For the past few months, we have announced on facebook and twitter our featured blog-o-the-week each Thursday.

We hope that others are able to gain ideas from these blogs while we are able to recognize teachers and students for all of their excellent work.

Featured blog of the week logo

This week, the featured blog is Heroes 2011 from Brebeuf Jesuit College Preparatory School in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Have a quick look at this blog, and you can tell that teacher Jana Haffley has worked hard with her Grade 11 English students on their blogs – complete with a Hero theme as much of the literature students read during the year is related to different heroes.

Jana was nice enough to answer a few questions from us so that we could share more about how she uses blogs in her classroom.

heroes

What do you teach?

I teach English 11. It’s derived from a primarily British Literature course, but it takes Joseph Campbell’s Hero Journey as its central theme and organizing principle. The literature selections are a blend of traditional texts from Great Britain and the world (Oedipus, Hamlet, Animal Farm, The Alchemist) and modern texts from various media (primarily film like The Matrix, V for Vendetta, Amazing Grace).

How long have you been blogging?

This is actually my third year. My pilot year was a mixed result. Last year was awesome, so I’m hopeful this year will be good, too.

What do you want to accomplish with using blogs with your students?

Wow, there’s several… Let’s start here: My first goal with the blogs was to join my students where they live: online. One of my colleagues introduced me to Edublogs, which looked pretty and cool. Then, as I tend to do, I dived in, researching social media and 21st Century education (you know, all the buzzwords), and I was hooked. I thought: This explains the growing disconnect between my otherwise fabulous course and the students. The realities of new media were becoming so pervasive I thought that if I didn’t jump on, I’d get left behind. So, one of my primary goals with blogging is to re-engage my students in their “schooling.” The kind of learning they do through their tech outside of school is so much more engaging than the 19th century model they are encountering in school, that the disconnect is obvious (and painful when one wants to inspire students). So, I want to convince them that what they learn in school can be as real and engaging and pertinent as the stuff they learn in their “real lives.”

Secondly, the ability to individualize instruction through the blogging model is enormously beneficial to me. I love that students who need extra time and the chance to review materials over and over again to gain mastery can have free access to the class outside the 50 minute window of class. And the visual learners can benefit from the multi-media model so that they don’t have to rely exclusively on the auditory channel through lectures and the like. PowerPoints become movies that they can review as needed online.

What are the benefits you have seen so far?

One of the most effective aspects of blogging is the “REAL AUDIENCE” of their peers that the forum provides. No longer are they attempting to please the teacher with writing drivel; they now write for a real audience, and suddenly they want to sound authentic and witty and smart. They even want their words to be more or less grammatically accurate so that they don’t look dumb to their peers. By writing beyond the audience of one, my students have a genuine motivation to improve their writing, and it is from that internal motivation that all authentic learning comes. So, blogging has made my job easier. They are writers and readers of each other in a medium they enjoy. What could be better?

What challenges have you faced with blogging in your classroom?

Assessment. The key issue I’ve found so far is how to give feedback effectively. I want to do it right on the blogs, but the public aspect of such feedback feels “wrong,” for lack of a better explanation. I don’t want to mortify students by revealing to all what kind of “grade” they got, but, at the same time, there’s no paper to mark to give them private feedback. I’m working on email feedback, but that’s not very streamline or efficient. Plus, we have an electronic gradebook system that is primarily numerical (not a lot of room for comments, etc.), so systematically, finding a way to give feedback efficiently would be my major, current challenge.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I’m a fan of Edublogs. I’ve looked around at other systems, and yours is by far the most adaptable. I have a lot of room to play, and so do my students, and that makes all the difference.

Thank you Jana for sharing with us!

Please feel free to leave comments below – especially with any ideas on assessing student work on blogs.