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Blogging: A Tool for Improving Student Writing


By Jeanne Searfoorce
Boise State University

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Abstract
When technology skills are learned in isolation and without authentic application, they
are really not skills at all but assignments completed for a grade. The true test of technology
comprehension is to effectively apply these skills in other subject areas and aspects of the
students lives whether for leisure or for academic purposes. Blogging is one way effectively
apply these technology skills for the purpose of improving student writing.
Blogging is the blend of components: Internet technology and writing. Without the
combination of both of these elements, blogging would not be effective. The purpose of a class
blog is to review student generated literary works and exchange ideas for the improvement of
these texts. By students conveying their thoughts on the blog though a coherent written dialog,
this is the essence of the use of blogging to improve student writing.
Introduction
Incorporating technology into a traditional classroom setting seems intuitive because
technology has become part of everyday life. According to Time magazine, Out of the worlds
estimated 7 billion people, 6 billion have access to mobile phones. Far fewer only 4.5 billion
people have access to working toilets. (Wang, 2013) In January 2014, PewResearch cites that
58% of American adults have a Smartphone. (PewResearch, 2014). Smartphone technology
includes the capability to connect to the Internet.
However, integrating Internet based technology into a traditional classroom outfitted with
modern technology such as SmartBoards, computers and tablets does not guarantee students will
make the connection between the outcomes of the activity and the necessity to utilize technology.
Applying the theory of connectivism, participation in a class blog creates an environment

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whereby students can begin to make two distinct but very important connections. First, students
will begin to make the connection between praise and constructive comments online and the
parallel to handwritten comments made by the teacher on the students original document.
Second, students will begin to make the connection that once their work is posted online, the
quality of their product is directly associated with their name and reflects either positively or
negatively on their efforts.

Blogs and Connectivism


Blogs are simple content management tools enabling non-experts to build easily
updatable web diaries or online journals, (Kamel et al., 5). When the blog content is consistent
with the central purpose, it reinforces the purpose for which it was created. Furthermore, a blog,
short for weblog, is an easily editable webpage with posts or entries organized in reverse
chronological order. (Zawilinski, 650). When classroom blogs created for the purpose of
improving student writing they are being used for their intended purpose and to serve as a viable
academic tool.
Classroom blogs bridge the ever-widening gap between out-of-school literacies and inschool literacies. (Hinchman et al., 304). As state standardized testing moves toward an online
interface, blogs can be integrated as a preparatory method to prepare them for this new testing
environment.
As Lisa Zawilinski quotes, As online readers gather information to solve a problem,
they frequently analyze information, critically evaluate, synthesize across multiple texts and
communicate with others using instant messaging, e-mail, blogs, wikis, or other communication
vehicles. (Leu, Kinzer, et al., 2004; Leu et al., 2007). (Zawilinski, 652). As with any writing

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assignment, the goal is for the student to use writing to complete the tasks and utilizing a blog
does this with the addition of peer and audience communication. When students participate in
the blog, they can connect the necessity of writing in an online environment and how this skill
transfers to a variety of tasks.
Blogging can be a highly effective tool that can improve education and learning in many
areas and should not be seen in isolation as a social or recreational innovation. It is a viable
alternative approach for traditional peer-writing review.
Blogs potentially create a multiplier effect on information. Each time the instructor
provides feedback to one student, the entire class receives this feedback, extending the
reach of the teacher and the opportunities for the students to learn from the challenges
they face as individuals as well as those faced by their classmates. (Lapp, D., et al., 34).
With the availability of numerous Internet-enabled tools, there are many attractive
features of blogging in the classroom. First, a teacher can start a blog at no cost and students can
use the blog for free. It is increasingly clear that the Internet is an important new context for
reading, writing, and communication. (Leu and Zawilinski, 3). Using a web-based platform,
blogs can be accessed from a variety of devices with an Internet connection.
Second, there is an authentic audience to review assignments posted to the classroom
blog. When peer comments appear online in response to posted assignments, students can
connect a face with a name in an environment where comments are not anonymous. The
learner [student] takes the responsibility to construct meaning actively, not in isolation, but
through dialogue with oneself as well as with others (Alrushiedat, et al., 134). With the
classroom blog, the teacher designs the activity with the purpose of improving student writing
and with guidance, coaching and monitoring, the blog allows for constructive feedback to
provide meaning to improve the students writing.

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Third, students can gain practical experience exercising the benefit is Internet safety.
While it is simplistic to give students rules and guidelines regarding proper behavior on the
Internet, using these rules in practice give teacher the opportunity to praise good behavior and
correct unsafe actions.
Fourth, students can begin to gain confidence though the acceptance of praise or
constructive feedback regarding their work. The online discussion environment provides the
virtual setting for social interaction through which students are able to participate in dialogues,
thereby extending the setting of the physical classroom. (Alrushiedat and Olfman, 134). These
dialogs give the students the opportunity to learn from the comments made about their texts as
well as those of their peers.
Fifth, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) skills can be improved though
participation in a classroom blog. These essential 21st Century Skills will provide students with a
solid foundation as they continue their education continuously building upon their experience in
the classroom blog. ICT are progressively being used to enhance the instructional process.
Technology is transformed to have a new role, a delivery one, through e-learning, multimedia
learning, virtual learning, or m-learning using Internet and mobile devices capabilities to deliver
knowledge and instruction. (Musawi, 132). As the learning environment changes due to
advancements in technology, the technology should be used as an additional medium to convey
information and to offer unique ways to practice fundamental writing activities to ensure students
comprehend these necessary skills.
Sixth, becoming part of an online classroom community teaches students how to interact
and learn from each other employing their digital citizenship skills. Learning in these contexts

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centers on participation and the ways that newcomers progressively enter into a more central role
in the community. (Land, Hannafin and Oliver, 2012). Without student participation in the
classroom blog, it does not achieve the goals of improving student writing. Likewise, this intent
of the discussion allows students to make the connection between writing improvement and
participation with the purpose of community building whereby students can have similar
experiences with peer-reviewed writing.
The Case Study and Connectivism
Although, the ultimate purpose of the Blogging and Audience Awareness study was, the
rate of transfer of audience awareness to traditional classroom writing after blogging, (Lapp, D.,
et al., 35), The Blog Project was part of the study that was worth exploring. Furthermore, in the
interest of examining the connectivism theory at the elementary level, the second grade
participants successfully completed the study and for this reason, I found The Blog Project a
worthwhile discussion (Lapp, D., et al., 35-36).
The case in the present study is defined as one teacher and her class of 18 secondgrade students. The setting was a public school in the western United States with a
population of approximately 400 students in grades kindergarten through six.
Students in this school are 58% Caucasian, 30% Asian, 7% Latino, 3% Filipino,
and 1% African American. Many of their parents hold graduate degrees, which are
predominantly science-centered. Students at this school demonstrate high levels
of ability on state standardized tests, and all students have access to computers in
their homes. During the course of this study, four of the students were absent for
part of the instruction and/or survey collection. Their responses were therefore
excluded from the survey data. However, they participated in the study to the
extent their presence allowed, and they were included in some of the other data
collected. The school and its occupants place a great deal of value, overall, on
access to technology. Each class in the school receives one hour of technology lab
time with a technology teacher each week. The technology teacher coordinates
with classroom teachers to design technology-based assignments aligned with
grade-level standards. In a typical session, the technology instructor launches the
day's project, and the students begin. Next, the technology teacher sits with the
grade-level teacher and launches a learning activity for the teacher. The
technology teacher then supports any of the learners, including the teacher, who

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need assistance. This format allows students and teachers alike to learn from the
technology teacher's expertise. Finally, projects are shared on a school site, where
they can be accessed online. In addition to technology instruction and the lab,
each class has at least two classroom computers and access to the lab without the
instructor for finalizing classroom projects.
The teacher who is a focus of the case study is the second author. The first and
third authors assisted with the design of the study, and data collection and
analysis. All the authors collaborated on the writing of the resulting manuscript.
Student surveys were used to collect information on students' ideas about their
writing. Raw data were categorized based on responses given, and analyzed
according to trends, with consideration given to the writing piece and specific
student responses. The blog archive provided a valuable data source and included
all the pieces of writing posted on the class blog as well as the corresponding
comments. As new pieces of writing were added to the blog, previous pieces
could still be viewed through the archive.
It is important to mention that prior to posting their personal narratives on the blog,
students engaged in several lessons that included: understanding the purpose of blogs, reviewing
blog features on the SmartBoard, viewing a video about the history of blogging, and learning
about personal narratives. Students began to draft their personal narratives.
The concept of a class blog encourages learning from others though the combined
individual efforts (blog comments) of the group for purpose of improving student writing.
Bielaczyc and Collins (1999, p. 271) states that the defining quality of a learning community is
that there is a culture of learning in which everyone is involved in a collective effort of
understanding. In this study, each student had the opportunity to post their story to the blog and
have this story read by their peers and other parents in the childs class. By involving the
students, teacher and parents, this culture of learning was achieved.
In order to maintain organization within the blog and to allow each student to read and
comment on each story effectively, three stories were posted in each writing lesson. Randomly

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through popsicle stick choice, the teacher chose a students name and typed their story into the
blog. Students were reassured that their blog posts would remain even though comments
appeared and a new story was added each day. As each student read their stories aloud, the blog
comments that followed offered new insight to the student author regarding improvement as
ideas that could benefit other students in the class. Students learned more from the immediate
feedback in the blog instead of the delayed feedback from their teachers editing and commenting
on individual stories.
In the study, it was discovered was that the students motivation to create and post higher
quality work to the blog became essential because it would be visible to others, particularly their
classmates, and not simply as an assignment for their teacher. Furthermore, students wanted to
improve their writing based on the praise and push (constructive criticism) in the blog
comments. Pushes were statements encouraging the writer to grow; praises were statements
recognizing attributes of the writing enjoyed by the reader. (Lapp, D., et al., 36). Upon reading
the comments of the students and parents, the teacher is then able to redirect classroom
instruction to benefit the collective to improve their writing even further.
Once students became aware that the entries could be edited and refined, the teacher gave
students the opportunity to edit their blog posts. For one student in particular, he had made
tremendous improvements, blogging allowed him to appreciate his efforts when creating his
story. Today was like the best day ever because I lost a tooth, and I had my blog posted. (Lapp,
D., et al., 38). In the world of a child, losing a tooth is an important milestone because it is a rite
of passage from childhood toward adulthood. Likewise, this blogging milestone represents
another achievement in his life because like other students who have lost teeth, he can now relate
to the excitement of posting to the classroom blog.

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One way the study quantified the success and comprehension of the concept of blogging
was to survey the students thoughts about blogging. Several of the students highlighted
connectivism though their comments and expressed this quite well: I think it is worth the time
to blog because you get comments and the comments help you. Blogging helps your ideas
come out. (Lapp, D., et al., 38) It is important for students to make the connection between
sharing their stories on the blog for the purpose of improving the writing as compared with the
previous method of review which was conducted by the teacher using pen written comments.
Students discussed the pieces as they were displayed on the screen. While some students
only felt comfortable offering praise, others determined that constructive criticism or push
would ultimately help improve the students writing.

Conclusion
Blogging allows students to constructively improve their writing though educator, peer
and community review. These reviews allow students to connect the concept of how their
writing is seen by an audience other than their teacher. By posting their writings in a blog, they
understand that it becomes public with their name associated with the quality of their work; a
larger audience will have the opportunity to read and offer feedback.
Students post their assignments to the blog with the understanding that comments
submitted are for the sole purpose of improving the students work. When the students take the
initiative and improve upon their own writing, this technology-driven student-centered learning.
As evident in The Blog Project portion of the Audience and Awareness study, second
grade students connected the benefits of the praise and constructive feedback by improving upon
their personal narratives using a classroom blog. Connectivism emphasizes the

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importance of the ability to recognize connections, patterns, and


similarities.(Dunaway, 2011) Regardless of age, students have a personal interest in how
their material is viewed online and strive to present their best work.

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