Monday, April 21, 2014

Part One: Building Student Learning Communities Through Blogging

I have  a personal learning network, and as an educator I believe I am a better teacher because of the people I learn and share with.  My learning and sharing happens over a variety of platforms - blogging, video conferencing, and twitter to name a few.   I love my personal learning community and I'm forever grateful for the way they push my thinking and help move my learning forward.   So to no surprise I believe it's equally  important for my students to have their own connections too.

Over the next few blog posts I'd like to share some of the ways that I am consciously creating opportunities to help my students build their own learning communities.  This post will focus on how my students use our class blog and their individiual blogs to do just that.  The next three  posts will focus on how they use video conferencing, twitter, and finally collaborative projects to foster student learning communities.  So stick around for a while as this is the first of a four part series on building student learning communities.

I began the journey of helping my students make meaningful connections with children from around the world through the class blog.  It has been and continues to be a window into our classroom.  Over the past three years I've had various other class blogs linked at the side of my class blog.   I make an effort to visit those class blogs with my students.  Sometimes it's a class in our school, other times it's a class in our district.  Yet at other times it's a blog from a class across the country, or around the world.

From the beginning of the school year my class and I regularly visit those blogs during an activity that  I like to refer to as "Blogging Around the World".  This is where my students and I visit the other class blogs to see what is happening in their classrooms.   During these blog visits my students and I read posts, look at photos and click on links if they intrigue us.  Of course we also leave comments and often ask questions.

This regular class blog visiting has helped my students see the incredible learning happening in other classrooms and it has made them curious to learn more from these children.  Having other class  blogs linked at the side of my class blog has meant that my students can revisit these blogs on their own, and more importantly from home. I still smile each time a  student comes to school and reminds me that we need to revisit a class because of what they saw on their blog.

My class has quad blogged too, as a way to create learning networks.  Quad blogging  encourages my students to focus on a specific class blog for a week before switching the focus to a new blog.  This is done with three other classes and each week a different class blog is the  focus of the week.

Again more curiosity, more connections.  During one of the rounds of Quad blogging my class and I visited a class in England that had a rocket ship land on its school ground.   Each time we visited that particular blog we were curious to see what  was happening.  It certainly spiked my students desire to learn from this class.

Today my good friend Kristen Wideen runs a Primary Blogging Community which works exactly as quad blogging does but it's geared for primary students.  If you're looking for a safe way to start building student learning communities this is a perfect place to start.

 My class blog quickly led to individual blogs for my students.  I use Kidblog as the platform for my students but there are other equally good blogging platforms. At first my students' blogs were a place to  share their learning with family members.  However, shortly there after  I introduced my students and their families to commenting.  Many families began commenting on their children's work.  Commenting was encouraged by classmates too.  My students began reading  each others blogs and they started writing  comments too.  Again this was another way to help create student learning communities. At this point the student learning communities were with in our classroom walls and our family homes.  For a few, those family homes spanned across the globe with important relatives living in far away places.

In my second year of having my grade one students blog with Kidblog, Kidblog introduced the ability to add links to the side of the home page.  This opened up a whole new world for my students.  While my students had been connecting with other students through the class blog, access to student individual blogs right beside their individual blogs was even better.  Let me share a story.

Last year I had a student with a similar name to a student in Mrs. Van Rees' class in Ontario.  They discovered this on their own.   Through the simple similarity of a shared name, a student learning network was formed.  Through out the year these two children visited each others blogs, read them and left thoughtful comments.  At times they were having conversations through the comments.   These students  had created their own personal learning network and it was all sparked by having the same first name.

There are many stories just like this all because my students had their own blogs, and on their blogs were links to other students blogs.  Even though my students are typically 5, 6, or 7 most of them understood many of the benefits of learning with others.  They were, through our class blog and their individual blogs, creating personal learning networks just like I was doing by visiting the educational blogs that I visit regularly.

Utilizing blogs to their full potential can help all students build their own learning communities.

Up next, using video conferencing to build student learning communities.

Links to other parts in this series.

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