October 17, 2005 4:00 AM PDT

Blogging 101--Web logs go to school

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students' entries about topics like racism and abortion. "I have a lot of strong views on a lot of things," he said. "This gives you a chance to share your views with everyone."

But blogging can also have some negative effects on student prose. An overabundance of acronyms and abbreviations--a kind of Internet shorthand that Fisher calls "MSNisms"--can creep into students' blogs, Fisher said.

While teachers applaud the use of blogs to develop writing skills, they're using them in other areas as well, launching blogs in topics ranging from advanced placement calculus to music theory to Mandarin in an effort to engage and educate.

And just as these blogs run the gamut in terms of subject matter, the way schools handle them, and the degree of teacher control, varies widely. For instance, Meeler lets anyone from the Web surfing public read and comment on her students' blogs. Others, like Fisher, more actively manage them, reviewing all posts and comments before publication. There's also software, including a program called Moodle, for creating password-protected blogs that are walled off from the world beyond the school or classroom.

Protecting children
Concerned about child predators, many teachers require students to use their initials or first names only to identify themselves in their online journals.

Meeler, whose students go by their first names online, has had to remove the occasional mean remark from her class's blog. But she views such incidents as an opportunity to teach the students not to get discouraged. "I can't guarantee they won't see it, but I like to keep it open because that's what blogging is," Meeler said.

Student blogs can also give rise to questions of control. A few weeks ago, one of Fisher's middle school students submitted a blog entry that ranted about a tough night of babysitting. Another wrote about personal troubles with his parents. Fisher didn't publish either one, but discussed the issues openly with his class. Still, he worried about the kids' reaction.

"Will this experience harm the openness and the flow that is developing in their spaces?" he wrote in his own blog. "A fine balancing act will follow in the next few days. I am encouraged tonight after returning from open house at the school to find five new blog posts needing approval; a positive sign that this did not scare them off from writing."

That's why some schools, like Mabry Middle School in Marietta, Ga., view blogs primarily as a tool for teachers to relay information--study guides, handouts and assignments--to students. The exception is the eighth-graders' Sixceed blog, where students collectively post advice for incoming sixth-graders on surviving middle school. Teachers are grappling with how to make the blog, which recently replaced a static Web site, more interactive.

"We plan to add a part to the blog this year where fifth-graders and parents can post their questions and concerns," said Carmen Hartnett, an eighth-grade language arts teacher at Mabry. "But we're trying to deal with how to control it, since we're dealing with schoolchildren."

As more teachers face such questions, technology companies are hoping to step in. ePals Classroom Exchange, which specializes in "school-safe" e-mail and Web browsing, is one of them. The company recently announced plans to develop a student blogging tool, which, among other things, is designed to filter out inappropriate postings.

But if you listen to the pundits, blogs are just the beginning of a bigger push toward more interactive Internet use in schools. Educators are already starting to experiment with podcasting, a technology for creating and distributing free audio programs online, as well as wikis, a type of collaborative online workspace. For some, staying on top of it all while focusing on basic curriculum can be a chore.

"There's a learning curve to all of it," said Romaine Collins, another eighth-grade language arts teacher at Mabry. "It does become overwhelming."

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Posted by anspn (25 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Education needs to get serious...
Blogs are NOT a valid school subject. Blogs are a sloppy
communications technique, rarely containing anything really
worth while, and rank just one notch above text messaging on
cell phones. We've got kids who can't add, can't read, and can't
write in real sentences, and wouldn't know a verb if it bit them.
There's where the real education effort needs to be placed. Sure,
that's not 'fun', and kids do want to play rather than learn, and
teachers seem to go out of their way to avoid being actual

Sorry folks, but US kids need real help, not junk like this teacher
is peddling. As noted, "... Fisher is among a small but growing
number of teachers and professors experimenting with
classroom blogs...." And maybe that defines the real situation.
The kids are experiments in arcane educational techniques by
educators more interested in notoriety than success, and where
failure is basically irrelevant.

But that's okay. I make good money teaching 10th graders the
math they should have learned in 2nd grade. And I have an
associate who teaches basic reading skills to these same kids. Of
course, you have to accommodate sport schedules, and vacation
schedules, and school trip schedules, and 'too busy parent'
schedules, and every other conflict people can dream up.

And people wonder why the US is getting stomped in
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Is this what it comes down to?
I have to agree with the last post. We really need to start getting back to basics with education. There's nothing wrong with teaching a computer litercay class, however, where do we draw the line? We are in a definite information age, but we also need to understand that the information relies heavily people to create it. Those people who help deliver this information to the public, are brilliant mathmeticians, who can speak, read, write, and comprehend basic language structure. How do we expect kids tro learn if we plop them down in front of a PC and tell them to have fun?
Posted by smcgui5 (21 comments )
Link Flag
Oh dear...
There are plenty of valid school subjects. The ability to communicate effectively, to organise your thoughts, to interest other people in what you say and so on. Writing weblogs is an extremely good way of doing this.

The comment 'blogs are a sloppy communications technique' really says a great deal - clearly Benser has only looked at a small number of them and made his mind up, then firmly closed it. I get a great deal of extraordinarily useful information from weblogs; they are not just diaries. Most, in fact all of the weblogs that I read are written by very intelligent people who have points to make, and they do so very well. It is because they are good at this that I read them - it's a very positive form of feedback, since I comment on what they've said, and information is shared back and forth.

I agree entirely that children need to be able to read and write correctly, and in order to do this they actually need to do that - sit and write. They also need to read what other people have written, and using weblogs as a tool is an excellent way of doing that. To merely deride them as a waste of time or 'junk' simply indicates that the author really hasn't studied the subject properly if at all. I wonder if he also thinks that writing a diary is 'junk' and a waste of time? I presume that he must, since the only real difference is that one is handwritten and the other is typed.

This is a very sad little piece with very little merit to it, other than to attempt to slam a teacher for trying something different. If we never try different things we are destined to remain where we are.

I also note that the author teachers mathematics. This is probably just as well, since his piece is littered with grammatical errors (you don't start a sentence with 'and' and it's very juvenile to repeat question marks to try and make a point), so perhaps he would be better spending his time learning to use good written English - perhaps he might start by writing a weblog? Which is, as an amusing aside, how I found this piece in the first instance!
Posted by Philbradley (3 comments )
Link Flag
What makes me doubtful...
In the abstract I don't see much anything wrong with the idea of using Blogs, as a tool. In theory it covers several bases. Typing, spelling, grammar, and even reading comprehension if the students are supposed to be commenting on something. If the teachers using the Blogs are actually holding the submissions to some kind of standard then I don't really have a problem with the idea.

The article is not clear on that. Which is a little depressing. Mr. Fisher 'reviews' Blogs before approving them, but the only examples of rejected submissions were blatant. Also, how do these submissions work? There is not much skill required to fill in a form and submit it. I wouldn't call it "technical skill". Really what it boils down to is that sort of instruction is far beyond the scope of an English course.
Posted by (29 comments )
Link Flag
What I think
I think it's a good idea to get kids to blog. They can still learn their grammar from blogs. Just because they are typing doesn't mean theey'll change it into slang. They will probably spell everything properly so everyone can understand. Blgging is a good idea for people to tell their feelings and what they think of school. This will also give them time to have fun with computers and learn more about them. Their typing skills will get betetr too. This isn't like the old days when we just used pencil and paper or chalkboards we have technology so we mine as well use it.
Posted by Stargirl (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Not a subject for a governing body
I feel that this issue is about the same as congress looking into
steroids in baseball. It is of no concern or buisness to any school
public or private how their students choose to spend their free
time. At school is one thing but at home is the parents
responsibility to police... oh wait a minute I forgot parents have no
responsibility any more for their children in the US, that is the
government or daycare's responsibility.
Posted by ack_750 (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
If I know my students are 1) involved in illegal activities outside of the classroom, such as doing drugs, drinking alcohol, or even being in a gang (where the student might be involved in a monthly shooting or drive-by), 2) having trouble at home because of a broken household, either because of abusive parents, divorced parents, or many other examples, or 3) have a "not as serious" problem such as being bullied outside of school or lacking a social life or any other problems that effect how a student performs in the classroom, are you suggesting that as an educator, all of those examples are of no concern to me as I try to educate my students? Any good educator knows that the reason most students are unable to learn is because of problems outside of the classroom, so how am I to educate these students if I don't in some way deal with these problems.

Yes it is unfortunate and truly upsetting that some parents lack the responsibility to raise their children appropriately, but in those cases, am I to just give up on those students and let them fall through the crack? Maybe this philosophy of yours is the reason students lack in basic skills such as reading and writing, and if you are an educator, I feel terrible for your students or any students with a teacher of that philosophy.

One reason blogs can be so effective is because of their potential to motivate students to express their thoughts and ideas and possibly help remove some or all of the problems mentioned above.
Posted by callmewilly (1 comment )
Link Flag
Blogs Work
I was just curious...
Did anyone take the time to read any of the student blogs discussed?
I work at the elementary school featured in the article and can attest to the fact that our students benefit immensely from blogging. Their writing improves dramatically throughout the year. It is amazing to watch these 5th graders blossom as writers, especially considering that English is not the primary language of the majority of our students.
Posted by sroper (1 comment )
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I would agree that blogs have a bad reputation in the educational setting. Educators often view them as merely a chat room. Students are able to use blogs as an online journal or writing tool that allows them to interact with students from around the world. My school district has a strict policy against the use of blogs in the classroom. In fact, we are currently blocked from accessing most of these sites. I find this to be sad, especially since research has shown that technology motivates and empowers students to capture the skills that they are learning. Blogs would enable us to teach the conventions of writing, while enabling students to craft their own personal narratives. Students would be able to recognize the importance of writing clearly and applying the concepts that we have learned, so that others are able to easily read and interpret what they have written. I believe that blogging has endless possiblities related to instruction, I only wish that my district would embrace them!
Posted by sonthird (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Education is getting tough day by day. A student needs to spend enough time in study in order to get good marks. It is necessary to get back to the basics of education in order to release burden from student?s shoulders.

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Posted by EssayHelp (1 comment )
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