Not the Leopold Bloom stream-of-consciousness kind or the Harold Bloom preserving-Western-humanities kind: the Benjamin Bloom revised-learning taxonomy kind!
A lot of K-12 education focuses on remembering, like spelling tests and history dates, and honestly, it’s hard to apply the Pythagorean theorem unless you first remember it (although I suspect that plenty of folks may remember and apply but have no understanding of WHY the formula works). Blogging gets at those higher order thinking skills, gives students a sense of importance and ownership over their own thoughts, and also teaches students important skills for the Internet age:
- keeping personal information private
- interacting respectfully with other web writers
- using images and other media in ways that respect all legal copyrights
None of what I’m saying is new. Teachers who like tech have been using blogs to promote critical writing and thinking, as well as community building, for years. My goal here is simply to offer some ways to transform one popular class assignment, the culminating poster, via blogging.
The Poster Project
From 1st to 12th grade, students are asked to turn in posters at the end of a unit. Posters are great because they naturally hit the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy: creating. Students have to evaluate all the information, choose the best / most relevant, and represent everything in a clear, visual manner.
A lot of students also wait until the last minute to do their posters, especially if there’s little scaffolding to go with the assignment. It can turn into more of an exercise in “how much can I squeeze on here, and will these cool pictures distract the teacher from my lack of content understanding?”
Why not have students create a project blog instead?
Blogs have everything they need: the capacity to include visuals and text, plus the added bonuses of links (including links to research sources), embedded videos, audio, etc. Worried about access? Students can rotate through school computer time, especially those who don’t have web access at home. Many blogs have smartphone apps, too, so students with phones but no Internet can still complete work in free wi-fi hot spot areas (high school kids know where these are). Students can use computers at the local public library to work on their blogs.
Blogs also can eliminate other typical indicators of a student’s socioeconomic status. Students with financial resources have posters full of high-resolution color prints, neatly typed sections, or even professionally printed collages glued to presentation boards; students without money have the posters handwritten in pencil. Blogs equalize the visual playing field. Students can customize the theme and look of their blog for free.
Scaffolding assignments could include a set of blog entries, each with a specific deadline, so work can’t be put off until the last minute, and also required comments on classmates’ blogs. Teachers can maintain a blogroll listing all student work by initials, nicknames, first name — whatever the students decide is best for privacy purposes and whatever meets your school’s web policies. Here is a sample list of activities for a generic ePoster Project:
- project idea entry: what topic do you want to do? why? what do you know already, and what do you need to find out via research?
- research plan entry: how will you find the information on your topic?
- status entry #1: what have you learned so far? include an image that doesn’t violate copyright laws
- comment #1: read the status entries of the two students above you on the blogroll; what help can you provide?
- status entry #2: what difficulties are you encountering in your research? how are you overcoming or working around those?
- comment #2: read the status entries of the two students below you on the blogroll; what help can you provide?
- rough draft: post all of the required information in the assignment; at the end, list up to three areas of concern or questions you have
- comment #3: read the rough draft of the student three names above you on the blogroll; address the concerns or questions if you can
- final draft entry
Blogs allow students to conduct peer review, to practice metacognition and self-reflection, and also to realize that others are struggling, too. Students who want to draw their own illustrations can still do so (the teacher may need to assist with scanning or photographing and converting to a JPEG file). Students who want to record audio or video can do that using free tools from the web.
Plus, student blogs can be made available to parents, community members, partner classes in Japan — kids sometimes make these amazing posters that few people get to see outside of the exhibition in the library or gym. ePoster Projects introduce a public dimension and preserve all that work. For example, how cool would it be for alumni of Arcadia High School to see these student posters on the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and 90s on blogs, where they could comment on how it really was back in the day?