation, including familiarity with the content/material of the writing. Oral rehearsal can help pupils engage in effective blog-writing.

  • “Invitations” for children to blog need to be truly inviting and meaningful, for example use a film clip as a prompt and ask an open question to which students can respond. 

  • Blog prompts work best when they are relevant and link to topics being covered in class. In this way the blog becomes a record of learning. 

  • Teachers need to build in time to monitor/moderate the blog.

  • Blogs are public, so plan the structure of the blog to help the reader and use features such as tags, categories and a calendar to aid navigation.

  • Children’s typing and keyboarding skills need to be supported for them to be fluent digital writers.

 

  • Sarah Horrocks is director of London Connected Learning Centre, part of CfBT Education Trust. Myra Barrs is a freelance author, consultant and researcher.

Further information

The research report Educational Blogs and Their Effects on Pupils’ Writing can be downloaded from www.cfbt.com/research

Further links


This material is protected by MA Education Limited copyright.
See Terms and Conditions.

Comments
Name
 
Email
 
Comments
 

Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
 
About Us

Headteacher Update is the only magazine delivered directly to every primary school headteacher in the UK. It is published six times a year, at the beginning of each term and half-term, to keep headteachers up-to-date with everything going on in primary education.

Learn more about Headteacher update

Newsletter

Register to receive regular updates on primary education news delivered free to your inbox.