Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Caught by suprise by Kidblog

I found my self in a bit of a bind this week as my school's process for issuing students their school email addresses has been hung up.  I was planning by now to have all students set up blogs in Blogger and begin composing and publishing there.  Any account that students make online through my classroom is supposed to be created with a school email, so without them, I had to put the plans for the Blogger and Google setup on hold. 

I decided that as a temporary solution I would have students create blogs using Kidblog.  They are excited about the writing that's been happening (right now we are creating narratives), and I felt that making sure they had the space to share and respond would be important for both students' sense of audience and also for the community that we are building.  Today is my second day with using the platform, and I've got to be honest, I'm starting to reconsider just how temporary this Kidblog fix is going to be.  It seems to be working pretty well for all of us.

The set up was a breeze.  I decided to create a separate class for each of my classes, and all I had to do was share the codes that the site generated for each class, along with these simple instructions, with students.  Within minutes they had created user names and passwords, and were part of the class. On that first day, I gave students very little background about the site or it's purpose other than telling them we would be using it to compose and share our writing.  I gave a overview of how to get around the dashboard, and within 10 minutes, all of my students were writing from daybooks into their first blog posts.

Between our workshop time yesterday and today, we have had very few problems, and yea, I'm impressed. Here are a few reason's why:
  • Kidblog's user-friendly interface makes it incredibly easy for students to navigate.  It's lay-out is logical and includes the most important components that bloggers need to compose.
  • The administrative controlls makes it easy to adjust student accounts.  The number of forgotten passwords when kids logged on today was on par with what I usually see (a handful in each class), but the fix took very little class time.  I opened their profile on my iPad, let them type in their new password, and the student instantaneously was able to sign in on the netbook at their desk.
  • I could see student drafts as they were automatically saved while they typed.  As students worked I would flip through the posts they were writing and then approach individuals for a conferences as I saw appropriate. In the past (when not writing on Google Docs that they shared with me), I accomplished this by reading over students' shoulders as they wrote for a bit then initiating a conference.  The conference process today was one of smoothest I've experienced.
  • On the same note as the point above, being able to open the most updated version of their draft from my device didn't require the student and I to share a screen, a task not possible in Blogger unless a student had published the post.
  • Students could see the posts of their classmates as they were published without having to take the additional step of following each others' blog or learning to use RSS and a feed reader. Kidblog combined the benefits of a class blog while still letting students have individual blogs.
  • I was able to see comments as students posted them. Actually, I was surprised to see that students were even posting comments, since our commenting day wasn't until tomorrow. But, as I pointed out with the point above, students know immediately when a blog gets published.
I'm excited about Kidblog, and I wasn't expecting to be.  It's not new.  I've played around with it before.  I've introduced it to other teachers in my building, and led pd sessions for teachers using it in other schools.  I knew the site and its capacities well, but I made the decision last year to have my students use Blogger.  I wanted them to use the same site that real bloggers use.  To have the freedom to customize, not feel policed, and develop a sense of ownership of their digital composing spaces. I wanted them to feel like their words were on the same playing field with others in the global blogosphere.  And I thought that using a "big-kid" (not made specifically for school) blogging site, I would then have more possibilities for teaching students the real-world lessons in digital literacy. 

I still believe in the value of all of these initial reasons I had for using Blogger, but my two days with Kidblog as got me thinking if, when, and how I'm going have students make the transition to Blogger when students' emails become available.  I'll have to keep thinking and writing about that.  But in the meantime, feel free to check out what my students have been posting and leave them some feedback. I'm sure they'd love it!

  My student's blogs by class:
    Block 1
    Block 2
    Block 5
    Block 6