Using Blogs in the Classroom

Monday, April 26, 2004

Compuers and Electronic Writing

When word processing first made its appearance, it was welcomed by many composition teachers. They saw it as a means to improve the standard freshman essay (Trupe, 2002). "Today, the expanding possibilities for writing engendered through desktop publishing, email, Web-based bulleting boards, MOO's, Web pages and other hypertext authoring and presentation software, show up the limitations the freshman essay imposes on thought and writing" ( 3).

The sense of audience has always been an important construct to the theory of writing. Students write for authentic audiences is even given as a best practice example by the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (n.d.). For a large majority of students, the authentic audience is limited to the classroom teacher and their classmates.

With access to the Web, authentic audiences are available on an almost unlimited number of online journals, magazines, newspapers, MOO's, blogs and wikis. When writing for blogs or wikis, the audience is no longer passive. They take on an active role by becoming collaborators. The Internet has brought a whole new context to the aspect of writing for students. In addition to a seemingly endless amount of resources, writers can experience "a whole new level of engagement with peers, professionals, and other sorts of experts" (Wilinsky, p.1).

In a study of fifth grade students, Garner and Gillingham (as cited in Hu, 2004) found a positive impact of an online authentic audience. These Illinois students were not only more conscious of mechanics, they formulated their writing to meet the specific needs of their online audience.

Motivation is experienced by all levels of students when writing for an online community; a factor not present in conventional paper and pencil writing (Daiute, 2000). Cohen and Reil (1990) conducted a study using seventh grade Israeli students. Works written for Internet audiences by these subjects received higher scores than the works written for the classroom teacher. "Writing in cyberspace seems more purposeful and meaningful to students because it involves reaching real audiences" (Daiute, 2000, 12).

Steve Karause (1995) conducted a study to determine if there was a correlation between students who demonstrate a high degree of interactivity online and those who demonstrate a high degree of audience off-line. Though Karause found a strong correlation between the number of posts and the number of words with the interactivity score, his research did not support his initial supposition. This author suggests further studies focus on defining writing and the impact of online writing environments rather than on whether or not their effect transfers to other environments.

The time when students had to hope their work would be displayed in the hallway or read aloud in class in order to share it with others is gone. Today, sharing work with a student in another country is simply a matter of posting it online. The Internet has connected writers and their audiences in a way never before possible. However, Daiute (2000) contends, "Arguments in favor of cyberspace as a context for writing development may not apply if the nature of interaction does not support purposeful, communicative, socially conscious writing" ( 11).


The question of the effect of computers on student writing has yet to be answered. Early research revealed conflicting results. Computers were shown to be responsible for an increase in quantity of writing, but not in quality. Yet there is a common belief that increased opportunities to write will lead to increased skill and ability.

There was also an increase in students' perception of their writing ability and attitude towards writing. But again, there was no correlation to an increase in quality.

There are numerous articles on the effect of electronic publishing, in various forms, on students' writing, but little if any research (Bartlett-Bragg, 2003). Every year, students will gain more experience with Cyberspace and its realm of possibilities (Trupe, 2002). Few teachers will desire or make an effort to keep up with this pace. They would be wise to heed Constance Hale, "If you think all this can't change a whole history of language and literature, think again" (as cited in Jeske, 2004, p.1).

It's no longer a question of if computers will have an impact on student writing, but a question of how to use computers to bring about the greatest impact. Consider the articulate words of Mark Bernstein (2004).

Posted by Rena Shifflet at 12:30 PM permalink

Comments-[ comments.]

Friday, November 28, 2003


The Quest for the Best project was intended to be used as a culminating activity for the fourth grade social science curriculum which deals with the geographic make-up, cultural aspects, natural resources, climate and economy of the five major U.S. regions. The desired intent is that students will come to know the affect these factors have in selecting a place of residence. (Please note the regions for this project were based upon the groups established in our text book. Yours may be different.)


Students need to be placed into groups of 3. The purpose of this original group is to generate a list of criteria they will use to determine in which region they would like to live. This will not be their permanent group. These groups will be formed from students who wish to reside in the same region.


The entire project should take about four weeks. The students will generate a list of factors that will help them to decide in which region they would like to live. This list can then be shared with the entire class to create a base list for all groups to use. Groups should feel free to add other essential factors for their own group . You will need about two weeks for the students to research these critical factors.

As this is a collaborative project, they will be able to elicit expert information from other students that live in that region. In turn, they will be able to serve as an expert for the region in which they live. Students can access their region from the Blog Link. This is where they can ask questions, seek opinions, and respond. Students will also be able to comment on and post resources they have found on their own which may be helpful to others. The last week will be spent creating their final project.

Obtaining sufficient computer time may present a challenge for some teachers. I have six computers in my classroom in addition to a lab. If computer time is a factor, there are a few things you can do to cut down on access time. Find a wide variety of library resources for your students ahead of time and bring them into your classroom. This will allow you to rotate groups to search on the Internet. You can also create a PowerPoint template for your students. Have them do a mock-up of each slide before they work on the computer. This will save a huge amount of time that might be spent simply designing the aesthetics of presentation rather than the content.


This project focuses on writing across the content areas and integrating State of Illinois language arts, social science standards, National Education Technology Standards and the National Geography standards. There are other skill areas not covered in this activity which should be addressed in order to attain the full benefits of this project: peer editing, blog and Internet etiquette, Internet search strategies, citing resources and evaluating Web sites.


The resources provided are intended to help you with everything you need to participate in the project. Please understand that you will not need to create your own blog or any type of web page. Simply use the forms and resource materials available directly from this project. But I sincerely hope this will spark an idea for you to create one of your own!

The final project requires students to prepare a HyperStudio or PowerPoint presentation or write a "Missing Information" chapter for their region. If you do not have PowerPoint available, you can download a free, open source program called Open Office.


You will find rubrics to evaluate project participation and the different final projects. It is critical that students are well aware of how they will be assessed. It is equally important for them to evaluate themselves.


If we are to prepare our students for the 21st Century, it is critical that we give them the necessary tools to do so. This project gives students the opportunity to use 21st Century technology to write for an authentic audience and collaborate with people outside their local community.

I hope you and your students will enjoy collaborating, sharing expertise and coming to know more about the U.S. and yourselves. Be sure to email me your PowerPoint presentations and Missing Information chapters (final projects). I will post these for all to see!

Please feel free to email me if you have any questions
Posted by Rena Shifflet at 9:41 AM permalink

Comments-[ comments.]