I have been an elementary-school teacher for more than 25 years and I am always on the lookout for meaningful ways to engage and motivate my young students. I started Mrs. Yollis’ Classroom Blog in 2008 with the idea of sharing class activities with parents. Over time, the blog has grown to be the centerpiece of our third-grade classroom. It has become a true global learning community that offers myriad rewards for students, parents and teachers.
Develop quality literacy skills
When I first started blogging, I thought the posts would be the primary focus of the blog. I quickly realized that the comment section was where the blog came to life. As a class, we set high standards and expectations for writing, agreed to always have an adult proofread before publishing, and created a video to help teach commenting skills.
My students are highly motivated by their authentic global audience and take great pride in producing top-notch writing for their readers. It has been a pleasure to watch my third-graders develop into writers who are eager to compose quality comments on one of our five classroom laptops.
What has been even more exciting for me is the student participation from home. Although I rarely require a comment, students frequently choose to comment on either our class blog or our class photo-of-the-day project during their free time. Clearly, my students enjoy contributing to our online learning community.
Include parents in the learning
Parental involvement has strengthened and expanded the learning opportunities for my class. Twice a year, I run what I call Family Blogging Month. It is a great way to formally invite parents to join in the classroom learning via the blog. The family comments are always valued, and during FBM, I highlight several family exchanges on the blog in the hopes of encouraging more parents and family members to comment. Here are two posts that feature rewarding family contributions: More Quality Comments: Family Blogging Month! and Family Blogging: When I Was Young…
Many parents work but would love to volunteer in some way. Last year, I asked parents to become “virtual volunteers” for our blogs. A virtual volunteer is a person who supports the blog by commenting back to students. This type of interaction helps strengthen the home-school connection and makes the comment sections more engaging.
Integrate curriculum in creative ways
With classroom time at a premium, I look for meaningful ways to integrate curriculum; the blog has been the perfect venue. When my class read “The Great Kapok Tree” by Lynne Cherry for language arts, the students followed up their reading by researching a rain forest animal that was mentioned in the story. Each student composed a comment for the blog from the point of view of that animal. It was a wonderful mix of reading, researching, science and creative writing! During our biography unit, I had each student select a famous person to study. Students submitted a creative comment pretending they were that person. George Washington got a comment from Queen Elizabeth I, Mozart and Tchaikovsky were chatting; the blog comments truly brought these historic people to life! See more examples of integrated curriculum.
Build a digital footprint
I believe it is important to teach young children how to be contributing members of an online community. Building a positive digital footprint and practicing Internet safety are not simply one-week units of study, but are regularly taught and practiced via the class blog.
Connect with other learners
Of all the riches that blogging has brought to my class, the relationships we’ve built with other classrooms around the world have been the most rewarding. The collaborative projects we have joined not only support the educational standards required at my grade level but have also given my students a real understanding of other topics such as geography, time zones, cultures and friendships. I recently presented four global projects at ISTE with my blogging colleague, Kathleen Morris from Australia. Although we have collaborated for many years, we met for the first time when we shared Flattening Classroom Walls with Blogging and Global Collaboration in San Diego.
Blogging offers many rewards!
Linda Yollis (@lindayollis) is a third-grade teacher in Los Angeles. She was named 2012 Teacher of the Year by her district and has won several Edublog Awards: Best Class Blog, Lifetime Achievement, and Most Influential Post. Linda has a wiki called Educational Blogging.