This Week’s Feature: Classroom Blogs

Hello! It is the weekend before Halloween and New England is yet again staring down an incoming storm that threatens damage and power outages for the holiday. The big question, of course, is… Will school be cancelled?

This week Jeremy Shulkin has been kind enough to take a break from his very busy first-year-of-teaching madness to write up his one thing that is working and for that I am so grateful! Jeremy is a great writer and journalist who has decided to come to teaching after an impressive stint as the senior writer of Worcester Magazine- an experience that I’m sure makes him even more amazing in the classroom. So thank you so much Jeremy and I hope everyone enjoys our virtual visit to Jeremy’s classroom:

Jeremy Shulkin

9th and 12th grade English, journalism elective

University Park Campus School in Worcester, MA

Tell us about what is working in your classroom?

This is my first year as a full-time English teacher in a public school setting, so I’m still feeling my way through a lot with respect to lesson planning, grading and classroom management but one project that I am unequivocally supportive of is the classroom blog.
In the summer of 2011 I taught journalism at a summer program in Cambridge, England. After spending three years as a freelance and full-time reporter I was wondering why the first week of a three week course sort of dragged along. I was teaching something I loved, so why didn’t my students love it too?
So I threw out my lesson plans and decided to turn my 20 students into reporters themselves – actually make them accountable for what I was teaching them (and what they were producing) in class by making it public. I took a look at the free blog themes offered by WordPress and came to class the next morning with a new project for all of us: we’d be publishing our own newspaper, but one that was free to set up and that jibed perfectly with the newish digital era of news.
I showed my students a few of the blog templates I thought would work well for our purposes (one that had a clean design and had room for multiple stories on the home page) and let them vote for the design the class liked best.
Next came the name: we threw out words often associated with newspapers – Times, Gazette, Advocate – and we eventually narrowed it down to one the class liked. We had a number of Harry Potter fans in the class, which, when combined with my background working at an alternative newsweekly, pretty naturally led to the creation of the Alternative Quibbler .
My students quickly bought into this, and for the next two weeks of the three week session most days were spent with my students walking into town and hunting down a story that, for the most part, they finished that day or at the beginning of the next. Even when the students finished a story their work was never done because with the immediate satisfaction of seeing their work made public (and easily share-able through Facebook and Twitter) they couldn’t wait to move on to the next article.
The benefits were immediate. The first day we went to into Cambridge to find stories one of my students stumbled upon a vigil for the 90 kids massacred in Norway that summer and had the opportunity to interview the Mayor. I also helped students organize an interview with the head of Cambridge University’s Amnesty International club and the director of the Sedgwick Museum. Other students were just as intrepid, writing articles about the societal ills plaguing Cambridge, a local Shakespeare festival and plenty of school related news.

Why do you think this practice is working?

The blog was a major success. Students were excited to write, report and edit because class had a clear purpose: create content for our newspaper. There was a sense of ownership over the website’s content, design and “marketing” (aka, posting links on Facebook and telling their friends) but they also had the gratification of generating work and seeing something more happen to it than just the usual Give It To The Teacher Get It Back With A Grade On It routine.

How did you set this practice up in your classroom?

While this all worked smoothly when I only had one class to worry about for three weeks over the summer, recreating it at a public school where journalism is just one of five of my classes has been a little more difficult. My journalism class has set up our blog, The Daily Dip (named after Dippin’ Donuts, a nearby coffee and donut place in the vein of Dunkin’ Donuts that is a frequent stop for UPCS students and faculty) but we haven’t put content on it yet. Embarrassingly, even the home page pictures are just place holders right now.
Still, my students have been enthusiastic about the project from the start, and it’s mostly been my own hectic schedule holding it back. Starting next week my students will begin proofing the work they’ve already generated for me so we can finally put some content online and let its momentum snowball from there.
While I’ve only used this for journalism classes, I’d argue that a class blog works across any discipline. English/creative writing courses can take advantage of it for the creation of a literary magazine, which I’d assume science classes could create their own science journal (or post videos of experiments).

Can you suggest any resources (links/books/articles) that would help someone else set this practice up?

The best place to start is on WordPress’ own website and take it from there.

I really love this idea. My mother, who is also in education, recently told me about a remarkable workshop she went to focused on technology in the classroom and specifically classroom blogs. It sounds truly amazing and is a project that I agree could work across subjects and at many different grade levels. I really hope that I can get something like this up and running in my own classroom and I am so glad to hear that Jeremy has had such positive experiences with class blogging! Thank you again Jeremy!

Has anyone else tried out a classroom blog? Please let us know how it is going!

So glad you have found your way to the Featured Teacher.
-Annie

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2 responses »

  1. I loved the buy in that you created for the students and the connections you could use for interviews. Very personal and engaging. Most of all the fact that the students received greater exposure than just their teacher’s reading their work seems very fruitful, professional and rewarding for all. It is real mentoring verses two dimensional instruction.

  2. Thanks Scott. It does take a lot of work, especially as my email fills up with student work and photos for posting, but I’m sure a teacher more organized than me can come up with a pretty fool-proof system. If anyone has any other logistical questions about setting one of these up, feel free to email me at ShulkinJ [at] worc.k12.ma.us.

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