Connecting Through Blogs

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I’ve often reflected on the fact that much of my best professional learning has come from informal conversations with other teachers. Sometimes that happens in the hallway after school or in the faculty room over lunch. But increasingly, those conversations also happen online. While it’s always been possible to read articles and books to learn new teaching strategies or to dig deeper into content, what happens when you need clarification of an idea? You can’t ask a book a question. You could try emailing the author, but getting a response could take weeks – and that conversation is limited to you and the author. Enter the power of blogs.

For those who aren’t sure how a blog is different from any other webpage, the main difference (in my opinion) is conversation. A blog includes two main components: a post, written by the blogger (author) on a particular topic; followed by comments, written by the readers and the blogger. The comments are the key. When I read a blog post, I can share my own thoughts and questions and start a conversation, not just with the author, but with other readers as well. It’s a little like a book club – minus the schedule and the snacks. I can read a book on my own. Or, I can read a book and then get together with others who have read the book and talk about it. This helps me connect with others who have similar interests, but who may or may not think the same way about what we’ve read. Our conversation can challenge my thinking and help me to see things from a new perspective.

Fortunately for us as educators, there are many blogs out there to help us expand our conversations. If you’re shy, you can start by just reading the posts and comments. Even the wallflower at a book club will probably learn something from listening to the conversation of others. Eventually I hope you’ll feel comfortable enough to make a comment of your own; to add your own voice to the conversation. This is a great way to make connections with teachers other than those you see on a daily basis.

So how do you find good blogs? I’ll be honest. I find most of my blogs via Twitter…but that’s a topic for another post. There are a few organizations out there that publish lists of educational blogs. Teach 100 is a popular one that ranks blogs based on several different criteria. I haven’t found a way to search by topics though, so this one could take a while to sift through if you’re looking for something specific. A faster way is to search for your topic, but include the word “blog” in your search. For instance, a search for blog teaching math returned the following:

blog teaching math

You’ll have to click on a few titles and read a few posts and comments to decide if the blog is really of interest to you. Once you find a blog you like, check out sidebars and see if there is a “blogroll”. This is a list of other blogs that blogger follows….kind of like getting a book recommendation from someone in your book club. I’m working on adding a blog roll to Learn.Share.Repeat. – stay tuned! But if you’d like to check out a few blogs I read on a regular basis, take a look at these:

The Principal of Change  – George Couros is a principal and innovative learning consultant from Canada. His posts always push my thinking.

Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension – Pernille Ripp is a 7th grade teacher who blogs about developing passionate learners.

Free Technology for Teachers – Richard Byrne shares some of the most practical posts I’ve found and helps me stay on top of the “new things” out there for teachers and students.

I’ve never met any of these three bloggers personally, but I feel like I know them because I’ve read their work and interacted with them through comments and on Twitter. I am “connected”, knowing that I have some “go-to” blogs where I know I always learn something new.

This week, I encourage you to spend some time looking for a blog or two that will benefit your professional learning. When you find one, share it with someone in your department or grade level to expand the connections even more. Also, remembering the power of sharing and conversation, leave a comment here and tell us what you found. Together we all know more!

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Teaching Your Students to Blog

At our “Growing Digitally” Mini-Conference next week, I’ll be facilitating two sessions entitled Growing Writers by Growing their Audience: Online Writing and Publishing Opportunities for Elementary Writers. In an effort to model my own blogging (which is most definitely a work in progress), I am using this space as a way to share and gather resources dedicated to teaching students to blog.

Our district has a strong focus on literacy and our students are immersed in both learning to write and writing to learn each day. But student blogging is new to most of our teachers. In a way, this makes me happy. We can start at the beginning and develop good habits together. Even though I see the value of blogging for students, I’m definitely not an expert on how to make it happen. Fortunately, I know people who are. Using the connections I’ve made on Twitter and at conferences such as PETE&C and BLC14, I have found some great resources about getting students started as bloggers.

Stepping it Up – Learning About Blogs for Your Students is a fantastic series of posts by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano, who I had the privilege of meeting this summer at BLC14. Silvia is passionate about helping students make global connections and believes that blogging is one way to develop those connections. This series of blog posts walks teachers through the important steps necessary to cultivate the skills and understandings students need as they learn to write quality blog posts and comments. I highly recommend it to any teacher thinking about blogging with his/her students.

I’d been familiar with Silvia’s Langwitches blog for quite a while, but as I prepared for this session I discovered another guru of student blogging. Linda Yollis is a 3rd grade teacher from California who started blogging with her students in 2008. Since then she has created the Educational-Blogging wiki, a fabulous resource for teachers who are interested in student blogging. The wiki includes Linda’s thoughts on why to have a class blog and how to write a quality comment, among others. It also includes quite a few videos, some featuring students describing their experiences with blogging, while others are tutorials. If you are an elementary teacher interested in blogging with your students, Linda Yollis’s wiki is a must-visit site.

Lyn Hilt, who is just down the turnpike in Eastern Lancaster County School District, has put together an amazing resource page for her teachers who are starting out with student blogging. I attended a session Lyn facilitated at PETE&C in February and have followed her on Twitter since. Lyn’s blogging page includes links to the resources I’ve mentioned above as well as new ones I hadn’t yet found. I’ll be exploring those as soon as I finish writing this.

If you are interested in student blogging, I highly recommend you take some time to investigate the work of Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano, Linda Yollis, and Lyn Hilt and I thank these three amazing teachers for sharing their expertise with the rest of us. As I scroll through my Twitter feed, I know there are so many more who are passionate about student blogging. Help me show our teachers the power of an authentic, connected audience. Who do you turn to for information or inspiration about student blogging?