Spotlight On Classroom Blogging February 16 2010

Blogging has become a convenient and acceptable way to interact with people in our communities, and the classroom is no different.

Cheryl McHenry, a 1st grade teacher at Enterprise Learning Academy in Jacksonville, Florida, has made technology a regular part of communicating with parents and families of the students in her class. Enterprise Learning Academy is part of the technology-forward Duval County Schools, who has supplied their staff with a program that gives parents access to teacher websites and blogs, as well as student assignments and grades. The use of technology in this case eliminates a lot of paperwork while making information easily accessible to parents and families.

Ms. McHenry keeps in touch with families through her website, posting academic and behavioral expectations. Regular updates also include homework assignments, games for students to access that integrate with classroom curriculum, and photos of classroom activities.

In the mix of all of this technology, Ms. McHenry has made blogging a regular part of her classroom routine. This blog for Ms. McHenry's Manatees is a simple one set up in blogspot, and is separate from the website provided by the district. The blog is for the kids.

Who gets to blog?

There are two daily opportunities for students to write in Ms. McHenry's classroom: Journaling happens first thing in the morning, and Writer’s Workshop is from 9:45 – 10:45. Students produce about one piece of writing per week through the use of the Writing Process - brainstorming/prewriting, producing a rough draft, revising, editing and publishing the final draft.

"Typing is part of the Publishing process," says McHenry. "Students type up their pieces in a Word document, then copy and paste into the blog." Ms. McHenry monitors which students are posting and how often. "I concentrate on pulling kids who don’t get as much of an opportunity to use technology anywhere else.”

If her students don't have a piece ready to publish but they are pulled to type a blog post, students can use their journal entries. "I don't change a thing," she says.

How did she get the idea?

Ms. McHenry's idea for the blog was a coming together of the website access provided by the school district and of typing as part of the Publishing process in her classroom.

Parents were already used to accessing school and teacher websites, but it wasn't specific enough. "I wanted to give parents access to their children's writing," says McHenry. The blog is linked to her classroom website, and it's easy for parents to take a look. The blog is also immediate - once a student types a post, it's ready to view.

Because students get to type and then copy and paste into the blog, they are empowered in both writing and technology.  “They have ownership over their own writing," says McHenry.

This is a valuable commodity, and McHenry never changes a post. When student's writing is difficult to read, she may go in and provide a translation of the story underneath the original post, but the original is never changed - the students' investments are too important.

Computers in the Classroom?

McHenry has only four computers in her classroom to use with this blog. Not only does she use them for blogging and publishing, but also for center time. Two are specifically used for a “Technology Center” to practice specific computer skills while the other two have games that focus on academic skill-building and review.

Games are also part of the time McHenry’s students have each week in the Computer Lab. Duval County uses a technology curriculum that is connected to the reading, writing and science curriculum taught at Enterprise Learning Academy.

McHenry can use this 30 minutes of time in the Computer Lab each week to target kids’ needs. "I can specifically assign a task based on what skills kids need to practice or review. I’m in control of what they’re playing,” says McHenry.

What About Access?

McHenry did a technology survey with her students’ families at the beginning of the year to determine who has access to a computer and internet service. There are seven kids who don't have opportunities to use technology at home. "I can pull kids who need more opportunites to use computers and other technology at school who don't have them anywhere else," said Ms. McHenry. She also still provides information on paper that goes home with kids as well as what's posted on her website and blog.

Because she has made it part of her writing routine, Ms. McHenry uses this simple tool efficiently without taking time away from student contact or learning. Students have ownership over their writing, and it's immediately accessible to their families. Blogging has become a valuable classroom tool as well as a more personal way for parents and families to be a part of what is going on in the classroom.

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