In the Classroom, Web Logs Are the New Bulletin Boards
Classroom blogs are becoming increasingly popular with teachers as a forum for expression for students.
By JEFFREY SELINGO – – – – Published: August 19, 2004
Last spring, when Marisa L. Dudiak’s second-grade class in Frederick County, Md., returned from a field trip to a Native American farm, all the students wanted to do was talk about what they saw. But instead of leading a discussion about the trip, Mrs. Dudiak had the students sign on to their classroom Web log.
There they wrote about learning to use a bow and arrow, sitting inside a tepee and petting a buffalo. The short entries were typical of second-grade writing, with misspelled words and simple sentences. Still, for Mrs. Dudiak, the exercise proved more fruitful than a group discussion or a handwritten entry in a personal journal.
“It allowed them to interact with their peers more quickly than a journal,” she said, “and it evened the playing field.” Mrs. Dudiak said she found that those who were quiet in class usually came alive online.
Classroom Web logs, or blogs, many of which got their start in the last school year, are becoming increasingly popular with teachers like Mrs. Dudiak as a forum for expression for students as young as the second-grade level and in almost any subject. In the blogs, students write about how they attacked a tough math problem, post observations about their science experiments or display their latest art projects.
For teachers, blogs are attractive because they require little effort to maintain, unlike more elaborate classroom Web sites, which were once heralded as a boon for teaching. Helped by templates found at sites like tblog.com and movabletype.org, teachers can build a blog or start a new topic in an existing blog by simply typing text into a box and clicking a button.
Such ease of use is the primary reason that Peter Grunwald, an education consultant, predicts that blogs will eventually become a more successful teaching tool than Web sites.
“School Web sites are labor-intensive and are left up to administrators and teachers,” said Mr. Grunwald, whose consulting firm in Washington focuses on the technology link between home and school. “With blogging intended to be a vehicle for students, the labor is built in. The work that is required to refresh and maintain an interesting blog is being provided by students.”
One way teachers say they use blogs is to continue spirited discussions that were cut short or to prolong question-and-answer periods with guest speakers.
“With blogs, class doesn’t have to end when the bell rings,” said Will Richardson, supervisor of instructional technology and communications at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, N.J., who maintained blogs for two journalism classes he taught last year.
Teachers say that the interactivity of blogs allowed them to give students feedback much more quickly than before.
“I used to have this stack of hard-copy journals on my desk waiting to be read,” said Catherine Poling, an assistant principal at Kemptown Elementary School, also in Frederick County, Md., who ran a blog last year when she taught third grade at a nearby school. “Now I can react to what they say immediately, and students can respond to each other.”
In one blog entry, for instance, Ms. Poling asked her students what qualities they looked for when rating books for a statewide award. When several students responded that a book has to be creative and grab their attention, she posted a follow-up question asking them if they used the same criteria for both fiction and nonfiction books.
While such a question could have just as easily been posed during a classroom conversation, teachers who use blogs say that students put a lot more thought and effort into their blog writing, knowing that parents and others may read their work on the Web.
“They want to make sure that it’s good enough to be read by more than just their teacher,” said Christopher S. Wright, a third grade teacher at Wyman Elementary School in Rolla, Mo.
Sometimes, the long reach of the Web has turned bloggers into modern-day pen pals, allowing students to collaborate easily with their peers in other classes or even other countries. Some social studies classes at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, for instance, are using a blog to study the Holocaust with high school students in Krakow, Poland.