We have certainly hit the ground running at school in classrooms this year. And this year there seems to be a different vibe around blogging. It has taken off faster, the students are more apt to help each other, especially the ones I had in year 7 who are now in year 8 (there are four of them) and also I think because I have made blogging optional this year. I brought in a stack of exercise books and said that they can write in either format, and if they write in a book I will comment on their entries. The topics of writing and the opportunities of writing will be the same. But it does not have to be online. Two students in one class and three in the other have chosen to go this way, and I am glad I offered the choice. I think the quality of writing is better also, as is the ability to be reflective. It may also be because of the different platform that I have gone for this year as a result of a tweet on 21classes.com by Sue Tapp (@sujokat on Twitter) Here are some examples from Year 8.
Reflective writing by Nikki:
"I am really suprised how much i am enjoying this book. In class we have been discussing the book and i realise how much I don't take in when reading by myself. I thought to myself when we began the novel, 'great just another boring historical war book'. But i am actually really enjoying the book. I think it is written really well, including humour and serious parts, also it gives you an idea about the environment of living in the war. I haven't finished it yet but when i do I will write again."
A budding literature student, Julia: "The book is based on how a poor, shy evacuee who has being treated harshly eases himself into a completely new environment and flourishes in the care of gruff old Mr Tom (Oakely). It is set in a country town in England when World War II is announced. I think it's a good book because it does not provide too much detail and information and leaves the reader to guess and picture the characters from both the author's and the reader's point of view. "
And a rueful blog entry from one student who shall remain nameless: "I suggest to people out there when the teacher says read chapter 1-6 actually read them cause when you do something on it in class you look stupid not knowing the answers!!!!"
This last is because of a quiz that I set up on the IWB on the novel Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian and had the students answer using the student response system Activote. Most thought it was a good way to see if the students had been reading without using pen and paper. Our statistics showed that 88% were up to the chapter they had been assigned. Is that good?
Our Year 7 blogs can be found here. There is lots to explore and read from this very lively class. But for now I would like to highlight one blogger, Hannah, whose post that she wrote on her own, responding to a lesson we had on favourite words, made me very happy. Read it and help her grow her list of the "coolest words ever".
And on a completely different topic. After listening to the live webcast of the Seedlings Snow Day episode which just happened to be streaming when I was online I had a think about being available to my students online. Last year, following a post by Clarence Fisher where he talked about helping students with homework via msn or something like it, I had established an MSN presence with students in my class where I said I would be available to talk to them during the time they woud be doing homework a couple of times a week. Not many of them took it up but some did and were very grateful. No one abused the privilege and I thought I would offer it again this year. But Bob Sprankle Cheryl Oakes, Kern Kelly and Alice Barr in their discussions made me think again. However I thought I would just go on line again before deciding. I was amazed. It waas students from last year who had left the school that gave me a shout out and talked about their new school and the work they were doing. One wanted me to see her poem that she had done for her new teacher. I was thrilled. I think I will go ahead and have "virtual office hours" again this year. Of course I have self imposed guidelines. I will never initiate a conversation or add anyone without them approaching me. I do not want to abuse any power or status that I have by virtue of my position as teacher. I will not discuss anything other than school work. And I always have the power to not be available. But the positive experiences that I have had have made me more likely to try it again this year. It is one of the many issues that we as teachers need to nut out ethically and legally as this new technology enables more opportunities to interact, to learn, and even to teach and guide.