Two teachers in two elementary schools in the Eastern Townships have introduced blogging into their students’ classroom routine. Through their blogs, students reflect on their learning, chart their progress and leave a positive digital footprint that they can look back on over time.
Friday mornings stand out at Butler Elementary School in Bedford. That is the time dedicated to each student’s option course—be it music, sports, or in the case of a number of students from grades 5, 6 and 7—their “Passion Project.” Led by grade 7 teacher, Monica Soule, the 10 students in the “Passion Project” each choose a topic they consider personally interesting, research it and, over the course of the year, create something tangible based on their learning. And every week, they blog about what they have accomplished, what worked, what didn’t, and what they need to do next—all the while practising their writing skills.
One student is researching the medicinal qualities of local plants with the aim of producing an herbal tea. Another wants to build the best popsicle-stick bridge ever. One recent post reads that the bridge is so strong “I can almost sit on it. It took me two hours to build just the two sides but it holds very well. I only have 50 popsicle sticks left.”
“A picture into a time of their lives”
In his capacity as GOAL consultant, Chris Colley helped Monica introduce blogging as a tool for student reflection and self-discovery. Says Chris: “Blogging allows the kids to record the cool things they have learned, and what they need to do next to advance their project. It’s a picture into a time of their lives that they can keep forever.” He adds that by sharing their ideas about something that truly interests them, “The students are creating a positive digital footprint: a glimpse into who they are as people.”
Last fall, Elizabeth Heeley-Ray, a teacher at Heroes’ Memorial School in Cowansville, also worked with Chris to set up a virtual classroom in which her grade 5 students could post their work and assignments on a secure, teacher-supervised platform. Blogging is one component of this. Elizabeth’s students use their blogs to consider the progress they make each term, the challenges they encounter and their future goals. “That way they can see how they are changing,” she says.
More active role in their development
And because they can view and comment on each other’s posts, they are discovering what is, and is not, appropriate use of social media. Students have learned “that when making a comment, it’s best to think twice, seeing as I can read it, as well as their peers and parents,” says Elizabeth. “In this respect, they are presenting an image of themselves and taking on a more reflective and active role in their development.”
Before kids start to blog, “You need to teach them the purpose and intent,” adds Chris. He asks students: “Does your comment contribute? Does it help the other person? Otherwise, why put it there?”
Elizabeth finds blogging can easily fit into daily class activities. Eventually, she would like to expand its use. For example, in the context of Ethics and Religious Culture, it could be a way to get students discussing bullying, how to deal with emotions and what are appropriate reactions.
But for now, she and her students are simply experimenting. “I see it as a tool to assist in reflection and discussion, as opposed to evaluation,” she says. “However, it has made the students and myself more aware and responsible for our learning and my teaching.”
To help the teachers and their student bloggers get started, Chris Colley led a two-hour session in each class to address the technical issues. He organized the setting up of accounts, made sure the kids knew how to log in to their blog and walked them through their first post. He also used that time to reinforce the concept of good digital citizenship.
Now in a new position at LEARN (the non-profit Leading English Education and Resource Network serving Québec’s English-language educational sector), he is happy to share his blogging experience with any interested educator.