All classroom teachers have their uniques ways they utilize digital tools. I do not claim to be an expert, but only sharing what has worked for me... and I hope will work for you ;) I started using Kidblog two years ago, but really like the features Weebly offers. For this reason, I switched over last year. The site is super easy to use and manage.
In this post, I will pinpoint the following:
Why use a blog in the classroom?
There are a few reasons why I use a blog in the classroom:
1) Students are now required to complete the End of Year assessment entirely online, which consists of constructed response questions (written portions). Providing opportunities to respond in written online formats throughout the year better prepares my students.
2) Blogging saves time and paper! I can quickly check work online at home or in class without having to lug 100+ papers with me! Additionally, it is nice not to have to make so many copies. When departmentalizing, I typically have between 85-100+ students, which = A LOT of paper. I do not have many paper/pencil assignments, which helps... but this is an added BONUS :)
3) Do you have super unorganized students? Well, with blogging assignments, students cannot lose their work ;)
4) Engagement and Collaboration - students enjoy having the opportunity to discuss work during class time or even while sitting at home! Some students who typically are shy to speak out in class will run with this opportunity (NO, this does not replace class discussion - it enhances it and helps spark discussion in class even).
What do I place on the classroom blog?
When thinking about what to post on your blog, think SIMPLE. SWEET. TO THE POINT. You certainly do not want to overwhelm students, but you want to make it enjoyable. For these reasons, I include graphics, occasional polls, and activities to earn additional points.
I primarily use the blog for students to respond to nonfiction articles. My goal is to ensure they are close reading and reading complex texts. Many times, I will choose an article from Newsela as the student can adjust the reading level. Other times, I will work with the SS and SC teachers to include articles to review or preview concepts for their classes. With each article (I can embed the article and they can download OR just place a direct link), students are to respond to the constructed response question (CRQ). I use my CRQ rubric to grade their writing. On these types of posts, I make sure the post comments come directly to me, rather than it posting on the site (so I can use it for a grade).
Other times, I will ask a question for them to have conversation about. It is very important at the beginning of the year to have guidelines in place when communicating online. In some instances I will even post class book reward results in chart format. I like to change it up and keep it active, which engages students and keeps it FRESH!
How do I manage the blog and use it effectively?
Managing the use of the blog does take a little time to get used to. I always check for completed assignment comments once a week (usually Friday night), but you can play around with it and see what works best for you. I use a checklist and the rubric to quickly grade their responses. I give them two weeks to read the article and respond, as I expect THROUGH responses. I do not always print out a rubric for each child. It just depends on the depth and purpose of the assignment. Please check out my Constructed Response sheets if you would like:
Constructed Response Strategy Posters & Graphic Organizers
Close Reading CRQs for Upper Grades (this has the Rubric I mentioned)
You need to be sure you are holding the students accountable (and is why I take the response for a CRQ grade) or they will abuse the use of the blog. Additionally, you need to provide class time (maybe homeroom or some other center time) to allow ALL students the opportunity to respond. We cannot assume they will have the means to connect online at home (all depending on your school's demographics).
How can I ensure students are using the blog?
To ensure students are using the blog, give them time to use the site! Make the time each week during homeroom, during intervention time when you are working with small groups, during any center time you may have, AND allow them to work on them at home. Just remember not ALL students will have connection to the internet at home.
Another way to encourage use of the blog is to place "extra points" activities on the site. I have a Big Book Buck$ program I use to motivate reading. From time to time, I will provide them additional points for reading and responding to other literature.
Lastly, I do require written responses on the blog every two weeks. By requiring an assignment, they must go onto the site. Once there, they will see the action going on and will hopefully become a more active participant.
How do I make it safe for my students?
You have control of the students who have access to the blog through the blog controls. You will have to play around with the settings a bit. When you set your site up, be sure to go into the settings and create specific members if you wish OR set a password (as pictured below):
Once you have your settings secure, you have the control over the site. You may also want to set it up for parents to interact (be sure to get signed permission depending on your school's guidelines). I cannot STRESS enough how important it is to go over the basics with students and be sure they know your expectations for their use on the classroom blog.
If all is done properly, this can be one of the most SUCCESSFUL tools you can ever have in your classroom. Best of luck! If you have ANY questions, please drop a line in the comments!!