Well, this is the first of what will hopefully be many useful blog posts for educators. First, let me tell you a little about myself. I've been an educator for the past 28 years. For the majority of that time I taught Life and Physical Science to Grades 7 and 8. Five years ago I made a transition to teaching Grade 5. As a Grade 5 classroom teacher has provided me with opportunities to expand my curriculum and instruction development in Reading/Language Arts, Math, and Health.
I've been fortunate to work in the school district that has seen technology as a priority and has encouraged its staff to explore opportunities to use technology in the classroom. Those who know me know that I love technology and am always looking for great tools and resources that I can use with my class. One of the challenges I've had after transferring to an elementary classroom is the difficulty in finding Web 2.0 tools that my students can use. So many Web 2.0 tools require registration or email addresses and, due to COPPA, this often leaves my younger students on the outside. So, as I explore tools I can use with younger students I thought I would share what I find. I'm especially interest in finding tools that are free.
That brings me to my first recommendation. Last year I had my students write blogs using Kidblog.org. What I like about Kidblog is that the teacher sets up accounts for students and provides them with a username and password. The teacher can choose among three levels of privacy for students accounts; private only visible to classmates, semi-private visible to anyone with a login to Kidblog, or open for anyone to see. The teacher also has the option of requiring that students' posts and comment be moderated or approved before they can be posted. Another nice feature is the teacher's option of posting a private comment on a student's blog. This allows the teacher to give the student private feedback on their writing. It may seem to many that moderating blogs would be very time consuming. There is some invested time in setting up the students' accounts and in reading and approving blogs and comments each week. Personally, I found that doing this online was much less time consuming than if I had collected a hand written sample from students each week to assess.
Along with their written posts students can attach media, pictures, and links to their posts. The blogging tools are extremely easy for students to use and my 5th graders needed very little instruction to use them. If students can get online and have some word processing skills they can use Kidblog.
Each week I scheduled about 30 minutes for students to type their blogs. This seemed plenty of time for most if they came prepared with a draft for their writing. Students wrote blogs on topics of their choice or a topic of my choosing based on what we were learning about in some content area. Occasionally they write book reviews to share what they were reading independently. Student blogs gave me an authentic way to assess my students' writing skills. I also thought that it was important that I also blog along with my students as a way to model good writing skills. In addition to assessing language skills, blogging provided opportunities to teach about digital citizenship and technology skills. Most students were motivated about writing their blogs but all seemed excited to comment on their classmates' blogs and receive feedback on their own writing.
You can read more about blogging with students on my website, The Teacher's Cabinet. Here is a link to my web page on Blogging With Students. On my site you can also print out a parent permission slip and rubric that can be used for blogging with your students. I found that blogging was a effective way to motivate students who were reluctant writers. Students love getting feedback on their work and blogging allowed them to receive this not just from the teacher but also from their classmates. Give Kidblog.org a try and I think you'll find it a valuable and motivating tool that even young students can use.