11 March 2013

Managing student blogs: tricks and tools

Blogging in the L2 is something that I've researched a good bit. Vygotsky would say it's awesome for capitalizing on the social nature of learning, and if I may speak for Sr. Krashen, it's also pretty nifty in how it helps lower ye olde affective filter. And everyone seems to agree that blogs increase engagement and motivation. Plus technology = awesome, especially with video and hyperlinks and all sorts of cool interactivity going on.

There are two ways to set up class blogs: one big blog for everyone to post on, or each with their own blogs. Me, I like for them to have their own blogs, in part because I require their Spanish blogs to have a theme and some sort of unity to them, and in part because it's fun to play with the presentation: that's part of the blogging experience. This means I can aggregate them in different ways according to my purposes, too.

These are three main tools I use for blog management:
I'm aware of a handful of others that could work, but I have a purpose for each of these and a system I like. First of all, I use Google Reader for grading (as previously posted). This means not only that I can check assignments from my smart phone, but also that I can keep a running tally of who has completed the week's post as they come in. As soon as a new post is added to my queue, I put a check mark by their name on the roster, so I know they've submitted something, and I can easily spot who has not done so by the appointed hour, and I can then get on the horn to Mom/Dad/Guardian.

Of course my students blog on Blogger because they already have Google accounts, and it's pretty user-friendly and easy to customize. This also makes it easy for me to collect posts I want their classmates to see. I require my students to comment on each other's blogs weekly (my research suggests that leaving it as an option means it ain't gonna happen). I also like to reward people who do a good job and produce something interesting. So I created Blogs de la semana as a place to collect the good stuff and publicize it a little, maybe give classmates something worth commenting on if they're having a hard time choosing. When I see a post I like, I simply re-blog it using the little icon Blogger puts at the bottom of posts, add a little blurb about why I like it, and voila! Instant aggregation of good stuff. A catch: if they choose the "Dynamic Views" style, the little re-blog button is gone. This means either copious copy-pasting or a bit of benevolent dictating.

I also just started COMPASS Review Help for my COMPASS Test review mini-class. The purpose of this blog is still to aggregate examples from class, but to seek suggestions. Some students are not going far enough with their inferences and have a very shaky grasp on tone and organization. Therefore, I'm plucking out their posts and tagging them with what needs work. So students can see the parts where they got things right while they're seeing what's wrong and analyzing the problem. And even if they're seeing something they got wrong too, I'm thinking that seeing someone get it wrong a different way could help them pinpoint the source of their own confusion. Heck, since we're going to dig into conjugation in Spanish I pretty soon, I think I might make a blog-of-blogs to collect posts where students need to go back and change some verb forms! While I'm at it, I might also collect things that need a second look at past tense usage for Spanish II to go over and make suggestions on! (Extra credit if people go back and actually change their posts and highlight what they changed?) Yay peer revision!

But I want more than just the blogs that I choose to get some response, so I collect the links for each student blog on a Symbaloo webmix and assign a representative symbol (like so) so that students can choose which blog to peruse based on their interests for commenting purposes. This is also handy for double-checking when it appears someone has not blogged for the week, as I arrange them alphabetically by author's last name.

I suppose you could also say I use Schoology for blog management, in that I record grades there and use it for collecting students' comments. Each week, there is an assignment to comment, and each week, students must post which post they commented on directly to the comment section of that assignment on Schoology, including 1) the name of the author, 2) the name of the blog, 3) the name of the post, and 4) the actual link to the post they commented on. I have noticed that the posts that are among the first commented on that week tend to have multiple comments, so this also seems to help get the word out about classmates' blogs.

Collecting comments is, however, an area where I would be open to suggestions on how to do it more efficiently. Maybe make all students authors on another re-blog-blog? A way to keep track of my own comments would be cool, too, because I usually forget to check to see if/when students reply to me. Is there some kind of RSS feeder for this?

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