New Jersey High School Learns the ABCs of Blogging: Weblogs Can Create Online Forums for Classroom Discussion, and Build Student Skills

Article excerpt

For a group of my English literature students at Hunterdon Central Regional High School (HCRHS) in New Jersey, the latest buzz in educational technology began with bees. I had my class read The Secret Life of Bees (Penguin, 2003), then offered a new way to create dialog around the book with literary Weblogs.

The "blogs" are gaining traction in education as an online forum for classroom discussion, and to develop students' critical thinking, writing, and reading comprehension skills. Here at HCRHS, they have even more reach. For instance, my lit students created an online reader study guide for Bees, using the Weblog format. In two years, the site (Weblogs.hcrhs.k12.nj.us/bees) has had more than 2 million hits, including a 2,300-word response from the book's author, Sue Monk Kidd.

The Weblog traffic has since grown to encompass different students and schools, making it clear to our students that others are reading and learning from their work. This "sense of audience" gets students excited, and helps to facilitate discussion, debate, and participation, even among reticent students. Blogs also motivate students to become more engaged in reading, think more deeply about the meaning of their writing, and submit higher quality work.

Versatile Technology Tool

In the last three years, I've used my own blog (www.Weblogg-ed.com) to collect Web links, best practices, and information about using Weblogs and related technologies in the K-12 classroom. It's now clear that the value of a Weblog can be measured by three C's: how they help you communicate, collaborate, and construct in new ways.

The flexibility of this online tool makes it well suited for K-12 implementations. Teachers can use blogs to post homework assignments, create links, pose questions, and generate discussion. Students can post homework, create a portfolio, and archive peer feedback, enabling a virtually paperless classroom.

But collaboration is the most compelling aspect of blogs, which allow teachers to expand classroom walls by inviting outside experts, mentors, and observers to participate. One HCRHS class studies the Holocaust by working with students in Poland via Weblogs. A group of my former students taught journalism to a group of elementary school students in Georgia, using blogs to bridge 800 miles and five grade levels. And, as part of the Bees project, I created blog space for parents to discuss the book and to help them gain insight into their child's learning process. …