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Use blogging for reflection and assessment

By Hayley Hutchinson
July 21, 2015
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When I introduced blogging to my high school physics students, they weren’t exactly ecstatic. I thought I had it all planned out perfectly. I outlined clear requirements. I had high expectations. At least once every two weeks, I asked them to post what they felt was the big idea for the unit we were studying — a reflection, a picture they took that demonstrated the concept, a link to a website that had more resources related to the unit or comments posted to blogs of other students.

I included some guiding reflection questions they could use if they wanted to, such as: “What did you think before you studied these ideas?” “How could you find out more?” “What might you have done to improve your learning?” and “What do you think about the class?”

I posted dates to keep students on track and answered all their questions. Then I watched my seemingly perfect plan fail.

Like all good educators, I revised my plan (a few times), and I’m glad I stuck with it. The results were well worth the trial and error. Before you take the leap into student blogging for assessment or student reflection, consider these six tips.

1.  Discuss the purpose.

Students become more invested when you explain the purpose of blogging —  and, for that matter, every assignment you give them. I explain that it’s easy to teach them to find information about their topics using a few keywords, but skills such as summarizing, reflection and creativity can’t be Googled. They must be practiced. Reflection through blogging, I explained, is a way to build these skills, but continuous improvement requires regular practice.  

2.  Focus your critiques on improvement.

Being asked to openly reflect can be challenging for anyone. It takes time and practice. Score your students on their steady improvement, not on the quality of their reflections.  Provide constructive feedback they can use. For example, use guiding questions. If a student writes that he had trouble understanding a portion of a lesson, ask, “What was most confusing?” or “What steps have you taken or plan to take to grasp this concept better?” Point him to resources and always add positive feedback at the beginning and end of your comments.

3.  Ask students to learn and share something new.

Initially, I asked students to find additional resources to share. But no matter how much I stressed that they should be compelling, I often got links to bad websites. That prompted me to ask students to share something new that had not been mentioned in class, such as a video, a picture or any tidbit of information (properly cited, of course). Suddenly, instead of giving me links to websites that they might not have even looked at, students were sharing content that expanded on class discussions or information that shed light on their personal interests or who they are as individuals. It also clued me into what they remembered from class. 

4.  Make commenting an option, not a requirement.   

I wanted students to read what others had to say, so at first I required them to comment on a specific classmate’s post to ensure that no one would be excluded. I later realized that forcing students to comment was not useful. They didn’t always have much to say, and the requirement didn’t seem to supplement their learning. Instead I linked all their blogs to my post listing the requirements. Links to student posts appeared in the sidebar.  I no longer required students to read each other’s work, but some did anyway at the request of their classmates.  

5.  Set aside class time for reflection.

Provide class time for reflection, every day if possible. Written reflection is not a common practice in most classrooms and students need dedicated time to practice. Asking them to think about their learning during class time is the best way to get them truly reflecting on the content.

6.  Emphasize digital citizenship and online safety.

Set clear guidelines for posting, commenting and citing. Review the ISTE Standards for Students. You want students to practice and express creativity, communication and visual literacy, but don’t forget to include the basic rules of the road, such as showing respect when commenting on the work and progress of their peers, following copyright laws and considering their online reputation before they post.

Hayley Hutchinson teaches physics and physical science at Derby High School in Derby, Kansas. She has a master’s in educational technology and loves to engage students in their learning through technology. Follow her on Twitter @hayjhutch.