Teachers Creating Classroom Blogs
The people that tried Inspired Classrooms the first time around (2000-2004) and didn’t stick with it, have said that the technical organization is what didn’t work out for them. Browsing through the numerous powerpoints, word documents, network folders, etc. was too confusing for students and teachers alike. The technology was getting in the way of teaching and learning. Our answer to this in 2006 is the use of blogs. A blog is an online journal of sorts, where teachers can easily write articles (prompts) and students and student teams can respond. A blog is free and does not require any special software…its just "fill in the blank." A blog will allow ALL of the teacher and student work to be gathered and organized in one location. The beauty is that it’s all online, so teachers can work from any location, and students and parents will have 24/7 access to ALL lessons and activities. Just start thinking in terms of (1) teacher prompt (posting an article), (2) student collaboration (activity/center), and (3) student/team written response (comment).

For example: the teacher will “post an article” to the blog; something like “Good morning class. Today we will be reviewing our spelling words. Get with your team members and write a story using all ten spelling words. Make sure that you are using the words in a way that I can tell you know what they mean. Oh, and one more thing, write the story from the perspective of Christopher Columbus. Use the comment button below to type and send your story to me.” Each team of students will go to the blog, read the teacher’s prompt, and work together and write their story and “comment” it back to the teacher. Because this is online, not all teams have to do this at the same time or even on the same day…it is simply a task (center) that they will complete. By the time all of the teams have commented back, the teacher will have her original activity prompt and all of the teams’ responses archived all on one webpage. The blog is both a communication tool and an organizational tool.

The best aspect of this is that it’s online. Parents can watch the progress of the class' assignments and their child’s progress. In fact, parents, grandparents, the building principal and anyone else can comment back to the students' comments. With the blog, you have a built-in conduit to the "real world" outside of the classroom. All of the sudden, students realize that they are writing for a world-wide audience and the "real world" is able to respond back. All of this can take place online, within a safe, teacher-controlled environment. Also, don’t overlook the fact that teachers can create and grade assignments from any computer, from any location, at any time. No more carrying huge stacks of paper home to grade, or being tied to a network drive at school to access student work.

Blogging to a World-Wide Audience
Teachers and students writing to a blog are communicating to a global audience whether they realize it or not…even if they aren't intending to. A 2nd grade class blog from a rural school in west Texas has the same publishing power and potential audience as the New york Times editorial blogs. It immediately builds relevance to an assigment when students know that their comments will be read by other students, their parents, relatives from other towns and beyond.

Learning to Blog
Most students will have to be taught how to blog correctly. Even students who have a mySpace or Xanga account and think they know how to blog, aren't using it like you want them to. In the process of teaching classroom blogging procedures, its a good idea to form some blogging rules that everyone can agree to follow. Take a look at these blog rules created by one of our 2nd grade teachers:

1. Never use your name or another students name in our class blog. There could be a stranger who reads our blog and we don’t want them to know your name.
2. When commenting as a group, use your group name. Anytime you comment as a group, everyone has to agree on the response.
3. When commenting as an individual, use your initials. The kids in our class will know who you are, but strangers will not.
4. Anytime you comment, make sure to use kind words. It’s ok to disagree with someone else as long as you do it politely.
5. Remember, because our blog is on the internet, you can comment from class, from the computer lab, from home, or any other computer that is connected to the internet. All comments go to Mrs. Wilson first for moderation, so they won’t always show up immediately.

Blogging Safety
Student anonymity is vital to maintaining the security of the classroom blog. Not complete anonymity, but internet anonymity. If teams are responding as a team, have them comment using a team name. When students respond individually, have them use initials only or a screen name or nickname. You want everyone in your class to be able to look at the blog and know who is who, while hiding those identities to everyone else outside of the class.
We like the idea of leaving comments open so that anyone can leave a comment on the blog. We do not, however, recommend leaving your blog wide open to un-moderated comments. Make sure you know how to use the Comment Moderation security feature in your blogging software. Many good blogs, like WordPress, will notify you via email when you have a comment waiting for your approval. Using this feature requires a little more work on your part, but guarantees that you are always in control of the content of your blog.

Remember, its always good to explain to parents what and how you will be using the class blog before you roll it out to your students. Many times, parents are most resistent to things they aren't sure about. A little parent education can go a long way in supporting what you re doing. Blogging 101 would be a good meet-the-teacher-night topic of discussion.