I posed the question to Stephanie Krajicek, a high school English and French teacher who also presents seminars to educators through BER. To read more about classroom use of Web 2.0 tools, click on the link to her handbook, Cutting-Edge Technology Tools.
Stephanie’s Response to Our Question
I’ve been thinking about your question…
My suggestion to you is to have tiers of participation.
Perhaps the first tier asks that students be allowed to read outside blogs to teach conventions and the genre. Any writing would be done off-line.
The second tier adds authoring posts for a class blog — student identities are anonymous and / or the blog is kept private (within the school). The focus here would be teaching authoring posts and comments, as well as comment moderation skills.
The third tier could adds participation on / commenting on outside blogs and authoring his / her own blog. The focus here, in addition to conventions, genre, authoring and moderation skills is collaboration and digital citizenship.
Other things to consider:
Set up a blog exchange with classes from other schools so that you can work on collaborative learning and an authentic audience. You would need to create groups for students from those classes. In this way, students have an authentic audience, their blogging is moderated by a teacher and the expectations set forth by the exchange, and the parents won’t have to worry excessively about exposure to the world at large.
Alternately, have students blog as a character — see Civil War Sallie, a blog written by students to demonstrate what they’ve learned about the civil war using the voice of a Boyd’s Bear called Sallie. That makes the blog thing less scary for parents. This idea is based on the Follow Me project. You can find resources and examples on line at http://followme.wikispaces.com/.
Finally, you could have an alternative assignment that accomplishes the same content and writing goals but doesn’t involve blogging. I suppose you could ask for permission to write reviews for Amazon.com or write editorials for the local newspaper. Both essentially do the same thing: give an authentic audience, require students to follow specific conventions of writing and decorum, there are considerations of audience and genre to think about, and it’s got to be more fun than just turning in work to you! Be forewarned, though, that using those forums, students are much less protected than on a blog — more people are likely to interact via comments with students in editorials since it’s a very public place, unlike a blog which must be “discovered” so to speak.
Whatever you do, I would invite the parents to be involved whether through videos of classes so that they are learning too or by granting them access to class blogs, it always makes us feel better to see what’s going on.
Let me know how it goes… I’m curious to see how it pans out!