Blogging as a tool for improving writing for Grade 5 students Design Based Research Project
Over the past few years there has been a large push for schools and teachers to utilise technology within the classroom to support learning. Continued development in technology allows constant access to information at any time from many devices. Additionally, technologies such as “blogs, wikis, online games, social networking technologies, such as Twitter and Facebook, and video and music dissemination technologies such as YouTube (Coiro et al, 2088, p. 5) allow instantaneous online communication with global audiences. The integration of these technologies in every day life has changed what it means to be an active citizen in the 21st Century (Tanti 2012).
Schools have a responsibility to “equip students with the skills to become active members of society”(Tanti 2012 .p 133). Therefore technology and its place within the classroom has become an area of immense interest for educational researchers (Bloch 2007). The implementation of technologies in schools, however, is often neglected (Bauer and Kenton 2005). Teachers cite epistemological beliefs, lack of training and fear of internet predators as major concerns that limit the integration of ICT into their practice (Hixon and Buckenmyer 2009). However, as society becomes more and more heavily reliant on technologies, it has become imperative that teachers and school give students the skills they need to navigate through this global society. One way this can be done is through the use of Networked and Global Learning principles through blogs.
The use of academic blogging in the classroom has been widely researched. Though, predominantly focussed on secondary schools, studies have supported the value of blogs being used for classroom dialogue (Khourey-Brown, 2005), reflection (Killeavy and Molony 2010) and networking and engagement (Tanti 2012).
Engaging students in writing tasks can be challenging for teachers. Often, students cite they “don’t know what to write”, or “writing is boring”. This lack of motivation and engagement in the writing process can be further impeded through the pressures of high stakes standardised testing such as NAPLAN pushing teachers to teach writing in a formulaic way instead of being able to encourage creativity (Miller, 2004).
According to teachers, Year 5 students often feel disengaged and unmotivated in writing lessons. The need to write to particular text types blurs their understanding of text purpose and audience. Motivation for writing wains as their work is only read by themselves and the teacher.
This Design Based Research proposal will explore how blogging can influence writing development for year 5 students.
- How can students gain an authentic understanding of audience and purpose through blogging?
- How can we increase student engagement in writing through blogging?
- How can we teach students writing through process-orientated pedagogies?
- How can we teach students metacognitive processes to improve their writing?
- Literature Review
3.1 Writing and Writing Instruction:
Dempsey (2014) suggests that teachers often teach students how to write to a text type rather than a purpose. She reflects how statements such as “today we will write a report”, or “let’s write an exposition”, de-motivate students and confuse the purpose of the text. These text types are ways to organise a text, they are not the purpose of the text. Dempsey (2014) attributes students’ lack motivation to having a lack of textual purpose and real audience (p.27). The belief in the importance of writing to an audience is shared by McGrail and Davis (2011). They discuss the importance of primary students to develop and use the “reader-writer relationship and audience expectations” as students make meaning for their readers (p. 416). Further to this, Barritt and Kroll (1978 in McGrail and Davis 2011) also argue that “good writers have a very clear audience and write for it, whereas poor writers lack such awareness, which leads them to focus on the self, losing other peoples’ points of view (McGrail and Davis 2011 p. 416). Hence, writing for an audience through blogging can aid in the identification and awareness of one’s audience.
McNamarra (2008), also states when students are aware of their audience, they focus on their language choices, and look to edit their work, thus advancing their “storytelling and creative writing abilities”.
McGrail and Davis (2011) studied how blogging influenced the writing development of primary school aged students. They sampled students’ pre and post-blogging writing and analysed it in regard to attitude, content, voice, connections and relationships, thinking and exercising agency in a community of bloggers. Researchers found that students were able to “rethink their concepts of writing and its meaning in their lives (p. 415) and found that through blogging, students had a much greater sense if audience and purpose in their writing.
3.2 Social Constructivism
Vygotskian Social Cultural Learning (VSC) argues the notion that social interaction plays a fundamental role in the development of cognition, and further emphasizes the co-construction of knowledge within a cooperative environment (Vygotsky, 1978). The model suggests that social activities or interactions with others lead to enhanced development (Glick, 2004)
Ammarell (2000) follows that through online blogs, students’ work is public, giving each other the opportunity to read each other’s work and contribute to the development of ideas and texts. Students are therefore given the opportunity to create knowledge as they work together, online, collaboratively to make meaning of a text or idea. This develops high order thinking and critical thinking skills necessary in a global society. Each blog post is an opportunity for analysis, critical thinking, and evaluating arguments by their peers. This engages students further into the learning process than passively listening to a teacher.
Pearson (2010) implemented class blogs to assist in the social generation of knowledge. She found that utilising an online social platform, students were more inclined to participate in discussion around topics and found they developed a greater understanding of the topics. Similarly, Ammarell (2000) found through asynchronous online discussion groups, students actively engaged with each other and the course content, improving their skills in both the subject and their writing, empowering them to articulate their understanding on a particular issue.
Zawlinski (2009) also reflects on the social constructivist nature of blogs as a way for students to develop higher order thinking as the collaboratively “gather information to solve a problem, analyse information, critically evaluate, synthesise across multiple tects and communicate with others” (p. 652). Blogging provides a place for writers to develop and refine ideas. Davies and Merchant (2007) describe this process as “discussion of ideas in embryo” (p170). “Viewed in this way, blog writing is also a place to develop and nourish a community of writers who keep their readers in mind (Davis and McGrail 2009 in McGrail and Davis 2011 p. 416). Blogging facilitates “unique collaborations and relationships” (Miller and Shepherd, 2004). Downes, (2011) furthers this, stating:
“what you’re doing when you share is to create material that other people can learn from. Your sharing creates more content ….People appreciate that, you will probably appreciate the content other people …share with you.” (Downes, 2011)
3.3 Critical Pedagogy
Mitchel (2014) states:
As children I believe that their experience of being coerced to learn, rather than receiving guidance to develop into who they have the potential to be (which encourages autonomy and responsibility) contributes to feelings of powerlessness. This is particularly so in traditional schooling where learning is scaffolded to such a repetitive degree that the learners’ become dependent on the teacher, leading to passivity, or even worse, to a lack of self-confidence. When one believes that they must rely on authority to tell them what to do, they silence their inner voice and rely of the voices of others
Blogging provides a platform for students to have a voice and re-empower them to make connections with their lives and the material we are attempting to teach them to write. Using their cultural capital, students are able to engage with multimodal texts in ways not possible without a blogging platform.
The importance of this voice for student’s ownership of a project is exemplified by Shor (1992). In his book, Empowering Education: Critical Teaching for Social Change by Ira Shore (1992), Shore reflects about his first day of teaching a writing class to students who had failed their initial College entry writing exam. They were angry, didn’t want to participate and didn’t feel like they had the agency to participate. Shore asked them an open ended question, “Why did you hate the test?”, “What’s wrong with the test? Why is it unfair?”. After asking these questions, hands flew up everywhere! “The students found their voices, enough to carry us through a ferocious hour, once I found a generative theme” (Shore 1992 p.3). This notion of a “generative theme” is further expounded as Shore goes on to describe how one person’s ideas led to another’s and another’s, culminating in the students (who failed their entry basic writing exam) critiquing University policy and coming up with alternatives. Wallace (2002, NP) furthers this by stating it is through discourse and reflection that “generative themes” arise. Through blogging, students are able to create knowledge and develop their understanding of a topic in a way that empowers and encourages their unique ideas. Students are able to critically evaluate, position theory within their context and recognise the biases and assumptions in learning and learn how to communicate it effectively.
- Plan for Implementation
The proposed intervention is to set up a class blog using an Edublogs platform, where each student will create their own private blog. Each of the students’ blogs are linked to the private class blog.
All students will be able to see and comment on each other’s blog, however, these blogs will only be able to be seen by those approved by the moderator (teacher).
All comments and posts will be moderated and approved by the teacher.
In the initial stages of the implementation, the students and teachers will discuss appropriate netiquette and create a contractual agreement between teacher, student and parents, to ensure the appropriate blog usage. The IT department and Head of School will review this agreement before implementation. These agreements will need to be signed by the student, the parents and, when the teacher is satisfied that the student completely understands the rules of usage, the teacher. Any violation of these usage agreements will result in tight restrictions upon student usage and, if need be, the student blog will be disabled for a period.
Students will create avatars and usernames that are unique to themselves, utilising only their first names. Surnames, school title, photos of students and any personal details will not be used on the blog. Parents will be notified that if they choose to comment on someone’s blog, they are to identify themselves as “[student’s name] mum” or [username’s] dad” etc.
Students will be encouraged to post reflections, articles, writings, poetry, songs written, photos of their work, music clips, videos, photos…only limited by their imagination and the privacy protocols.
Students will be encouraged to comment on each other’s posts. They should encourage their peers, add content, critically evaluate and give suggestions. Students are encouraged to review and edit their work, continually improving themselves through self and peer evaluation.
The main class blog will showcase particular artefacts, provide stimulus for students to respond too, class news, polls and a general forum.
This class blog will be linked to a class twitter account. This will allow students to post concise reflections, ideas, quotes, and photos that will let parents be involved in our classroom. Initially, this Twitter feed will be private, with only supplied parental accounts able to view and comment. It is hoped, after extended use, students will be able to connect to other students over the world through this teacher controlled Twitter account.
Effects on Learning
It is hoped that through this intervention, students will be deeply engaged in the writing process. This intervention allows for learning to occur in an authentic, supportive learning environment.
The planned intervention would allow for the meeting of the following National Curriculum outcomes:
With the implementation of the National Curriculum, students are required to engage with each other in collaboration and make meaning of multimodal texts.
Some benefits of this intervention:
- Enable greater engagement of parents in the classroom in a way that is accessible for working parents.
Increase engagement in writing.
3. Allow opportunities for students to develop ideas collaboratively and develop critical thinking skills.
- Process orientated pedagogy over product orientated
- Teaches students how to write to an authentic audience
- Allows for teaching of metacognitive processes in writing.
- Allow students more opportunities to engage in authentic tasks
- Allow students to develop multimodal literacies.
- Opportunities for students to engage in reflective practice.
- Teach students about digital citizenship in an authentic learning environment.
For the Edublog platform to be used in the way specified, a ‘Pro’ account is recommended at a cost of $39.95 per year. This allows the teacher account, plus free student accounts linked to the teacher account. Utilising the Pro benefits, allows for:
10 GB of space
Write posts and create pages
Ad Free and Student Safe
Make Site Private Option
Embeded videos and HTML
Personal email support
Plugins and advanced features
500 Mb space
Write Posts and Create Pages
Ad free and student safe
Make site Private option
Embeded videos and HTML
Potential issues with intervention:
Security of students:
Students to write blog post and email it to teacher to proof read before submitting it online. Teacher to ensure student has not used names, locations or other identifying features in writing.
Security of blog:
Teacher only to have access to blog, logging student in on secure device for the submitting of writing.
Teacher to engage with head of ICT and IT department to ensure secure practices, including regular password changing.
Ammarell, G (2000). Networked news groups as a teaching tool in the social sciences. Teaching Sociology 28, 2. p.153-159.
Bauer, J. & Kenton, J. (2005). Toward Technology Integration in the Schools: Why It Isn’t Happening. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 13(4), 519-546. Norfolk, VA: SITE.
Davies and Merchant (2007) Looking from the inside out: Academic blogging as new literacy. In C. Lankshear and M Knobel (Eds), A new literacies ampler (p 167-197). New York, NY: Peter Lang.
Davis and McGrail (2009) The joy of blogging. Educational Leadership, 66, 6. P.76-77.
Dempsey, Louise. Motivating students for writing [online]. Practically Primary, Vol. 19, No. 3, Oct 2014: 27-28. Availability: <http://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=625071470433443;res=IELHSS> ISSN: 1324-5961. [cited 26 Nov 14].
Glick, J. (2004). The history of the development of higher mental function. In R.W.Rieber& D.K Robinson (Eds.) The essential Vygotsky (v-xvi). New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum.
Hixon, E and Buckenmeyer, J (2009) Computers in the schools. Interdisciplinary Journal of Practice, Theory and Applied Research. 26, 2.
Miller and Shepherd (2004). Blogging as social action: A genre analysis of the weblog. Into the Blogosphere: Rhetoric, Community and the Culture of Weblogs. Retrieved 1 December 2014 from http://blog.lib.umn.edu/blogosphere/blogging_as_social_action_a_genre_analysis_of_the_weblog.html
Mitchel A. (2014) Learning to fall and rise in the 21st Century. Life Changing Learning. Retrieved 1 December 2014 from http://lifechanginglearning.blogspot.com.au/2014/09/learning-to-fall-and-rise-in-21st.html
Pearson, F (2010) Real Problems, Virtual Solutions: Engaging Students Online. Teaching Sociology, 38, 3. p. 207-214
Shor, I. (1992). Empowering education: Critical teaching for social change. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Wallace, S. W. (2002). Freire and first grade: In pursuit of generative themes. Unpublished dissertation presented to the College of Graduate studies of Georgia Southern University. Retrieved 29 Dec 2013 from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.usq.edu.au/docview/305480154
Zawilinski, L (2009) HOT blogging: A framework for blogging to promote higher order thinking. The Reading Teacher. 62, 8. P.650-661. DOI: 10.1598/RT.62.8.3