Happy New Year from the LEARN bloggers! At this time of renewal and rethinking old habits, here’s hoping this Teacher Profile of Catherine Barnard inspires you to “upgrade” an area of your literacy teaching practice! As Catherine and I have discussed many times there are countless possibilities out there to engage and support both your students and yourself in deep literacy learning. We’ve written about blogging for literacy as well as the art of commenting on blogs – now meet a teacher who uses the full potential of blogging with her students.
Teacher’s name: Catherine Barnard
School: North Hatley Elementary
Levels: Cycle 2
Experience: 6 years
Melanie: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Catherine: I grew up in the Eastern Townships, and though I studied at McGill University, I decided to come back and teach for the ETSB. I have been lucky enough to have various opportunities to travel. I have snorkelled the islands of Hawaii and discovered the vineyards of northern Italy. I am an avid racket sports player and enjoy running…on most days! I love picture books and use them often in my classroom to model various writing traits strong authors use.
Melanie: What inspired you to start blogging with your students?
Catherine: When I first started with the ETSB, the ability to have access to laptops in my class was an opportunity for me to experiment with multimedia projects. These types of projects gave students a chance to uniquely utilize their literacy skills, and more concretely established the idea of an audience. They helped students discover, develop, apply and establish links with the world around them. This also prompted students to not only engage enthusiastically, but it pushed students to communicate their ideas clearly and creatively.
However, I knew inside that these great learning opportunities were unfortunately limited to the time I was spending on the multimedia projects. And, the reality was that often, not all of my students were able to take on the same amount of responsibility! I started to realize that I needed to find a way to use technology more consistently in my classroom without always having to undertake a “big” media project.
Though I used my Smart board and various online tools to teach daily, I didn’t have something students could access and be contributors to on a regular basis. I had had a class website my first year teaching and enjoyed being able to organize great online tools, showcase my students’ work and have a means to communicate with both students and parents. The only thing missing was a place where ALL students could easily contribute! It didn’t take me long to figure out that what I needed was a class blog!
With a blog, I not only had a place to organize great online tools, display multimedia endeavours and a platform to communicate with both students and parents, but I also had a medium to showcase web 2.0 activities. Moreover, a blog was a way for my students to showcase their work individually, communicate ideas, points of view with peers and discuss through comments! Blogging is really a web journal of our classroom projects, activities and our “news”. By putting up posts, students and myself are able to reflect our unique perspectives and build relationships with readers and other bloggers. It truly is our interactive 5th classroom wall!
Melanie: Can you give us a quick overview of how you use the blog in classroom?
Catherine: Firstly, I’ve used the blog differently depending on the year. I teach a multi-grade cycle 2 class and the student needs, comfort levels, as well as my access to technology can vary from year to year. Consequently, some years students are contributors to our class blog, while other years, each student has been able to obtain their own blog to manage.
On a daily basis, I have also exploited the classroom blog in various ways. Essentially, blogs provide a communication space that teachers can utilize with students whenever there is a curriculum need to develop writing, share ideas and reflect on work being undertaken in the classroom. Sometimes it has been used for journaling, collaborating, sharing writing and other works, engaging in reading discussions, book reviews or ethical issues, and of course commenting to peers! Various web 2.0 tools available online help keep the blog vibrant and the students motivated!
Finally, I have used the blog in different subjects from Math to Art and most importantly, my students have collaborated with classes from around the world on multiple projects. This authentic audience has greatly influenced the way they perceive the projects they undertake!
Melanie: How has the blog impacted your teaching and evaluation practices?
Catherine: The best way to express how blogging has impacted my teaching would be to show you a video my students and I made last year about Quadblogging (Four teachers agree to have their students comment on each other’s blogs in an organized fashion. Each week, one of the four gets a turn as the spotlight class. The other three classes visit and leave comments. Over the course of a month, every student’s work gets read and commented upon. Along the way, students learn about respectful online communication).
This video truly demonstrates the power of blogging and having an audience to share in your learning: (http://quadblogging.net/highlights/).
As for my evaluation practices, the blog has provided, for me, additional formative assessment opportunities. Through various web 2.0 activities and their comments, students are given a different medium to showcase their learning.
Melanie: What did you feel was the greatest accomplishment that came from implementing this project in your classroom?
Catherine: My greatest accomplishment or main goal is to have my students engaged in literacy and having fun! Blogging is just another way of allowing students to interact with print. I want them to have a way of communicating their thoughts, ideas, values and points of view in different contexts and through meaningful dialogue.
Even as a young teacher, I sometimes wonder about technology and I’m not always convinced whether its advantages out way its disadvantages. However, technology is not going away and I believe that as an educator, my role is to adapt to this growing presence in children’s lives and best equip them to use technology successfully and significantly. These days, students heavily depend on technology as a constant source of entertainment. The trick is to find a way to harness that innate quality of play children have with technology and apply it to the curriculum. I believe blogging can provide an enriched and innovative practice that helps students become more independent and successful literacy learners.
I don’t doubt that watching students involve themselves in the blogging process has been both exciting and rewarding. I have seen students who might typically not excel in various literacy situations, engage extensively. Hopefully this can continue to be a source of motivation for students and for me, as a teacher. Finally, I truly believe blogging has opened up forms of collaboration that have allowed my students to take their learning far beyond the walls of my classroom.
Melanie: What words of advice could you offer another teacher who was interested in starting blogging with their students?
Catherine: Well, the first step is to ‘blog surf’ as I call it! I spent hours visiting other people’s blogs, more specifically other classroom blogs! I was amazed with what I discovered. There are some incredible teachers out there with wonderful ideas and resources.
Teachers who would like to start a classroom blog need to have time to get their head around how to use the medium. They need to figure out how blogging can best be integrated within their own classroom reality and teaching practices. It is too easy to be “wowed” by the glamour of the platform and to lose sight of the fact that it is still best used as a tool for students to gain a deeper understanding of what is already being taught. Blogging, like any other tool should be used to enhance student learning. Without teacher support and guidance, I believe blogging can become meaningless and potentially a classroom distraction.
After visiting several blogs, teachers will need to find a blogging platform that feels comfortable to them. There are several excellent ones out there. I use Edublog, which in my opinion is a fantastic educational provider. A free Edublog account is available, but for about 40$ a year, an Edublog Pro subscription provides you with additional storage, priority email support, and much more.
Once a class blog is created, I suggest teachers spend time experimenting themselves with posts and become more familiar with various online tools that can be embedded into blogs. This experimenting stage is crucial and helps ensure beginning teachers don’t put too much pressure on themselves.
So, if I were to pick the 3 most important things to remember about starting a blog it would probably have to be:
1) Don’t reinvent the wheel: Check out other blogs!
2) Get your head around the lingo: posts, comments, widget etc.
3) Start small!
Here is a useful link: The 10 Most Important Things To Figure Out About Blogging.
Melanie: Can you offer some blogs that have inspired you and your students?
Catherine: A must read is Nathan Turf’s class blog, Mr.Turf.ca and his own educator blog called Portable PD.ca
Of course, any of the blogs in our Blogroll are wonderful models:
You can also listen to Catherine talk about her experiences blogging with her classroom in an interview podcast she did with Susan van Gelder. Simply click here and sit back and enjoy the interview.
As well, here is Catherine’s classroom blog Miss B’s Block. Visit it and leave some comments for her students. They will LOVE to see your feedback for sure!! You can also check out her previous classroom blog here. It is closed for comments but filled with interesting learning adventures all the same.
Why not take some time this holiday season to consider all that blogging can bring to your literacy program. As Catherine reminds us, start small and you will quickly discover the enormous impact it can have on your students.
If you are intrigued, don’t hesitate to reach out. Support and guidance is only a comment away.
Happy and Healthy 2013, everyone!