Blogging in the Classroom

Publishing your writing to the World Wide Web can be intimidating. Since I’ve started writing weekly blog posts for TXEDUCHAT, I’ve felt inspired and excited, and have learned so much. Blogging is a great tool that anyone can use to share their thoughts and ideas. As soon as my first post was published, I felt a sense of pride. I was excited that people were reading my writing, whether they thought it was worth their time or not. The feeling of sharing a piece of writing I was proud of was such a confidence booster. I started wishing that I had the opportunity to blog earlier on in life.

I despised writing until my second year of college. But there was something that I hated even more than the actual act of writing; sharing my work with the class. I didn’t know what my classmates would think about it. As a teacher, I now understand the importance of students sharing their work, but it doesn’t make it easier on my students. Building confidence is vital and I think blogging is a way to do just that. I think some students will always have some anxiety about sharing their work, but my goal is that the fear of others not enjoying their writing lessens as they have the opportunity to share more and more.

Sometimes it is hard to find a purpose for writing, other than “It’s a standard you have to meet” or “This is something you’ll need to know in the sixth grade”. Both are very practical for teachers and administrators, but are not motivating for students. Blogging creates purpose, and more importantly motivation, for your students’ writing. Hopefully once your class starts blogging regularly, you’ll find blogging buddies or other teachers that will comment on your students’ blogs. If not, reach out on Twitter. There are so many people willing and ready to help their students become connected. Students will become connected to classes from thousands of miles away and they will have a personal purpose for writing. Although I see blogging as a way for students to feel free to express themselves, I think it also makes sense to ask students to share some of their assigned work on their blog, as they will receive feedback from so many fantastic people. I’ve seen students use blogging for their journal writing, narratives, non-fiction writing, and so much more. I’ve even seen video blogs by sixth graders that were created to help others learn the proper etiquette for commenting on blogs. Students have so much to share, so why not let them share with a much wider audience?

Here are a few examples of inspiring student blogs:

SteamPunk Chloe

Autistic and Proud

Stacy

I hope you aren’t reading this blog and thinking, “Is she saying blogging is the only purposeful writing for students?” Blogging does not replace a student sitting at their desk and writing on paper, then going through the writing process and eventually sharing it with their classmates. It’s another way to let students share their voice and encourage learning, all while meeting several Common Core State Standards and integrating technology and literacy. Start by giving students one writing block a week to work on their blogs. Or encourage them to use the time after they finish another assignment to begin planning their blog. Blogging doesn’t have to take extra time out of your schedule but is worth every minute you can spend on it.

Choosing a platform can be a tedious task, as there are quite a few options but some of them may not meet the needs of the classroom. I created the chart below to help guide you. There are obvious blogging platforms, like WordPress or Blogger (through Google), that students could use. However, students will need emails for both of these. Also, it might be hard for teachers to manage so many accounts and the privacy settings. KidBlog and EduBlogs are platforms created specifically for classrooms. Both are free, but to access all the elements of EduBlogs, you have to purchase the “Pro” version. There are hundreds of other platforms available to you and your students, so the decision is a personal one.

Cost Privacy Available? Email Needed? Account Management
WordPress Free Yes Yes Teacher cannot manage
Blogger Free Yes Yes Teacher cannot manage
KidBlog Free Yes No Teacher can manage
EduBlogs Free (Fee for Pro version) Yes No Teacher can manage

Engaging students in writing assignments, building their confidence in sharing their work, and integrating technology and literacy are just a few of the benefits of blogging in the classroom. While it may be intimidating for teachers or students to begin the process, it is one that is well worth it. If you’re already blogging, I would love to hear what platform you’re using and how you and/or your students like it.

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Being a Connected Educator in the 21st Century for @txeduchat

There are so many expectations and responsibilities for teachers in the 21st century. We have to plan lessons and projects that align with the Common Core or state standards that also keep students engaged and excited to learn. There are centers to plan, small groups to teach, objectives to meet, discussions to be had, and of course, all of the testing. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were some network of teachers across the world ready to share their resources and help other educators succeed? As I’ve learned over the past year, there is! You can connect with other teachers across a variety of social media and education platforms.

I started my graduate program with a concentration in educational technology in August of 2014. I had three courses with Marialice Curran (@mbfxc). Our first assignment was to sign up for a Twitter account. Honestly, my initial reaction was a mix of confusion and apprehension. Before Marialice, my understanding of Twitter was what I saw on Jimmy Kimmel’s “Mean Tweets” segment. I wondered how this account would ever help me become a better teacher. As it turns out, this was the single most practical assignment of my undergraduate and graduate education. I started to get more comfortable with hashtags and chats and began to compile all of these fantastic classroom resources. Coincidentally, Marialice is also the person that originally connected me with @txeduchat, and I am so grateful to her for that! Twitter is certainly not the only avenue to becoming a connected educator, but it is the one that I’ve found to be the most useful.

The idea of being a connected educator evolves over time, as anything does. Teachers have always had professional learning networks (PLN); now we just have the opportunity to involve so many more people from around the world. Before social media and the World Wide Web, teachers were connected within their schools or districts. Now, a principal from Arkansas can learn with a first grade teacher from Canada and a school counselor from Australia. As a new graduate and grad student, it is so encouraging to know that there are dozens of people willing to share ideas with me or give me feedback on my ideas  — and my circle is growing every week.

Being a connected educator is beneficial to all involved. When you’re connected you’re constantly learning new about new tools and techniques, gaining diverse perspectives, collaborating with others, and staying up to date with everything in your field. I think that’s what is so special about the idea of being a connected educator in the 21st century…you can ask a question and within 30 seconds you’ll have three people helping you find an answer. Everyone in your PLN is working toward the same goal. However, to be a true connected educator, you have to share ideas and perspectives, too. When I first joined Twitter I didn’t want to share anything. I didn’t think my ideas were worth it and was fine with just collecting resources to use. After a few weeks, I started to feel like I was missing out on something. The true joy of being connected comes from helping and sharing with others.

There are many reasons to be connected, but I think the most important is the effect it has on your classroom and students. If I can learn more from being connected, can’t my students do the same? I participated in a #digcit chat last year during Connected Educator Month (CEM). High school students from Illinois joined the chat to share opinions and become connected. I also had the opportunity to be a “blog buddy” with an eighth grader in Ohio. Writing and sharing a blog with someone in another state or joining a chat to connect with teachers and students as far away as England seems so much more meaningful than sitting at a desk filling in a worksheet. Those students would never have been given those opportunities if their teacher had not been connected.

To me, being connected on Twitter or Pinterest, or by blogging or using Edmodo is like participating in effective professional learning whenever I want. It gives me ideas, helps me to be more globally aware, and essentially makes me a better teacher. There are endless possibilities for teachers and students to learn in an engaging, thoughtful, and practical way and they are all available at our fingertips.

–Jaclyn Kuehl

An Interview with Michelle King for @txeduchat

As the guest blogger for Texas EduChat, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle King, the Professional Learning Executive Director for Lewisville Independent School District (LISD). Our thirty minute conversation felt like five because we covered so many topics and Michelle’s knowledge, experience, and willingness to share were captivating.

Michelle grew up in Rochester, Minnesota. After graduating from high school, she attended the University of Iowa and earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics with an education certification. Michelle began teaching sixth, seventh, and eighth grade mathematics in Birdville Independent School District in Texas. While earning a master’s degree in secondary education, Michelle worked as a sixth grade mathematics teacher at J. Erik Jonsson Community School. She then stepped into district leadership in 2001 as the Mathematics Curriculum Coordinator for the Denton Independent School District. In 2005, Michelle began her employment with Coppell Independent School District. She served as Mathematics Curriculum Director, the Dean of Instruction at Coppell High School, Strategic Plan Internal Facilitator, and the Director of Professional Learning in Coppell Independent School District until 2014.  At the beginning of the 2014 school year, Michelle was offered the position of Professional Learning (PL) Executive Director in Lewisville Independent School District. She shared with me how excited she is to be working in this position with the administrators and educators of LISD. Finally, while Michelle has a long list of impressive professional memberships and contributions, I’d like to highlight her role in Learning Forward. Michelle was a board member, then the President of the organization’s Texas affiliate.

After discussing Michelle’s background and experience, we had a conversation about her goals. Michelle’s very first goal as the PL Executive Director is to make sure all of the district’s professional learning is aligned with Learning Forward’s set of standards (you can see the quick reference guide here). Just as the Common Core State Standards are designed to keep students on task and learning, Learning Forward’s Standards for Professional Learning are designed to do the same for teachers and administrators. Her second, and probably equally important goal was the idea of having a connected school district. Michelle described herself as a “connector” and explained that interdependent schools, classrooms, and educators are hugely beneficial. Something we discussed while talking about goals really struck a chord with me. Although LISD educates approximately 52,000 students, she takes special care to make sure she is reaching every teacher, and in turn, every classroom and child.

One of my favorite quotes came from our conversation about the importance of professional learning and being a connected educator. Michelle said, “Being connected is not just consuming, it’s contributing.” This is something I think every educator should strive to remember when learning and connecting. It’s easy to sit back and wait for others to contribute their ideas and resources but to be truly connected, an educator must also share his or her own ideas. This brings us to Michelle’s interesting concept of professional learning: something she calls “give one, get one.” Each participant can bring an idea to share, take someone else’s idea to use, or do both. When teachers are connected with a professional learning network and participating in effective professional learning, they can improve their skills, which Michelle says will help change their practices according to student need. When their practices are changed, students continue to improve. Michelle emphasized the reciprocal aspect of the learning process.

As a new graduate, I find it interesting to ask other teachers how they’ve seen education change throughout their careers. Michelle’s answers vary from being tangible, like the amount of technology, to intangible, like the curriculum. Michelle also talked about the accessibility all students have to education today. Specifically, more students have the opportunity to experience advanced courses and content, when they might not have in the past.

Naturally, after asking how education has changed throughout her career, I had to ask the all-important question: How would you like to see education change in the future? I found myself, unsurprisingly, agreeing wholeheartedly with everything Michelle said. If you’ve seen, and were inspired by, Sir Ken Robinson’s Changing Education Paradigms, then you would also agree with Michelle’s dreams for the future of education. We had a wonderful conversation about students being able to engage in learning at the level for which they are prepared, not what their age suggests they are ready to learn.

Before our interview ended, I asked Michelle what was her favorite part of being the Professional Learning Executive Director. She had many reasons for loving her job, but the best part for Michelle is working with so many amazing teachers and administrators. She said that she loves to learn and she loves to help others learn, as well. She also reminded me that just because you are an educator, it does not mean you aren’t a learner. Michelle hopes that the staff in her district learns as much from her as she does from them.

I’d like to thank Michelle King for sharing her resources, inspiration, knowledge, and most importantly, her time. As a past student of Lewisville Independent School District, I am so happy the students, teachers, and administrators have the opportunity to grow and learn from such a dedicated and helpful leader. As Michelle shared with me during the interview, “We’re better together.”


-Jaclyn Kuehl