Muddling through the blogosphere

September 26, 2009
by blogwalker

Five Tips for Teachers New to Blogging

Some of the most talented, caring, effective teachers I know, for a variety of reasons (with lack of site support or computer access issues at the top of the list), have shied away from all things technology-related.  So when a great teacher starts to dabble with a class blog and requests help so that his/her students can participate in the Student Bloggers Challenge, how would you suggest they begin this shared journey?

Based on my work this month with several teachers who very much want to join the blogosphere, but are a bit overwhelmed by the learning curve, here are five tips for teachers just beginning to weave blogging into their classroom toolkit:

Tip #1:  Start the process of reading, writing, and responding to blog posts as a whole class activity. Begin the day or  class period by sharing a blog post or comment that you will respond to as a class. With you doing the typing, this activity will probably not take more than five minutes and is great way to introduce your students to the genre of interactive reading and writing, while modeling the safe and ethical use of social networking.

Tip #2:  If you are using a program that has a plugin (a software program that allows additional capabilities) for threaded comment, download the plugin!  Be sure to explain to your students the difference between responding to the post and replying to a specific comment.

Tip #3:  Add other class blogs to your blogroll. You might need to add the Links widget to your sidebar first.  Adding links to other blogs in your blogroll allows your students to quickly access what’s likely to become a  growing community of classroom blogs.

If you have access to a laptop cart or a computer lab, I recommend rotating your students between reading blogs and posting comments, particularly if you’re requiring that they all respond to the same post, maybe something you just posted.  If too many comments are submitted to the same blog post in a short amount of time (which sets off a spamming alert), your student bloggers are likely to get the message “Slow down, you’re going too fast.”  Much of their blogging time will then be lost to clicking on the back button and submitting their comments again – and again, and again.

Besides the practical aspects, dividing student time between reading and writing is also a good way to model that blogging is actually more about reading than it is about writing.

Tip #4:  Remind your student commenters to add your classroom URL in the website box. This extra step will turn their names into a hyperlink back to your blog.  A great way to invite more readers and potential commenters to your site!


Tip #5:  Add a ClustrMaps widget.  If your class is participating in the Bloggers Challenge, you definitely want to add a ClustrMap to your sidebar using a Text widget. If you are a Supporter Level Edublogger, you can add your map by using the ClustrMaps widget.  Either way, you will soon have students scurrying to find a world map or atlas to accurately identify each state and country. Not only is the ClustrMaps widget a built-in geography lesson, but more important, it makes visible to students  the reality that the whole world has become their audience.

In the above tips I’ve included links for Edublogs users.  If you are a Blogger (which unfortunately many school district block), click here to learn how to set up a sidebar or how to insert a gadget (widget), including a ClustrMap.

Again, many thanks to Sue Wyatt for sponsoring the Student Blogger Competition and to Sue Waters for all her backup support.  I already know this event will expand learning opportunities for both students and their teachers!

Note: This post has been written on “5 most important tips for educators starting out blogging with students” as part of The Edublogger’s Competition!

September 12, 2009
by blogwalker

Five Borrowed Tips for Helping Students Become Better Bloggers

With the Student Bloggers Challenge starting this week, I’ve been looking to others for more tips to help maximize our students’ blogging experiences. Here are my first five:

#1 Transition younger students (maybe older too) gradually from commenting to posting – From Kim Cofino –   I love Kim’s middle step of upping students’ posting permissions within the class blog before creating their own individual blogs.

Once students are comfortable with the process of leaving meaningful comments, and have returned their parental permission slip, we introduce them to the actual process of writing blog posts. The basics of logging in, creating a new post, putting your post in the category for your name, and submitting for review. Usually we have the first post be a short introduction to the student.

I love the fact that having a category for each student makes it appear as if each student has their own blog (by listing the name categories in the sidebar) and that no posts will be published until the teacher can approve them after moderation. Such an easy and safe way to begin blogging!”

#2 Take advantage of tools for embedding audio into posts – From  Troy Hicks & Dawn Reed – I had the good fortune to be in the same NCTE 2007 session as Dawn, where she shared her students’ This I Believe podcasts, so I was delighted to find that my recently arrived copy of Teaching the New Writing included a chapter from Troy ( NWP colleague from way back) and Dawn: From the Front of the Classroom to the Ears of the World: Multimodal Composing in Speech Class. In setting up a class blog where she could post her high school students’ podcasts, Dawn discovered that:

…since students often limit their comments to one another’s work with simple replies such as ‘good speech,’ and others – teachers, parents, community members, and students from other classes or schools – could not be a part of our speech class, podcasting would allow for feedback from those who may offer a different perception of the ideas presented….

…the largest implication of this entire project is the value that students found in producing content for a larger and authentic audience.  In so doing, they joined a conversation as members of a global society, moving their voices from the front of the classroom to the ears of the world.”

Note that Dawn (like Kim) brought her students into the classroom blog via promoting their access levels and creating a category (which appears in the sidebar) for each student.

As I am writing this post, I also have another tab open to a reprint of an article by Jason Ohler –  Media Literacy: Eight Guidelines for Teachers. I’d like to share Jason’s thoughts on the importance of oracy:

Currently, many media collages are based on the four components of “the DAOW of literacy”: Digital, Art, Oral, and Written. Being able to understand and blend the best of the old, recent, and emerging literacies will become a hallmark of the truly literate person.

Of the four components of the DAOW, oracy—the ancient literacy of speaking and listening—deserves much more focus than it currently receives. It is central to many of the media collage forms currently in wide use, including storytelling, narrated documentaries, movies, PowerPoint presentations, and even games and virtual realities. And it is central to leadership as well. After all, we often look for evidence of leadership in the way that people speak to others.

#3 Provide students with choices and starting points – From Paul Allison – I found the  Self-Assessment Matrix in Paul’s chapter from Teaching the New Writing: Be a Blogger: Social Networking in the Classroom.  Through my involvement with the ever-evolving Youth Voices project, I know Paul’s genuine commitment to “keeping it real” and to helping his high school students “find something to be passionate about, and to connect with others who share this passion.”  Students are given the matrix on Monday and choose wherever they wish as a starting point, and, ideally, by the end of the week, they will have crossed out every box in the matrix. Paul’s goal is to help students make the shift from blogging as a teacher-centered activity to a student-centered activity. When the turning point happens…

No longer am I working to motivate students to do work for me.  Instead, I am working to help each student to accomplish his or her own goals as readers and writers in a school-based network….

…Being a blogger is about what young people do when they sit down to work at their computers.  It is about creating a space in their lives to safely extend and explore their online voices with a group of peers, both at school, in another part of town, in another state, and around the world.”

#4  Build in meta-cognition through ‘tagging’ – From Paul Allison – To get students reflecting both specifically and broadly about their writing, Paul asks them to come up with tags (key words) to describe a post.  “Asking them to tag their writing with five key words is to ask them to reread and think about what they are writing. Later, when students add these words to the bottom to their blog posts, they see how key words give them the power to find others who have also published about this theme, which then allows them to respond to the bloggers…establishing a web of relationships...”

#5  Use your PLN to bump up readership for your student bloggers – From Jeff Utecht – OK, maybe not all of us have the 4,000+ followers in Twitter that Jeff mentions in his recent post A blog post, a tweet, and a connection, but I”m willing to bet that if you’re reading this post, you already have a growing network of colleagues in your Personal Learning Network, in addition to friends or even relatives, you could call on to help broaden the audience for your bloggers. Over the past eight years, I’ve been involved in a variety of student blogging projects, and over and over have seen the common thread of the positive – and substantial –  impact on literacy skills an authentic audience provides!

A huge thank you to Sue Wyatt for organizing and hosting the the 2009 Bloggers’ Competition – and to Sue Waters for supporting and promoting the efforts of teachers to bring their students into the blogosphere!

Note: This post is a gathering of blogging tips written by other bloggers, whose insights into teaching and learning in a digital age continue to influence and inspire me. Although there is not a category for borrowed tips in  The Edublogger’s Competition, I wanted to acknowledge and thank everyone mentioned above for all that they have so generously shared.

February 22, 2009
by blogwalker

Happy First Birthday to The Edublogger!

Of all the EB enhancements James Farmer has added over the past year, The Edublogger is my absolute favorite.  Such great tips, so well explained, and so easy to turn around and apply to my own blog and blogging practices.  Thank you, James, and Happy Birthday to The Edublogger (Sue Waters)!

Seems like with every contest The Edublogger promotes (i.e., 30-Day Challenge to Better Commenting), both the process and the product become road maps for 21st century teaching and learning. So in response to Sue’s call to join the celebration by writing a post on any of 12 topics, here’s my contribution:

#9 Favorite Blog Widget: ClustrMaps – Last year I was helping Jim Faires, a 6th grade teacher in my district, get his students up and running with YouthRadio, a collaborative project developed by Kevin Hodgson. Jim was introducing his students to podcasting. The question he posed to the class was “What if the whole world was your audience?!”

When the students completed their podcast, they watched as Jim uploaded it to the YouthRadio blog.  It was then that one of the them spotted the ClustrMap. Jim opened the enlarged view. Try to imagine their amazement and exhuberance when they realized the blog had visitors from all parts of the world and every continent (ok, not Antarctica). Suddenly students were scurring for an atlas to accurately identify each state and country.

Not only was the ClustrMap a built-in geography lesson, but it also illustrated and answered Jim’s question: truly, the whole world had become their audience.

November 28, 2008
by blogwalker

Nominations for 2008 Edublog Awards

With so many bloggers contributing to my personal learning network, it’s difficult to nominate only one per category for the 2008 Edublog Awards. I’ve based my nominations on recent posts by the following bloggers/groups:

  • Best Individual Blog: Creating Lifetime Learners – Mathew Needleman continues to inspire me with easy-to-use strategies (and arguments) for bringing multi-modal/multi-media writing into the classroom.
  • Best Group Blog: YouthVoices – The credit for this dynamic project that engages a growing student community goes to Paul Allison and Susan Ettenheim.
  • Best Resource Sharing Blog: The EdubloggerSue Waters‘ constant flow of resources, tutorials, and support has made a difference for many an Edublogger!
  • Best Teacher Blog: Educating Alice – Monica Edinger’s passion for literature (long-time association with Newberry Awards) and commitment to allowing young students to “do” history as opposed to just studying history is evident in the opinions, resources, and thought-provoking topics posted to her blog.
  • Best Librarian Blog: NeverEndingSearch – Some of my favorite tools (i.e.,, I’ve discovered through Joyce Valenza’s posts.
  • Best Technology Support Blog: Around the Corner – When Miguel Guhlin blogs about a tool (i.e., Diigo, VoiceThread), he generally creates detailed tutorials that include the quirky little things you might need to know about. Great resources for workshops!
  • Best Use of Audio – YA! CastsRobert Rozema‘s innovative Web 2.0 projects are grounded in research and a great resource for making visible to administrators of pre-service teacher cohorts the case for going beyond MS Office in the technology component.
  • Best Use of Video – Common Craft Shows – Lee LeFever continues to provide educators with the perfect video introductions to 21st century tools.
  • Best Use of a Social Networking Site: Classroom 2.0Steve Hargadon deserves some major recognition for introducing the ning as a dynamic, community-building resource for educators.
  • Best Use of Virtual World: Literary Worlds – Western University of Michigan English professor Allen Webb has developed an amazing virtual world in which participants wake up in the environment of a selected novel (right off the high school required reads’ shelf).
  • Best Class Blog: Kids Book Blog – 5th and 6th graders from Elk Grove, California, are collaborating to provide their readers with a rich source of book recommendations and reviews.

November 16, 2008
by blogwalker

Hey, what’s with the pop-up ads on EB blogs?

This morning I updated the Intro to EB Manual FAQs section with the explanation below – and the hope that my fellow Edubloggers will join me as an EB Supporter:

Last week a colleague asked me about the links to “Content Ads” that popped up when she accessed – for the first time – the Kids Book Blog (an EB site run by 5th and 6th graders at Joseph Sims Elementary School). Since I had never seen ads on any of my EB blogs or in any of my teacher trainings, I contacted Sue Waters, The Edublogger, for an explanation. Thanks to Sue and after doing a little reading in the EB Forum, I now understand that there is a very good reason for the Content Ads, and that, most likely, few of our blog readers will ever see them.

Let’s start with the reasons for Content Ads:
• Remember back in October when James Farmer was upgrading EB servers? As always, the brief disruption in access to our blogs resulted in more “goodies” being added to our EB toolkit. This last upgrade, however, has exceeded James’ budget. And that’s not a good thing. But being able to count on continued membership in the EB community of educators is a very good thing – far outweighing the occasional appearance of Content Ads on our blogs.
• Only first-time visitors to your blog(s), who are not logged into Edublogs, would see the ads. On their second and subsequent visits, no ads would appear. In fact, very few people would see ads at all, but enough search engine visitors might in order to help Edublogs cover the bills and continue to grow and develop.

Let’s look at why I had never seen Content Ads:
• For the last year, I’ve been an EB Supporter, which means that for a mere $25 per year (less than the cost of one Starbucks latte per month), I not only have extra space, a few more widgets, etc., but I also never have ads appearing on my blog.

Let’s look at why you probably do not see Content Ads on your EB blog(s):
• You will not see ads on any blog you are logged in to or have visited more than once.
• No one who has bookmarked your blog(s) or types in your URL will see any ads.
• No one logged into Edublogs will ever see any ads

Let’s look at the best solution for eliminating ads from your blog(s) and supporting the EB community:
• Become an Edublogs Supporter:-)
• Tell your fellow Edubloggers about the benefits of becoming an Edublogs Supporter:-)

August 25, 2008
by blogwalker

Small Update to EB Manual

I just updated the handout for Registering for an Edublog Username by making the screen shots a little larger and easier to read. Since many teachers like to print a copy of the manual, I’m trying to keep the pages to 30. I deleted the section on selecting time zones since it no longer seems necessary to adjust the time zone.

As always, suggestions are welcome for improving and updating the Intro to EB Manual (latest update = August 25, 2008)

August 13, 2008
by blogwalker

Update to EB Manual – for IE 6 or 7 Users

Although I generally use Firefox for my browser, last week I was facilitating an Edublogs workshop for the Area 3 Writing Project and noticed an issue with embedded files when viewed in IE: the files appear as  blank boxes and no amount of clicking can activate or open them. So I turned to the EB Forum and found the solution: Use Firefox!

But if you must use IE, here’s your workaround: Same as always, you will need to copy the embed code from the media site and then open the HTML editor of your post or page. Put your cursor where you want the media file to appear and paste in the code. Then click on Publish or, if you’ve already published this page or post, click on Save. Do NOT go back into the Visual editor. For some reason, with IE, if you head back into the Visual editor, the embed code changes, which is not good.

I’ve updated the Intro to Edublogs Manual to include the embedding issue – and also added instructions on adding a hyperlink to a comment. Here’s the linik:

August 3, 2008
by blogwalker

Three favs from The Edublogger

I just finished a week-long tech workshop for the Area 3 Writing Project. What a treat to hang out for five days with 18 enthusiastic teachers, eager to add Web 2.0 tools to their classroom toolkit. For many it was a steep learning curve, but all left with at least one Edublog ready to go. Throughout the week I would periodically suggest that they check out the wealth of tips that the wonderful Sue Waters keeps sending our way via The Edublogger. The post I most often referred them to was 100 Edublogs Themes Separated into Categories .

This morning I’ve added another post and a comment to my list of favorites from The Edublogger:

Heading into my workshop wiki to add these three links to my blogging resources.

June 11, 2008
by blogwalker

On Becoming a Blogger

The art of blogging is something that few can understand unless they’ve experienced it for themselves. All the reading in the world, all the conversations with bloggers, and all the conference sessions can only give you so much. The practical side, the “street smarts” as some would say, comes from engaging in the process. While it is possible to offer great resources, suggestions, and even approaches without ever blogging, the key to making blogs a transformative part of the classroom requires an intimate knowledge of blogging not just the knowledge gained from “sitting on the sidelines.” Ryan Bretag

I stumbled onto the gold mine this morning when I checked the NCTE Talkies ListServ and clicked on Ryan Bretag’s responses about student bloggers. Ryan explains, “…my work with teachers and students on transformative blogging/connective writing/whatever 🙂 starts with reading and commenting.” In reading his TechLearning article Get off the Sidelines and into the Game and his extensive reading list for bloggers, I thought about the one-day workshop I did last week for EDCOE on blogging. As has happened many times before, yet another group of teachers set up their Edublog sites as a class website. But I’m ok with that because at least they have taken a first step.

I currently offer a two-hour workshop for my own district entitled Blogging for the Absolute Beginner, during which teachers read blogs and do some commenting. I’m thinking of extending it to a full-day workshop, so that after they’ve had a few hours to read and comment on other educators’ blogs and to reflect on the personal and professional benefits of blogging, I would then introduce them to Google Reader, so they would leave the workshop with a self-selected community of blogging mentors. Day two would be the Going Live with Edublogs workshop (currently just a 3-hour session) – with breaks throughout the day to check their Google Reader.

The good thing about Edublogs, for instance, is also the bad thing because as Ryan points out “Blogging is challenging yet blogs are easy to setup. IMHO, this is part of the challenge because the needed investment in learning and potentially rethinking our thoughts on teaching and learning are passed by in the excitement to just get a tool in the classroom.” But that’s exactly how I entered the blogosphere. I was fully into three-years’ worth of facilitating student blogging projects before I became a blogger. It was a post by Wes Fryer that brought me on board. Suddenly I got it – that I could truly be a part of – and contribute to – conversations in ways not possible before “getting off the sidelines and into the game.”

*Image from Derek Wenmoth via Ryan’s blog.

Skip to toolbar