The Great Writing Experiment – Amanda Carroll’s 10D blog

In the past I’ve worked with Nick Fairlie and his classes using WordPress blogs. I’m a big advocate of the use of blogs for many reasons:

  • Each student creates a personal blog which becomes his own space (ownership, customisation)
  • The teacher creates a blog which is the ‘mother ship’ and to which all student blogs are connected
  • Students have a real audience: teacher, students, outside world
  • Students care more about their writing as they customise their blog appearance, write for an audience, receive comments and are able to see statistics for readership
  • Students share their thoughts with others and this potentially leads to discussion, rethinking and co-construction of understanding and ideas
  • Students’ writing develops an authentic voice as a natural progression from writing to a real audience (as opposed to writing for the teacher)

Nick has been very busy in the last few years and so has been unable to continue with blogging. I’ve been scouting around for teachers who would be willing to try something different, ie blogging. After a recommendation from Nick, Amanda expressed an interest, and we had a couple of conversations about how blogging could work for her class. I showed her some examples, including Nick’s blog, and emailed her some background information, and she agreed to give it a go.

I’m always aware that each teacher will have their own ways of doing things, and will define my role within their class in a very specific way, so I am respectful of that, and take care not to interfere but to support what they are doing. It’s tricky to strike the balance between not interfering and pulling back so much that they feel unsupported.

Here are some of the examples of emails between Amanda and me  to provide an initial understanding of what was possible when blogging with her class.

Hi, Amanda, Here is a snippet in the form of a reflective/evaluative post I did at the time. You can see some of the boys’ comments and writing.
Super inspiring Tania. Thank you! I can work edumail at the mo but not Compass for talking to other teachers (tell me more!) AC
Hi Amanda, This is an earlier post – we had Michael Gerard Bauer come in and chat to the boys online.
Hi Amanda, I got them to create a blog and email me their blog url/names so that when you create your blog I’ll be able to embed links to theirs on your home page. I call it the Mother Ship. You’ll just have to make me an author of yours – I can show you how to do that. 
Thank you so much for this Tania.  I will have a crack at creating my blog tonight (I don’t think the one I set up a couple of years ago was WordPress so I’ll start from scratch).
Cheers Amanda
Hi Tania,  I told them (my class) about the blogs – framed it as a Writing Experiment with  REAL PEOPLE as the audience and they seemed excited about that (also that they were quite special in that other Year 10’s weren’t doing it but that they might if it went well for us). 

Hi Amanda, 

Marie got your boys to choose their Lit Circle books and worked on boys/books match this afternoon.
I got them to create a blog and email me their blog url/names so that when you create your blog I’ll be able to embed links to theirs on your home page. I call it the Mother Ship. You’ll just have to make me an author of yours – I can show you how to do that. 
Thank you so much for this Tania and Marie.  I will have a crack at creating my blog tonight (I don’t think the one I set up a couple of years ago was WordPress so I’ll start from scratch).
Well you’ll soon find out if you have a WordPress account if it tells you that you can’t use that email address. Let me know if you have any problems, eg email any time.

Hi Amanda, When you’re ready to look at your blog you’ll see the students’ linked blogs on the right hand side. Some are missing – I need their name and url of blog.

For now I’ve added 2 pages at the top – About and Netiquette.
These I’ve just copied from Nick’s. You can edit these – just an example.
thanks for letting me come for the ride.
(After adding pages with blogging information to the top of Amanda’s blog) Hi Amanda, These can be edited or deleted. Just chucked in something about hyperlinks. Easily deleted if you don’t want it there.

Hi Amanda,

I haven’t received all the info from all your students. I think they may have recorded my email address incorrectly.
tsheko1@gmail.com
That is a ONE after tsheko
So if you could ask those whose blog is not listed in your sidebar to please email me the url of the their homepage. They can find it from the Dashboard under ‘view site’ on the left. It must finish with wordpress.com

Hi Tania No problems. Thank you!   I will follow this up on Thursday when I’m next in.  Actually I will Try compass email….

If you think they’re going to see the compass emails, I could do that to save you some time.

Thanks Tania – yes that would be a great help.  Never used the Compass emails so this will be a good test to see if the kids use them!

good, I’ll take care of it.

As you can see in the emails between Amanda and me, I am careful not to intrude in Amanda’s ownership of the blogging project while trying to support her in different ways. For example, I added 2 pages to the top of the blog, the ‘about‘, ‘netiquette’ and ‘using hyperlinks’. From my experience in blogging, it’s important to have an ‘about’ for readers to go to which gives a brief introduction to the owner and rationale of the blog. However, it’s important that Amanda has control over what the blog looks like and which information is added. Amanda has read Nick’s blogs and has a good idea of what’s important in setting up blog infrastructure and how to prepare the boys for online learning. Here’s the ‘About’:

There’s writing for your teacher but there’s also writing for everyone in your class and people outside school  – that’s a real audience.

10D will be posting some of their writing here. Enjoy.

All the students’ blogs are linked to the right hand side of the page.

The Netiquette page is for the students:

Some things to consider when writing and commenting online:

  • Be polite, friendly, and encouraging but not fake.
  • Have some humour, but be careful with sarcasm. Tone is sometimes difficult to interpret from text.
  • If you disagree, don’t be rude about it. Give constructive (helpful) feedback, and deal with the information, don’t attack the person.
  • Keep your comment on topic , and re-read to make sure it makes sense.
  • Use correct language conventions – not texting shortcuts – but try to write in a way that expresses your tone rather than adopting a fake ‘formal’ tone.
  • You could add a question at the end to keep the conversation going. Think about how conversations work.
  • Use your real name – first and surname. You are mature enough to represent the real you online. You are not a fictional character.
  • Listening is important and commenting is important. Be the #1 commenter on your blog.

The ‘hyperlinks’ information evolved when blogging with Nick’s students. Inserting hyperlinks is an important feature of blogging (and any online writing), and I gave a lesson to Nick’s students about this. See the linked page – it’s too long to copy and paste here.

It’s important for me to keep in touch with Amanda regularly with short emails especially in the early stages of this project.

I love your writing prompts, Amanda – both posts.

Thanks for the feedback, Tania.  I hope they generate some interesting stuff!

Once the students start to respond to the writing prompts it’s my role to join Amanda in reading their posts, keeping an eye out for any difficulties or opportunities for teaching, and especially as a support to Amanda so that this new blogging experience does not become something she can’t manage. It’s helpful for teachers to know that I’m reading and commenting on student posts – otherwise they might not venture into this because it’s so time consuming.

Students will be encouraged by a response that shows somebody is reading their blog since, at first, they have no understanding about how it all works and are skeptical about anyone wanting to read their blog at all. When somebody outside the school leaves a comment, students are usually thrilled that this person is interested in reading their post and has taken the time to give them feedback.

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