5 Reasons to Use a Classroom Blog during Formative Assessment

Posted by Matt Berringer on March 3, 2015

by Heather MacCorkle Edick, M.S.Ed

Part 2 of 3

Formative AssessmentWhy use a blog during formative assessment?
It becomes an archive of student understanding. All entries made by your students—blog posts, comments, image suggestions, poll responses, video submissions, PDF uploads, and anything else you can think of—are stored in the blog’s database. You can retrieve them at any time for reflection on instruction or conferences with the students, parents, or administrators.

It gives students a chance to practice sharing their ideas.
When students respond to blog entries, they are practicing informal communication and learning how to express themselves in ways that others will understand. Other forms of informal communication, such as text messaging, are great, but when young people get into the workforce, they will have to know how to communicate informally in standard English. It’s unlikely that the word “you” will be replaced by “u” any time soon, for example. Hopefully, no teacher would accept that in a blog entry or comments!

WordPress has a plugin that helps me proofread my writing. It's called After the Deadline. Before I publish a post, AtD analyzes it and makes suggestions for improvement, including correcting misspelled words, eliminating passive voice, and replacing jargon with a more appropriate word. I clicked the AtD button on the editor toolbar while writing this paragraph, and you should see the “suggestions” they have for me to wade through in paragraphs above this one! This plugin is also available as a browser extension, and I would highly recommend that your IT folks install it so students can benefit from a proofreader. It doesn't catch everything, of course, but if we can improve the spelling skills of just one eighth grader, I think it's worth it.

You and your students will have a web presence.
There are probably hundreds of education blogs out there, written by scores of teachers, students, parents, concerned citizens, researchers, thought leaders, and others. Why add your class to that large population? Why not? At this time (February 2015), there is another wave of controversy coming—this time pushed by the reauthorization of the ESEA, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Our legislators are arguing over the merits of Title I portability, testing, and accountability programs. Now would be a great time to have students speak to the subject, as their careers as students are going to be affected. Students demonstrate and practice their critical thinking, organizational, and writing skills when creating posts like these. The blog platform organizes this content to make it easy for you to review, just like an editor would review a newspaper article before it’s published. Once published, other stakeholders in education might see the posts. Who knows where that will lead? Most importantly, though, being able to publish to the world about important issues might give your students a sense of pride and purpose.

Man, I love the Internet.

You can flip your classroom.
You may have heard the term “The Flipped Classroom,” but you may not know its history. Two teachers from Woodland Park High School in Woodland Park, Colo., named Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, created the first flipped classrooms. Click this link to read the article they wrote about how they came up with this idea. Why they decided to flip their classrooms is important:

“One of the problems we noticed right away about teaching in a relatively rural school is that many of our students missed a lot of school due to sports and activities. The nearby schools are not nearby. Students spent an inordinate amount of time on buses traveling to and from events. Thus, students missed our classes and struggled to stay caught up.”

As the flipped classroom has been interpreted and reinterpreted, using class time for active learning has become the focus. Students study the information they would normally be “given” in class during prep time (aka, while doing homework). For example, they might be asked to watch a YouTube video of a lecture on frogs and an introduction to the dissection lab they will be doing in class. During class, the students are actively working on concepts, skills, or constructing knowledge. Again, for example, while in class they dissect the frog in front of them (or visit the nurse because they passed out). What would have taken two or three class periods using the traditional classroom model—a lecture on frogs, a lecture to prepare for the lab, and the lab itself—might only take one class period.

Class time is precious, and the flipped classroom idea helps teachers to make the most of it by eliminating the lecture and letting students get to work. It’s the “working meeting” of the K-12 world. When students are doing more than listening, teachers have many more opportunities for formative assessment, because they are able to see behavior related to learning, to listen to students and not talk at them, and to create plans with students to adjust (scaffold) instruction when students need more help.

It teaches your students about digital citizenship.
Digital citizenship is a popular topic today. How should we use technology responsibly? That's a small question that leads to a multitude of other questions. Just as we can’t learn to tie our shoes without actually tying our shoes, we can’t learn about using technology responsibly without actually using it responsibly. We made mistakes when we were learning to tie our shoes; we'll make mistakes when learning the tenants of digital citizenship. Better, in both cases, to make those mistakes within a supportive, caring environment than to make them when the consequences are much more dire. If your blog is set up properly, the outside world will never see the mistakes that your students make, but you will be able to use their work product to teach them about what responsible technology use looks like. When you see students making mistakes or misusing technology, and then take steps to correct them, you are trying to help the students learn the tenets of digital citizenship. Think of those tenets in terms of learning outcomes. Once you do, you might find it easy to see that you're practicing formative assessment.

Here are some ways to keep your students safe when using the classroom blog.

  • Receive permission to have a classroom blog and to allow students to contribute to it.
  • Ensure that your blog only allows comments to show after the comments have been manually approved.
  • Add your students to your blog as contributors, so they will be able to write posts, but not publish them.
  • Make sure that your users' display names only show the first initial of their last name, not their full name.
  • Do not allow users to use a picture of themselves in their profile; instead, they can use an abstract graphic that best reflects their personality.

Heather MacCorkle Edick, M.S.Ed, is Team Lead—Staff Education, SunGard K-12 Education. She blogs regularly at THIS LINK.

Topics: Formative Assessments