I think it’s safe to say that here at CampusPress and Edublogs we’re big fans of blogs. We’re even bigger fans of school and student blogs, and that’s not just because we host over 3.3 million on Edublogs. It’s because we think that learning to run (and maintain) a blog can bring students all sorts of benefits.
In this post I’m going to look at how students can benefit from blogging, with reference to my own experience supporting a group of Year 6 kids (10 and 11 year olds) to create their own blogs. And I’ll show you just how easy it is to get your students started with blogging, as well as giving you some tips to make it work.
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Benefits of Blogging
I run a Code Club at my local school, and when I suggested to the kids that they could each have their own blog, they couldn’t have been more excited. They’d already spent six months learning to code with Scratch and to create basic web pages with HTML and CSS, but the idea of having their own website they could add content to and use to communicate with their friends was something they relished.
I split them into groups and they started working on their new blogs: choosing themes, tweaking settings using the customizer, and adding content. They learned some technical skills – links, menus, accessibility, images and more, but they also learned how to write for an online audience and to have fun with it.
The results were very varied, as you can see from the slides above. Some of them created straightforward blogs, one group made quizzes, others focused on images and design, and one pair created a mystery blog and asked their classmates to guess who had written each post.
They learned loads from it, and all while they were having fun. Here’s some of what I think they learned and your students could too.
Creating their own blog will help students learn web design skills as they decide how their site is going to look, how it will be structured and how users will interact with it. If they take things further, and are technically minded, they can also learn basic web development skills by adding custom CSS to their theme if the theme allows it and even creating their own code if your platform lets them. Things my students learned about included:
- Designing for the user. They had to think about who their potential audience would be and what that audience would expect form their site. They all wanted to encourage their classmates to visit their blog, so they came up with ideas to encourage people to read more content and interact with it too.
- Structuring their site. The structure of a blog or website is an important part of the user experience (UX). By creating their own blog, students learn how to set up their site’s structure to help people move around it, find new content and keep coming back for more. My students learned how to use the menus system to provide links to pages, posts and categories, as well as how to add links in text and in the sidebar.
- Visual Design. My students loved working on the visual design of their blogs. To adult eyes some of their designs might seem a bit garish(!) but they had fun working on the color scheme and finding images that fitted with the theme of their blogs.
- User Experience (UX). Aside from designing for the user, they also learned some useful lessons about UX and user testing. The team who created a quiz found that when their classmates tried to do the quiz, the UX wasn’t what they expected, so they made some tweaks to their site to make it easier and more intuitive. Learning about iteration in web design and the importance of testing with users was a valuable lesson.
- Audio Visual Techniques. Some of my students included their own photos and videos in their blogs. They learned not just about creating these, but also about adding them to their blog, including uploading videos to YouTube and embedding them in their blogs.
While they didn’t learn much in the way of coding skills, the web design skills they did learn and apply are just as valuable, and were of more interest to many of them. But the learning wasn’t just limited to Computing.
Earlier in the year I’d spent some time with my club teaching them how to code HTML and CSS and build their own web pages. What surprised me was how focused they were on the content. Sure, there were a few kids (the real code monkeys) who rushed through the code, learning about HTML elements and styling with CSS. But most of them lingered over the lessons and put lots of effort onto the content of the pages they were building. At first I found it frustrating – they were here to learn code, after all – but after a while I realised that it was an important part of what they were learning.
When they came to creating their own blogs this was magnified, and they got to practice plenty of literacy skills:
- Writing for an audience. One of the greatest writing challenges for many of us is gearing our writing to its intended audience, and I knew this was something my group had spent time working on in class. When they created their blogs the students thought about who they wanted to read them and adapted their writing style and their content accordingly. For example the ‘Mystery Blog’ owners tried to write in a style that would be distinct for each writer but not too obvious, in the hope that their audience would guess who they were but not before they’d read the posts. And the Star Wars fans crammed their blog with facts and figures about Star Wars, something they and their friends who they wanted to read the blog would enjoy.
- Writing to entertain. A good blog will entertain and inform its readers. Even if the subject matter is technical or difficult, an entertaining and involving writing style will encourage people to read it and to come back in the future. Writing a blog (and importantly, keeping it maintained) helps students learn how to entertain an audience and provide people with something they enjoy reading or consuming.
- Writing regularly, or to a deadline. A huge proportion of people who start a blog don’t continue with it after the first rush of inspiration. But if you can encourage your students to maintain their blog and publish content to it regularly, they’ll learn how to manage the writing process and write according to a schedule or to meet a deadline. They’ll also learn about tools (such as post scheduling) that can help them manage that.
- Writing clearly and competently. A blog that’s full of grammatical errors, spelling mistakes and writing that is confusing or dull won’t win a devoted audience. By regularly blogging, students learn from experience that they need to write well in order to engage their audience. Over time, their writing will most likely improve as they become motivated to write as well as they can for their audience.
Blogging is a form of writing just like any other and can be a useful complement to other writing activities students undertake in class. When I was at school we spent hours writing stories, but we also learned how to write formal letters, including wedding acceptances and complaint letters, of all things. Writing stories is something I’ve carried into adult life but writing complaint letters and replying to invitations isn’t something I do often. But blogging, with other forms of online communication, is something your students are likely to do after they leave school. Learning to do it well can only benefit them.
Blogging can also teach students about communication in a broader sense, outside the direct literacy learning that can take place. For example:
- Engaging with an audience. Your student’s blogs may well receive comments from their classmates and other readers. In my club I limited comments to classmates, as the kids were so young. But older students may be building a large audience of people they’ve never met, people from all over the world. Using the comments to engage with this audience and respond appropriately to its feedback is a useful skill.
- Communicating appropriately. Creating a blog may well bring students into content with people who leave inappropriate or unpleasant comments. It’s an unpleasant experience but if they have the support of their peers and teacher in a classroom context, it can help them learn how to respond to this (and how not to). It’s also a good opportunity to teach students about the consequences of inappropriate comments and help them see why they shouldn’t do it. Of course all this will be informed by your school or institution’s policies and practices on e-safety, and it’s important you conform to those when setting your students up with blogs.
Making Blogging Work
So you’ve decided that blogging is something you want to do with your students. How do you go about making it as successful as possible, and linking it to other aspects of the curriculum? Here are some tips:
- Follow your school or institution’s e-safety guidelines. Make sure that you set your students’ blogs up in a way that will keep them safe, and is appropriate for their age group. This will include considerations like public access to blogs, use of video and other media and commenting.
- Make it easy. Don’t make the process of creating a blog too complicated or long-winded. A tool like Edublogs makes it incredibly easy for your students to create blogs (or for you to create one for them). Focus on getting started quickly and then build on what students are doing as you go along.
- Avoid a narrow focus. Don’t expect students just to learn about Computing or writing. Identify opportunities for students to learn about all the aspects of blogging, including those I’ve outlined above.
- Make links with the curriculum. Ask students to create a blog on a topic you’re studying in class. Encourage them to carry out online research and then write about their findings in their blog, as well as posting images, video and other media. A lot of students will be more motivated to create a blog on a topic than they would be to write essays on it.
It isn’t difficult to set up blogs for your students. Edublogs lets you create as many blogs as you need: one for the whole class, one for each group, or one for each student. And they’re all free. There are features that can help you manage your students’ blogs and help them learn:
- Themes. Students can choose from hundreds of great themes and make their blog look just as they want it to.
- The customizer. Once they’ve chosen a theme, students can customize it. Depending on the theme, they might be able to edit colors, layout and other design settings. They can also use the customizer to add and edit menus, widgets and more.
- Menus. The Menus interface is really easy to use, and helps your students create and amend their blog’s structure. Just drag and drop pages and posts into as many menus as you want. There’s a space for a main menu and many themes will have extra slots for secondary menus.
- ‘My Class’. With Edublogs Pro, you can create a class to group all of your students together. This helps with security, class management and in-class communication.
- Clear, distraction-free writing environment. The Edublogs post editing screens, which are based on WordPress, make it easy for your students to create content. They also provide useful tools such as spellchecking and a distraction-free writing environment with nothing visible outside the content pane.
- Flexibility. Nothing your students add to their blog is set in stone. If they want to change the theme, customize the design, edit the navigation menu or delete content at a later date, they can. As often as they want.
Blogging is a Great Learning Opportunity, For Many Reasons
Hopefully I’ve convinced you of the benefits of blogging for students of all ages. It’s also incredibly easy to get started, with a free blog from Edublogs. From my experience I know that it’s something students love doing, and that it helps them to learn without even knowing that they’re doing so.
By linking your student blogs to the wider curriculum and being aware of the learning opportunities available, you can make blogging a really valuable tool for your students, now and in the future. Happy blogging!