Over the past four weeks my class has been involved in a quad blogging action research project that has included students from Grades 3 - 5 from schools in Thailand, USA, Czech. Republic and Switzerland. Along with Maggie Hos-McGrane (the IT Team Leader in the Elementary school), who has been acting in a coaching role for me and my students, we have guided the students through the processes involved with the quad blog. During this time we have been observing, discussing and researching whether or not this experience can improve the writing skills of students, and offer new ideas and insights for teachers into the instruction of writing in (and out of!) their classrooms.
Some potential roadblocks that were suggested at the beginning of the project were that whether or not I would be able to incorporate blogging experiences into my daily language time in the classroom. Good blogging requires first having to read the posts you are looking at before you decide either what to comment on, or whether or not this post might inspire or encourage you to write a post of your own. Luckily, I didn't find it difficult to dedicate time in my schedule to allow for reading of the blogs. I found that the skills required for quad blogging are transferrable to other forms of writing so didn't see this as an 'extra' thing to add onto the timetable. My students were enthusiastic about reading their peers' blogs because they had an authentic purpose and and also made personal connections throughout the quad blogging process.
The writing side of the experience related to the reading in the sense that many of my students wanted to leave comments on people's blogs that they'd viewed before, or if that person had written on their blog previously. By having a contextual purpose for their writing, they not only thought carefully about what they were writing (in terms of content), but they also showed great enthusiasm to write. Many students chose to comment on several other students' blogs as well as their designated buddy.
We were also able to refer to two rubrics that highlighted some important aspects of both blogging and commenting. These rubrics allowed the students to self-extend their own writing by reflecting on whether or not they had included all elements that were required to be an 'expert blogger'. Several students also commented in their reflection that they felt that by having the rubric accessible to them (I posted it on the class blog), they were able to take their time and think about what certain things meant. This helped them to understand more about blogging.
The students also reflected on some other things that they felt like the process helped to improve their writing:
- "It allowed me to get some more feedback about my writing"
- "It helped me to learn new words"
- "I improved at writing because I had to make sure my spelling and grammar were aways correct because everyone was reading it"
- "I became much better at keeping a conversation going, which I wasn't good at before"
- " I was able to make some connections to my other writing. Like, when I write a story and in the story there is some information about something, it's like in blogging when I make a hyperlink to another blog post"
- "It helped me to read some other blog posts so I could see what good writing looked like"
Although at the start of this project I predicted that it would help my students to improve their writing skills, I never expected it to be this successful. The comments and conversations provided by my students showed to me the widespread impact that this has had on their writing. By providing a real purpose for the students, the volume of their writing increased dramatically. Perhaps not as much for the students in my class who were already prolific writers, but for those who are sometimes reluctant to write it gave them a great opportunity and purpose. It also incorporated several other useful skills, such as meta-cognition, time management and collaboration. By having this during the second half of the year, I was able to ensure that my students were tech-savvy enough to be able to self-monitor their own blogs, although I believe that this could also have been done during the first half of the year as most students are familiar and capable with this sort of technology - it's part of their everyday life.
Having the IT help was certainly beneficial. I'm reasonably competent with the technology we were using so this allowed Maggie to take on more of an observing role, which was great for the assessment process. She was able to capture the students on video going through the processes in real time and this helped to provide a great insight into their thoughts and understandings. She also went through each student's blog and took screen shots of each of their comments. This allowed us to compare their writing at the beginning and end of the process - and the results were clear to see. However, for those teachers not confident with this sort of technology then this coaching role would look different.
Although I would have previously already recommended quad blogging to any teacher, now I am thinking that we should be really insisting that something along the lines of this sort of learning experience really should happen in classrooms. The benefits were clear to see and I'm looking forward to continuing this with other classes that I've connected with before.