Okay, I need advice. Up until this summer, I've been perfectly happy in my own little world, with my own little web page. And now I have "seen the light" and want to create a space for my students to add their "stuff." What are the pros and cons of blogs and wikis? Which would you suggest, setting up a classroom blog that kids can add to and edit, or a classroom wiki?

Tags: blog, suggestions, wiki

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Hi Marielle!
I will have to get back to you with the link to the old blog. My school has had problems with the old server and is changing over to a new one, and this blog on Wordpress is on the old server. I'm just mildly freaking out that it has been deleted, even though I reminded the tech team of its existence. For their last responses, last year's kids left words of wisdom for this year's crop which I was going to have them read as homework the first few days of school as a way to introduce the blog to them. Think positive thoughts! Blogging is reading and writing. The more the kids read, the more they write, the more they write, the better they get, it's as simple as that. The writing they do for the blog transfers over to the writing they do for their formal essays, I am looking for the same things: details, details, details, interesting vocab, complete sentences, etc. If you tell me you love to ski, I want to know why, where, specifics, that sort of thing, not just that you love to ski because you go fast. That's not a thoughtful and quality response. I change the prompts up each week. I'll start off with thoughts on their summer reading choices, and then I'll give them a break from that and offer some creative prompts like, if you suddenly woke up one morning to find that you did not have feet but flippers, how does that change your life, type of thing. They love the creative stuff. We'll do persuasive writing, poetry, current events, etc. Reflective writing, if you can go back in time and change the course of history, what would you do? Oftentimes, I'll put in some requirements like you need to use dialog, etc. Relate it to the grammar we are doing. Anything to get them to write. I will also require them to comment on others writings because that is what a true blog really is, a conversation, like we are having right now! This is a bit hard to do with so many students (72) who have a million other things going on in their lives, but those who love to write will do it. I comment all the time on what they write, and sometimes change the direction of the conversation, so I always tell them to be sure and read my posts at least. I do this for a reason as it tells me who actually reads what I write at least, as opposed to just scrolling to the bottom and adding their two cents. Many times I catch them, and tell them we are not talking about that now, and you need to read more carefully, points lost for that. I need to run to a meeting shortly, so I'll continue this response later today. Sorry for the length!
My fingers are crossed that your blog will be recovered, Amy! What a wonderful idea to have one class leave words of wisdom for the next!

You say, "I am looking for the same things: details, details, details, interesting vocab, complete sentences, etc. If you tell me you love to ski, I want to know why, where, specifics, that sort of thing, not just that you love to ski because you go fast." The challenge you mention, helping students understand that they need to express themselves more fully in writing than face-to-face in order to be understood, is one of the most common pedagogical challenges in teaching writing, which I believe Web 2.0 media can help to address in truly novel ways. Interactive online writing involves communicating with a real audience (not a hypothetical one) at a slight distance. In that context, such appeals for clarification, elaboration, etc. are genuine; they are about engaging the reader in understanding the author's meaning without the benefits of shared context (e.g., gesture, voice inflection, etc.) that come with f2f conversation.

You also mention the accountability that online written conversations afford, which I think is another important point. It's easier to track amount and depth of participation in writing than orally, and yet the benefits of interactivity that come with oral discussion are also present.

Do you give your students guidelines for what you expect in a response to another's post? Do you assess their comments? That might increase their participation in the conversation. Do you ever use threaded discussion forums (like this)? They tend to lend themselves to deeper dialogue than most blog software does, which I wrote about on my blog...
I will post the link to the old blog and the new one which I'm still playing with later this week. All was not lost, as they are continuing to transition over to the new server. I agree with you, Marielle, that one of my biggest challenges as far as writing goes, is getting the kids to support their opinions with details, be specific. Also, retrieving information from a text to support an opinion is also tough in the beginning for them. So, when I think of creative blog prompts, I keep these lessons in mind, and how I want them to answer. The process does transfer over to their formal writing. Towards the end of the year, I find myself marking less "needs explanation" on their papers, and they are also now referring back to the text for support in their writing.

In the beginning, when I introduce my blog to them, I have the students read a blogger's contract which we discuss, and they later sign, so they are well aware of my expectations and what the consequences are if they abuse this privilege. I talk about how we can all agree to disagree and I model ways for them to be respectful in their comments to others, and then I let them role play a bit. I have to say I did not have one problem last year with any of the seventy one students. I do have a rubric I use to grade their responses based on points, and since they are getting a trimester writing grade out of this I tell them it's the easiest A they could get in my class. Since they will be commenting weekly and there are thirteen weeks (give or take) this grade is based on 100 points.

I think I might change things up a bit this year to encourage more dialog among the students. Once they are familiar with the routine of getting their weekly response in, I will then require them to respond to at least one other person. It's a bit more management for me, but I won't know unless I try. Your blog is great, Marielle, and I agree with your thoughts on threaded discussions. I can certainly see the advantages there. I don't know about the demographics of any of your students, but in the private school I teach in, these kids are heavily loaded up with after school responsibilities, be it either sorts, religious instruction, music, etc. Those who want the grade and like to write, will write forever and find the time to do so. Most will get their weekly response in and be done with it. Once I get to know the student, if I feel a response is a rush job, and that the student was capable of writing more, points are lost, and we talk about what a quality response is with examples. Pretty soon, they all figure out what I'm after.

I will have seventy two students this year and they do their blogging at home. Those that want to can do it during advisory time or before/after school. Voicethread is a whole different tool used for digital storytelling.
Yes, I would like to see! I'm a 7th grade LA teacher too and know that I'll have bumps when I get started but would like to minimize by learning from what worked for you. I am very impressed with Voicethreads, so.. Blogger is the way to go for that? Other than that,what's your ratio of students:computer in class? Do they blog at home or do you do station-type activities to allow for that?
Hi Michelle. As an alternative option you could try setting up a "Loop" using www.zloop.com. It's a bit like a simplified version of Ning focusing more on productivity and collaboration rather than social networking. It's designed to manage interaction among multiple networks (multiple classrooms, etc) which makes it a good tool for teachers. Also, we've just open up to the public and are looking for additional feedback regarding it's application within the classroom.
If you are trying to get your kids to collaborate together, go with the wiki. If you are trying to get your kids to practice writing and try to find a voice, go with blogs. Just make sure that your blogs are not based on kids answering questions about an assignment or something, it will just seem like they are writing to write something for the teacher. Give them a chance to write for themselves. Use non school related prompts in the beginning to get them going, after they begin to like writing online, then can get them into school activities if you want. Also, link each of your kids to other blogs, have them comment on each others work. Can even set up rubrics for best ways to comment.
As Ian suggested, I tried both last year. Both centered around students' independent reading. The Wiki withered and the blogs flourished. Now, I think I know why--a wiki is good for collective knowledge building, but my students (11/12 year old sixth graders) are really all about "me, me, me" and the ownership of their blogs really pleased them. Each person had a space (blog) of their own and comments on their blog centered around the books they'd read/written about. They would visit other's blogs with their comments, but had a home base.

Cory is right about having rubrics for them. I had requirements about needing to respond to others in certain ways. I also had to push some students for quantity, although once the blogs took off, that wasn't much of an issue.

I'll try a wiki again this year, but differently--it will be focused on building a research base, not on individual work. We'll see!
Good luck with your endeavors!
Sarah
Michelle,

I also recently made the switch. I decided on a wiki because I am doing nearly all the creation (1st grade). I am posting their work, and basically treating the wiki more like a webpage - just a lot easier to edit, add 2.0 content, and add new pages to the sidebar. Since I chose wetpaint it also has a disussion forum and allows discussion threads right on the individual pages, so others can still comment on their work as posted. This allows it to act as a blog in a sense. It seemed to be the best of both worlds for me.

Good luck with your choice; I'm sure it will shine!
Great question! I look at my classroom wiki as more of where we put facts and information we are learning. http://mswebster.wikispaces.com The blog was for more opinions.
Hi Michelle
You have received so many great suggestions and ideas for your foray into the world of Web2.0. I just really wanted to add my own thoughts which basically are reinforced by all that has been said previously. Up until the last couple of months we have used wikis exclusively at our school. Mainly for student's digital portfolios and as portals and online spaces for class projects. But over the last two weeks we have also begun blogging with students in years 3 & 4 and Year 9/10. The students and teachers have responded very positively to it.
I think that you have to consider the purpose first and then the technology will fall into place. Congratulations and good luck
cheers

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