100 Park Ave.
Nowhere, PA 18000
June 28, 2014
Mr. Prince Pal
Principal, High School
100 Park Ave.
Nowhere, PA 18000
Dear Mr. Pal:
I request your permission to use public blogs on the web for my students in class, as part of both my Gifted English Seminar class, with the 10th grade students, and my American Literature courses, with the 11th grade students.
I believe the use of blogs as part of the curriculum will benefit my students and the course material in three key ways: an opportunity for a public and authentic audience, a searchable community log of student writing and book reviews for other students to peruse for models or suggestions, and a chance to revisit their work over the course of the year for reflection and revision as part of the learning process. We will use a free hosting service, WordPress, for the class blog and students will all use the same log-on and password for the course. Students will be required to sign their posts with their full first name and first letter of their last name; in the second semester, students will create their own blogs for their personal writings as a portfolio, which they may choose to only keep for the length of the course or to continue adding to for the length of their time at QCHS. Such logging of their writing will create a public forum for their writing, where parents, other students, and members of the community can view and comment on their work. Because of its public nature, students will be better encouraged to write authentically and carefully, knowing and reinforcing that what they put on the internet is viewable by all and therefore should come with much care and consideration.
I will include this element of the course in the course Fact Sheet, in order to obtain parent permission. If a parent or parents do not permit their child to participate, we will create (myself and the student) an alternative means of digital logging and portfolio, so the student does not miss the technological learning while still adhering to the parent wish for privacy.
Attached, I have provided an extensive proposal to outline my plan with supporting evidence from the education community for the use of blogs in education and the secondary classroom.
Contact me with any questions or concerns.
Course Proposal – Classroom Blog
1. Blogging Tool – WordPress
WordPress is a free weblog hosting service in which I have created a course blog already for my classes. Both the English Seminar and the American Literature classes will use the same class blog, and they will tag their posts with the course title and period number, in order to catalog who wrote what. The username and password for the blog will be shared with students and parents ahead of time, as well as administrators at their request.
When students create their own blog in the second half of the course, they will continue to use the same hosting service, creating their own blog with their own username and password that MUST be the same as the username and password for their Google Accounts provided by the school. This way, if a student posts something inappropriate or illicit, I will be able to log-in and take it down, if need be.
WordPress is a free service, so it comes at no cost to the department or district. Additionally, it provides a solid and reliable service for our classroom and students blogs, where we can be sure our work will not be lost due to unreliable hosting services. Also, the design options allow for students to make their blogs their own, in the second half of the year, in order to provide for student voice and personalization of their portfolio. The system is easy to use, with clear and concise tutorials while still allowing more advanced students to make higher level changes to their blogs if they so desire, with HTML5 code or the like. As such, the WordPress platform allows for differentiation and appeals to students multiple intelligences.
2. Single AND Class blog
There will be a class blog and individual student blogs. We will start the year on the class blog, where students will initially post as a class, then in small groups, then with a partner, then on their own, as they learn to use the WordPress platform and become comfortable with the steps of blogging. In the second semester, students will create their own blogs and link it in our class Blog Roll, where they can house their own writings and style it more personally, to suit their tastes.
3. Student Identities on the Web
Student privacy and security is a big concern for all staff and parents, particularly in such a technological age. I do not advocate for Luddite tendencies, but instead, I wish to teach students how to use the wonders of 21st century technology while protecting their identity and privacy to the best of their ability and desire. Therefore, on the class blog, any time students write a piece, they will sign it with their full first name and first letter of their last name. If there is more than one student with the same name, to that point, they will add a subsequent letter of their last name until a difference between the two (or more) can be made clear. The purpose here is to allow the student and their classmates to identify themselves to one another, to me, and to the community members and parents while still protecting them against unknown or unwanted viewers and commenters.
On their own blog, students will do the same thing, signing their writing that way, but they may also come up with a creative title to express their purpose or topic for the blog. However, they will not be expected or permitted to use their full name as part of the course. If, after the course ends, they wish to keep using the blog and want to use their full name, they may do so at that time but not before then.
4. Blog Use with Students in the Classroom
Students will use the blogs in class for a number of things. First, students will start out by sharing their readings and book reviews on the blog. This will be done as a class, first, where each period will craft a blog entry on the require summer reading. Then, students will work in small groups to do the same for more individualized literature circle readings and independent reading. Later, when they become more comfortable with the steps of blogging, students will write individual posts on their independent reading reviews and share their writing. By tagging their posts with the type of assignment (and any other necessary tags – genre of book, mode of writing, etc.), we will have a large database of entries where other classes and later students can search for models of student writing, book recommendations, commentary and clarification on novels they’re reading, etc.
With all of this, I will be able to assess students in a variety of skills from 21st century learning with (using Common Core language) Presentation of Ideas, Comprehension and Collaboration, Key Ideas and Details, Craft & Structure, Integration of Knowledge, Writing Focus, Writing Content, Writing Organization, Writing Style, and Conventions. Not every assignment will be graded on all of these skills, but each of them comes into play for each entry, which makes for comprehensive learning in the English classroom.
Similar to Mr. Ford’s blog, as referenced in “Blogs: Personal e-Learning Spaces” by Lamshed, Berry, & Armstrong, this will be a classroom blog for me and my students to interact with each other. But I want to take it a step further than Ford did. In my experience, when students know someone other than the teacher will be reading their work, they are much more concerned with and cognizant of their conventions, observations, and word choice in an attempt to impress that audience, even if they don’t know exactly who the audience might comprise. So, I and my students will be able to comment on one another’s work, as will parents and community members, reinforcing for the student writers the existence of a truly authentic audience for their work.
5. Why Blogs versus something else?
In conjunction with the above points, blogs provide for an authentic audience where prior to this, only the teacher and the red pen were the audience. For this generation more than others, an authentic and internet-based audience holds more weight than the grading teacher does. So why not meet students where they are, in the real world, with assignments that truly connect them to reality and have clear value to them?
An article by Marcus O’Donnell, written for the Asia Pacific Media Educator in 2006, highlights the work of Clancy Ratliff (2004) quoting, “Weblogs are also a powerful tool for teaching students about writing for an audience, as they are public, and they reach an audience of not only the teacher and the other students in the class, but also readers outside of the class who leave comments.” O’Donnell further develops this idea later, looking at blog through the constructionist pedagogical lens in terms of helping students make meaning through a social mode (among other modes). Such meaning making, O’Donnell argues, goes beyond simple discussion and moves into the creation and recreation and reassessment and then alteration and recreation of an idea, a piece of writing, a style, etc.
So, simply, why blogs? Because they allow for a log of the development of student ideas beyond a linear fashion but instead in a revisionist (or constructivist) fashion, with more authentic learning with an authentic and public audience, a strong element of 21st technology, student voice and choice, and community building possibilities.
6. Prevention of Inappropriate or Unnecessary Writing
This last section cannot go without mentioning. Our students exist in a time of saying and writing what you think, the moment you think it. For them, there is less of a filter sometimes. Therefore, blogging will become a significant and important learning experience in what to put and what not to put on the Internet. Through a series of mini lessons before even the first class post, we will look at the internet, the back log of some sites, how they store data, and the implications of comments made on the internet (for jobs, college acceptances, etc.). With this teaching coming first, students will have a firm understanding of the value of their words online but also their long-lasting impression, finally understanding that what they write and what they post never truly goes away. Hopefully, they will understand the need to be very careful about how they portray themselves online, not just because I will be monitoring it (and I will, with clear consequences for any inappropriate comments or posts outlined well ahead of time) but because there are real long-term consequences students may not have realized or believed until now.