Blogging with Year 8 Students

Unit of Work: Writing Folio using a Class Blog

This year I had the opportunity to blog with my accelerated Year 8 students. I started the blog with them last year and decided that I wanted to make it a regular part of our class. We used the Global2 platform (hosted by Edublogs) as it is a DET approved blogging site. With the help of tutorials from Edublogs, I started incorporating blogging into our English classes. It was a trial to see how it would work in high school as well as teaching them how to be responsible digital citizens. With the help of a google form students submitted topics that we would use throughout the year. They chose the word length and style and all got credit for their topics. Every Friday, students would complete 1 piece of writing that would have to be submitted for review.

topics

 

What students learnt

Using Creative Commons

My students were already creating content and publishing it online, so I wanted to teach them to be responsible Digital Citizens. Students learnt how to use Creative Commons and where to find them. My teaching team and I spent a few lessons teaching them about Creative Commons and showed them how to find images that they could re-use without breaching copyright. Every term, we would revise the concepts and reiterate the importance of Creative Commons. I also included a page on the blog about Creative Commons licences, so that they could read through the information. If students submitted work that included an image that didn’t have a CC licence, they were asked to remove it and find a new image before it could be published. However I realised at the end of the year, that many still struggled with the concept and that I would need to continue to reinforce it next year. Most students simply accessed Compfight widget (through Global2) or PhotosforClass (widget on the class blog) to find images for their posts, as those were the sites we used most frequently in class.

CC images

What are Creative Commons and where can you find them?

Self editing

By providing students with an audience apart from their teachers, it made them more accountable for their learning. It also helped students learn from their peers – by reading their friends’ work, they could see how others had interpreted the topic.The creative topics allowed them more freedom in expressing themselves – they could interpret the topic in anyway. It made them think about what they wrote- many students started to regularly check their work for errors and see how they could improve their writing skills.

Improved writing

Student comments: “Has your writing improved?”

Peer Feedback

Students were taught to not only reflect on their learning, but to also provide each other with feedback. Since they regularly interact online through social media, it was important to teach them how to respond to the comments of others. By providing their peers with feedback, it gave them an opportunity to remember what they had learnt at school – it helped consolidate their own learning. It also provided them with a chance to respond to their peers’ comments in a positive manner. This was a tough skill to teach and not all students were able to put this into practice.

Student comments: "Did you comment on other students' posts?"

Student comments: “Did you comment on other students’ posts?”

What I learnt

Since I was determined to use a class blog, I needed to be flexible with the process of implementation as it was the first time that it was being used in my English class on a regular basis. I needed to support my team members during the implementation as well as providing ongoing support throughout the year. They were not familiar with Global2 blogs and needed to know how to use the blog features in order to help our students who would often lose passwords, have difficulties with posting or forget to keep up with the work.

Our teaching team had to work individually with students to help them stay focused. Whilst students were working during class, on other units of work, we would speak to students individually and provide them with 1:1 feedback and help on their Blog posts. This practice was set up with the help of another teacher and implemented by the entire team, as it allowed us to cater for each individual student. Throughout the year, as my team members became more confident using the Global2 blog, they helped me review the Blogging unit on a regular basis, identifying issues as well as supporting the implementation process. At times, it was difficult to allocate a lesson to writing, due to other interruptions to classes. This would have an impact on the students, as many would forget to complete the weekly task. By providing them with 1:1 support, it allowed us to identify students who would struggle to write independently.

The best part of this unit was discovering budding poets, philosophical writers, researchers, graphic artists as well as those who held a power to draw you into the world they had created with their words. By allowing students to interpret the creative topics in their own way, they were able to let their imagination run wild. Often they struggled with the word limits given or with certain topics, especially those who enjoyed writing, because they had to limit what they wrote. In the feedback they provided, they wished they had some weeks where they could choose their own topics. I can certainly see that I could have given them that opportunity especially in Terms 3 and 4, once they had become confident with using the class blog. Many students have now started using Wattpad, to share their stories with others on a more global basis. As a teacher, I will not have to wait to see them publish their writing in the future- they are already sharing their stories for others to read.

teacher support

What can your teachers do to help you with developing your writing skills?

Black Death PBL Unit

The Task:

The Task

 

Breaking it down and planning:

My team and I worked together with the students to break down the task. They looked at key words of the task. They brainstormed ideas and tasks that they could work on. They had the opportunity to choose how they worked: they could work as a group or individually. Two students worked by themselves with the rest of them arranging themselves into friendship groups. My EAL transition group were also involved in the project- they were given set tasks to create and teachers helped them create the tasks. With them, we had to teach them about the Black Death before they could create the resources. The rest of the students learnt about the Black Death through their own research whilst creating the tasks. They had to look at the information and decide what was relevant to their activities. We ran lessons on reading the Australian Curriculum, how to create teacher resources and we even had a lesson on how to put information into their own words. We went through how to create a bibliography and how to find resources that were creative commons. As teachers we did our own planning  and were constantly aware of what skills we needed to help the students with.

Planning

Students Planning on Padlet

 

Professional Standards:

When I was planning this unit I was aware of the standards set by AITSL. My aim was to use some of the standards within this PBL unit as it would allow  me to focus on the skills I wanted my students to develop and strengthen. As a proficient teacher I targeted the following key points:

1.3 Design and implement teaching strategies that are responsive to the learning strengths and needs of students from diverse linguistic, cultural, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds.

3.3 Select and use relevant teaching strategies to develop knowledge, skills, problem solving and critical and creative thinking.

3.6 Evaluate personal teaching and learning programs using evidence, including feedback from students and student assessment data, to inform planning.

4.5 Incorporate strategies to promote the safe, responsible and ethical use of ICT in learning and teaching.

5.1 Assess student learning

I had to ensure that this unit catered for my EAL and low literacy students as well as challenge my high achievers. By getting students to think about who they were creating the tasks for, it allowed them to understand that not everyone is at the same level of achievement and they were able to use their strengths to cater for differences in learning ability. For example my EAL transition students created word puzzles, true and false questions and sequencing events on the Black Death- activities they are familiar with. On the other hand other students created at source analysis and mapping tasks that catered for mainstream students. This reflected the work that they complete in class.

Challenges:

Since this task was different to how a unit is taught in our class, my team and I had to constantly ensure that students were being supported. Given that this class has students with a wide range of abilities, we had to support and guide them in their learning. Some groups had trouble dealing with members who didn’t contribute on a regular basis or took too long to complete set tasks. I was often asked to mediate sessions between groups who were struggling to communicate with each other. Students had to learn to set time frames in order to get tasks completed on time. They also had to format teacher tasks so that it looked presentable. Students used a variety of ICT tools from Publisher, Word, Wix (website creator), Google sites, interactive maps and Blendspace. They either chose Microsoft tools that they were comfortable with or extended their capabilities by creating websites and using Blendspace. My team and I had to constantly reinforce that they made sure that they used websites correctly and acknowledged their sources.

Reflections:

My students’ presentations were fantastic. The effort and the level of engagement was clearly evident in the teaching resources they created. They had created a variety of teaching resources – from crosswords and word searches, to games, mapping tasks and websites with activities. Students even created Blendspace units of work where they collated resources made by others and created activities around them. I decided to have a new audience for their work and so I invited curriculum leaders and house leaders. We had our House Leader (who is also an assistant principal), our assistant house leader and the Technology for Learning Leader come in to our class to see the presentations. By giving my students a variety of people in the audience instead of just their regular teachers and peers, they were excited and worked more consciously to complete their tasks to a high standard.

The students use of references increased during this unit of work. They are becoming more conscious of acknowledging their sources. They also ensured that what they wrote was in their own words, thanks to a strategy put in by the other teacher. My main focus during this unit was to constantly reinforce that they needed to reference their work. This PBL task helped them realise that they couldn’t just take any work from the internet without checking to see if they could legally re-use the material.

Feedback:

To provide authentic feedback, the resources created by my students will be used in the Technology for Learning teacher’s Year 8 Humanities class. They will evaluate the resources made and give feedback on the tasks. By doing this, my students will see that their work is being utilised and I will also get to see what other teachers and students think of this unit of work.

My students also completed a survey that evaluated the Black Death unit and teacher support during the term. I asked them whether they liked the unit and if it allowed them to work independently and the way they wanted to learn. Most students responded positively. The key reason they wrote was that it allowed them to choose their own groups and create their own tasks. We had 3 rubrics to evaluate the project. The first allowed the students to evaluate themselves and the second allowed them to evaluate their group. The third was the teacher evaluation of the students, which we completed in consultation with the students. This gave us the opportunity to talk to them about the work 1:1 and give them immediate feedback on the unit.

Resources Created:

One of my students used  Blendspace, where she collated a variety of resources to provide a comprehensive unit of work on the Black Death. She included videos, websites and even games about the Plague. She carefully highlighted the key points from the History Australian curriculum on the Black Death. She created activities around the resources that she collected. Her unit was quite detailed and showed me how she likes to learn. She also made a statement during her presentation that she now understood how much work teachers put into creating learning tasks for students. I have made a copy of the unit  (to avoid her name being used )and embedded it below.