Guest Blogger – Maryam Ben Rabha


Blogging for writing – learning by doing

When asked why they write stories, a ten-year-old replied “I write it for the teacher to mark it.”

This was just one stark discovery made during the research of ‘Blogging and Writing’ by Sarah Horrocks –Director of London Connected Learning Centre and Myra Barrs, previously director of the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education.

I was lucky to be one of a team of four primary school teachers on a six month project to dig deeper into the world of class blogging. Its aim: to study the effects of class blogging on the quality of students’ writing and their views on the purpose of writing.

Blogging in Education

Blogging in education is nothing new. It can often start as a communicative tool between teacher and parents to showcase students’ work or achievements. But it can quickly grow beyond that. Twitter guru David Mitchell (@DeputyMitchell) encourages blogging between schools so national and international links are easily made and maintained.

There are plenty of examples of children who, after working on a class blog, have moved on to setting up their own blog to promote their hobbies, create new networks or set up their own online business. The internet is there waiting for these entrepreneurial students to make the most of what is at their fingertips and the potential for learning is limitless.

Putting it into Practice

In the ever changing world of technology, teachers can often struggle to keep up with the new updates in technology. Children are increasingly confident in their use of all things ‘touch screen’ and then there are the demands of a new ‘Computing’ based curriculum.

Myra reiterates “We don’t have a choice but to accept digital literacy”. This generation of children is like no other – they have instant access to information and can have an international voice at the click of a button.

It goes without saying that e-safety needs to be instilled in your class prior to setting up a class blog, as children begin to realise the power of the internet; both its benefits and pitfalls. We as educators must embrace this medium in the classroom rather than ignoring it or mistakenly assuming that the today’s students can simply teach themselves.

Taking part in this research project there were some obstacles as always with new ICT initiatives in a school. So followed the usual streams of technical issues and evenings spent self-teaching as I became more familiar with a WordPress blog and how best to introduce this to an enthusiastic class of 7-8 year olds, whose typing skills were just about at the ‘hunt and peck’ stage. The time and effort most certainly paid off, as not only did it improve my class’ ICT understanding and skills it gave them a real purpose for writing and a peek into the world of social media.

Authentic Audience

To avoid all children believing the only point of writing is for the teacher to qualify with a red tick, they need a wider audience. As our visitors count on the blog ticked over the first thousand and the map showed we had viewers from as far afield as Poland, United States and New Zealand, the children started to really understand the power of the World Wide Web. Students from our research felt that having a huge audience was what they liked most about blogging “You really feel like an author on the blog because everyone is reading your writing and it makes you feel proud.”

With an audience comes feedback. Often our children receive an almost minute-by-minute, blow-by-blow account of what they can do next to improve their work in order to reach their target or next level. But this is must be incredibly draining for a child who just wants to write!

Instead, I found the children preferred the more general encouraging comments from their teachers, friends and family. It was clear that when receiving any public feedback on their blog writing the child’s confidence was boosted and only encouraged them to write more.

On the flip side to this is the importance of open discussion with the class about giving and receiving negative feedback and its effects on others. By ensuring the class set up their own list of blogging rules prior to posting anything, ensures ownership, understanding and unity in their blog.

Learning by doing

Both children and teachers alike enjoyed exploring this creative method of ‘learning by doing’ using their class blog. As just a few examples:

  • Children documented their ideas for a new topic on Vikings by starting a Question and Answer session to find out more, children replied to each other in role, exploring various characters and historical events.

  • While away on her travels, one teacher continued dialogue with her class via the class bear Cuthbert, who was pictured experiencing Thai cuisine and Far East waterfalls.

  • Year 6 were set the task of exploring robots of the past and were instantly engaged in researching facts, watching silent movies and writing in role as a lonely robot. The scope for creativity and opportunity to be heard was vast as the children felt free to write openly and for longer periods of time.

Schools are always looking for ways to improve their curriculum to make it creative, topic based and purposeful. Just like Enabling Enterprise projects, Blogging is real life learning by doing for children. Entrepreneurs are finding new careers in blogging and social media has fast become the backbone of advertising strategies. I feel it is vital that we not only prepare our children to be the future doctors, engineers, designers and managers, but also social media or online content managers.

Their future

Andrew Baggs works as a digital project manager, consulting clients on their social media strategy, for agent3 a creative digital marketing agency, he believes that “The most exciting thing for 8 year olds isn’t using social media – it will be creating things.  How does twitter work? How do videos get online? How do you build a website? That’s the fun stuff – you have ALL the power then. Being a developer will be cooler than being a footballer in 2023.”

Are we preparing children today for jobs which will exist in the future? We do know that the future will revolve around technology and that we must prepare children with the skills and ability to adapt and embrace the ever changing world ahead of them. Blogging can be one such tool for making that happen.

Maryam Ben Rabha is an Education Associate at Enabling Enterprise.  At Enabling Enterprise we work with students from the age of 6 – 19 to help them develop the enterprise skills and experiences of the world to be successful through the rest of their lives. Find out more at www.enablingenterprise.org

Maryam’s Year 3 class blog can be found here.

 

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