As an additional project, I chose to design and implement a classroom blog for my current students as well as my past students. For years, I have been exploring and creating multiple classroom websites, only to find myself frustrated at the layouts and the maintenance of the multiple formats and platforms. I could not settle on one style, and all my attempts at extending the classroom walls (other than Facebook - see my other final project) failed miserably. There are dozens of websites in cyberland that have been abandoned mid-creation, simply because I lost interest and time for maintaining them.

I have been blogging personally for over a year now, and have become very comfortable using Blogger and all the features on that site. I was hesitant at first to use blogger as a "class website" simply because I wanted a place where I could host discussions, post word files, and maintain a more traditional website. However, in the past few months in RED 746, using Blogger as a professional tool by which to discuss my thinking on Web 2.0 tools led me to believe that I could create and implement a successful blog as an extension of my classroom. Hence, English and Beyond was born.

In the last few weeks, I have taken control of our computer lab (I'm sure much to the dismay and irritation of my colleagues) to model instruction on the blog for my students. Additionally, all of my students, save a handful, have created their own blogs and I have added them to my blogroll on the side of the blog. I was suprised at how difficult it was explaining the blog to them, as most of my students in 9th grade had absolutely no experience reading or writing blogs.

A few words of caution to the teacher interested in having their students create classroom blogs:
1) Please do not underestimate the time it will take just to get all of your students signed up for google. I work and teach in an urban environment, and many of my students are not by any means tech-savvy. Just the process of obtaining a google account by which to make a blog was a huge hurdle, and I actually had to have my students sneak their cell phones into the lab that day to receive a text with their verification code.

2) For awhile, students will treat the blog as they have their Facebook and Myspace pages - if there is a way to customize the blog in order to accommodate their informal language and street persona, they will. I had to reiterate many times that for our purposes, it was a "professional" page, one in which I could share with my professors and their administrators, and they would want to represent themselves accordingly. If you scroll through my blogroll and view any of my students blogs, you will see that many are less than professional, a situation I will remedy in the coming weeks.

3) I made the mistake of telling them how much they could customize the design of their blog. Instead of seeing this site as a means of communication, the students have been obsessed with which font to use, what color, layout, etc. Instead of posting, I find them adding new gadgets and manipulating their color schemes. It's irritating, but then again, I do like that they are taking such ownership of the site. Just be ready for that.

Finally, some of my students have already used this site to explore their own feelings outside of the classroom environment. One of my seriously low achieving 8th grade students was in an altercation with his math teacher yesterday morning. An hour later, I found that he had found a computer and posted his own reflection of the incident. I couldn't believe it, and found there to be more power in this post than any that dealt with classroom assignments.

View that post here.

I do hope you enjoy the classroom blog and find these tips useful when establishing a blogger community with your own students.


English and Beyond

by Alix Toenniessen