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Benefits of Blogging in a Fourth Grade Classroom

St. John Fisher College Fisher Digital Publications Education Masters Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. School of Education Benefits of Blogging in a Fourth Grade Classroom Laura Jones St. John Fisher College
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St. John Fisher College Fisher Digital Publications Education Masters Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. School of Education Benefits of Blogging in a Fourth Grade Classroom Laura Jones St. John Fisher College How has open access to Fisher Digital Publications benefited you? Follow this and additional works at: Part of the Education Commons Recommended Citation Jones, Laura, Benefits of Blogging in a Fourth Grade Classroom (2011). Education Masters. Paper 53. Please note that the Recommended Citation provides general citation information and may not be appropriate for your discipline. To receive help in creating a citation based on your discipline, please visit This document is posted at and is brought to you for free and open access by Fisher Digital Publications at St. John Fisher College. For more information, please contact Abstract The current study examined the impact of using a blog in the classroom and how it affected the literacy skills of fourth grade students. I worked with 25 fourth grade students. The study consisted of observing the students using a blog, analyzing the blog responses the students typed, and using a questionnaire to find out how the students felt about the blog experience. The findings of this study were that blogs increase student motivation, blogs were a social, reflective tool for learning, and using a blog built s tudent familiarity with blogging and technology experience. This study has implications for elementary school teachers as well as for technology language instruction. Document Type Thesis Degree Name MS in Literacy Education Department Education First Supervisor Joellen Maples Subject Categories Education This thesis is available at Fisher Digital Publications: By Laura Jones Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree M.S. Literacy Education Supervised by Dr. Joellen Maples School of Arts and Sciences St. John Fisher College August 2011 Abstract 2 The current study examined the impact of using a blog in the classroom and how it affected the literacy skills of fourth grade students. I worked with 25 fourth grade students. The study consisted of observing the students using a blog, analyzing the blog responses the students typed, and using a questionnaire to find out how the students felt about the blog experience. The findings of this study were that blogs increase student motivation, blogs were a social, reflective tool for learning, and using a blog built student familiarity with blogging and technology experience. This study has implications for elementary school teachers as well as for technology language instruction. Introduction 3 The nature of literacy, once considered to encompass only the reading and writing domains, has changed dramatically over the past few decades to include multimodal literacies involving new understandings about culture, language, and the way people learn. Literacy and our understanding of it are constantly evolving as people and cultures change over time. One addition to this idea of literacy is digital literacy. This new literacy has changed the way people communicate all over the world. Teachers are using internet technology to increase the literacy skills of their students in many ways. One of these ways is through the use of a blog (sometimes referred to as a weblog) in literacy instruction. Blogs are used all over the world. Therefore, they are a means of communication by people in countless languages. In an elementary classroom where students are encouraged to use writing mechanics, proper grammar, correct spelling, and share their ideas with others, blogs are a tool teachers can use to connect these principles with digital literacy so that students build their skills in all these academic areas. By exploring this area, I will gain insight to the benefits blogging has on linking student s background knowledge in printed writing with digital writing. Typing on a computer has become a much more prevalent form of writing (versus pencil and paper) over the past few decades. Using a blog as a writing tool will also give students the opportunity to improve on their typing abilities, a skill that is nearly necessary in today s society. Theoretical Framework The framework of literacy, considered by many to encompass only the areas of reading and writing, has greatly transformed since the Era of Conditioned Learning in the 1950 s. It now includes multidimensional literacies that contain new understandings about the language, culture and social aspects of the way people learn. The nature of literacy is subject to constant uncertainty due to the evolution of technology. The nature in which this literacy ability and 4 understandings are taught, reflect the viewpoints of society at the time. These viewpoints are constantly evolving and adapting, just as people do so with their culture. From the moment they enter the world, humans develop and construct different dimensions of language and understanding of how these dimensions are interrelated with one another. Children learn language in similar ways, for both communicative, functional purposes as well as for social reasons. Kucer (2009) explains that children may initially learn to use these different purposes through non-linguistic means, and then apply these functions to language as they further develop. Thus, language is immediately used with the child by those adults in the discourse community in what Gee (2001) refers to as an individual s primary discourse. Primary discourse is the language that is learned in the home and local community, used everyday, for functional purposes such as communication with family members and socialization. Humans are born with an innate desire to be social and share emotional bonds with others, and are able to facilitate this desire through the learning of language. Children learn and develop their language skills through sounds, sights, and consistent exposure to the speech of others in their primary discourse. Blogging can be a language development tool. In using a blog, a child has the ability to create and be exposed to language written by others. Not only do blogs include written posts, but they also have the potential to contain graphic elements and auditory content that aids in the learning of language. Learning language is not a conscious decision made by a young child, but rather, a natural process as children are born into a literate world where they are immersed and surrounded by oral language, and where print is abundant as well. According to Gee (2001), acquisition is a process of acquiring something subconsciously by exposure to models and a process of trial and error without a process of formal teaching (p. 8). Literacy acquisition is a 5 universal acquisition. People are immersed and participate in an active, literate society. It s through these social interactions that they develop a sense of their surroundings. In the context of reading, children use their background knowledge to make connections to the text. The reader as a text participant engages meaning-systems within the discourse. Goodman (2001) refers to these textual experiences where comprehension of written language occurs as literacy events. As children participate in these literacy events, they develop three principles about literacy. They gain understanding about the way meaning is represented (relational principle), the reasons and purposes (functional principle), and organization (linguistic) of and within written language (Goodman). Beyond the use of relevant text, the acquisition of literacy also depends on the role of the teacher, and the continuum of home and school (Kucer, 2009). Explicit and guided instructional introduction to texts and genres that trigger background knowledge within the students therefore motivate them to learn. Motivation to learn is also important in the acquisition process. When students learn that reading and writing has the power to change their views of the world, and to use those literacy skills to see beyond what they already know, they gain a critical perspective to learning. Critical literacy involves having a critical perspective on language, text, and social practices (Larson & Marsh, 2005). Students take more credit for their learning when they use their critical thinking skills to affect meaningful change. They also take greater pride in their writing when the topics they are working with are socially significant. Through critical literacy, literacy instruction gives students the opportunities to critique the discourses that society sets as the norm and allows them to develop their literacy skills in a meaningful way. Similar to literacy, technology is always changing. In this sense, technology parallels literacy (Baron, 2001). For every new technology, a new literacy emerges. These new technologies engineer our literacy practices. Baron (2001) highlights the stages of literacy 6 technology by addressing how the pencil, telephone, and computer developed into authentic literacy tools. At one time, the pencil was a new technology that people adapted to their lives (Baron, 2001). The evolution of technology is occurring today as people are adapting their lives to computers by using them to communicate, retrieve and store information, carry out recreational activities, and more. Technology is a process and literacy is a human made artifact, and both reveal the cultural values of the present time. Today, people are learning by experiences in new online communities through reading and writing. Online identities are being socially constructed from influences such as popular culture. Educational technology is nudging literacy instruction beyond the traditional oral and print based materials. Schools have traditionally focused on these print based texts however, children are increasingly becoming exposed to multimodal forms of text and they develop the skills to interpret and analyze that text as well. Computers are creating new opportunities for writing and collaboration across the globe. The internet is constructing bridges for students to communicate with others they may never have the opportunity to do otherwise. By changing the way information is processed, technology is influencing the way people read, write, listen, and communicate. New literacy and technology has created a participatory culture where peer discussion can occur in online blogs, wikis, and social networks. These online literacy tools can be used to record a variety of student responses to any content area. However, they should not be used simply to replicate traditional literacy practices. From a critical perspective, Lankshear and Knobel (2003) define this new social way of creating meaningful content through participation in discourses, many of which are technology based, as new literacies. Teachers have the responsibility to respond to the nature of literacy in the present day, and understand that the 7 needs of learners must be appropriate for a technical age. Research Question Since internet technology is so prevalent in today s society, it is important that children become acquainted with this new literacy by using their knowledge of printed language and adapting it to digital language. This action research project asks, how can the use of an online blog benefit students in an elementary school classroom? Literature Review Introduction The following research displays what has been discovered about using blogging in the classroom by professionals in the research field. The exploration into the pedagogical benefits of blogs tends to center around several areas: blogs as a tool to improve literacy skills, blogs as a tool for language development, blogs as a social, reflective tool, and blogs as a motivational tool. I will discuss these areas and the results of the research they present in further detail. Blogs in Education As the internet becomes increasingly prevalent in people s lives, implementing twentyfirst century technology in the classroom is a necessary step to take. Teachers are using internet technology to familiarize themselves with new literacies. Definitions of literacy must be widened to include skills with digital technology because children will need the ability to use information technologies in order to function effectively as citizens and workers in the 21 st century (Glewa & Bogan, 2007). New forms of media literacies have been argued to offer 8 unique and potentially rich learning opportunities as they are the result of a dramatic shift in how we are beginning to interact with one another and what we are coming to value (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006). New media literacies and tools such as blogging can offer classroom teachers a type of support where student voices can become a more integral part of classroom instruction (Gee, 1996; Luehmann & McBride, 2009). A web log or blog has been classified as an unedited communication and publishing tool that makes online interactive activities simple and accessible (Coulter & Draper, 2006, Simsek, 2009). Presented to the public in 1990 through their use by journalists, technologists, and large media companies, Zawilinksi (2009) refers to a blog as an easily editable webpage with posts or entries organized in reverse chronological order (p. 650). Blogs can have multiple pages and be categorized in many ways to organize posts and comments. They allow people with little technical knowledge to publish their thoughts, opinions, and emotions online, and share their writing with others (Deng & Yuen, 2010). The timely publishing feature of blogging has attracted many people to this medium (Simsek, 2009). In this way, a blog is considered a computer-mediated communication (CMC) that offers people the chance to write in a context that is connected to real life (Sun, 2010). Blogs as a Tool to Improve Literacy Skills The use of educational technology has a long history. Recent developments, such as web-based communication tools, can potentially support instructional practice in education (Ellison & Wu, 2008). The social and technical affordances of blogs can be utilized to meet these learning goals. A growing number of authors see much potential of blogs in the classroom. Blogging is about literacy. To blog is to read and write (Gavran, 2009). When students are blogging as a class, they are writing in order to read, and reading in order to write (Zawilinski, p ). In tying these two literacy skills together, blogging provides students the 9 opportunity to improve their reading and writing skills. Growth towards digital literacy involves many steps that have been well researched and documented. As a result of technological advancements in the late 20 th century, digital fluency has become a needed component to any literacy program (Glewa & Bogan, 2007). Current educational initiatives require educators involvement in students growth towards literacy. Traditional literacy teaching methods can now include blog technologies. Many schools can now offer students the opportunity to use a blog as a tool to stimulate thought, discussion, and their own personal literacy. Calls for reform emphasize this importance of student-centered pedagogy that engages students in constructing their own understanding through active participation (Luehmann & MacBride, 2009). However, implementing blogs in the curriculum is very challenging even for classroom teachers committed to this pedagogical approach. The increased burdens of standards-based accountability such as those resulting from the No Child Left Behind legislation have further exacerbated these challenges (Settlage & Meadows, 2002). New media literacies and tools such as blogging may offer classroom teachers the type of support they are looking for to accomplish their pedagogical goals. Writing is a critical, lifelong skill students need to acquire. Developing fluency in the writing process has always been a fundamental goal of schools. Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (2002) indicate that two thirds of the nation s students performed below the proficiency level in writing. Therefore, educators and researchers are trying to find ways for effective writing instruction. In a study by Glewa & Bogan (2007), researchers were interested in the potential of digital technologies in an elementary school classroom. Students were taught how to write complete sentences, paragraphs, and how 10 punctuation is placed within writing using a keyboard. These fundamentals of word processing needed to be pre-taught so the students could independently post their blog entries. Throughout the six month study, students practiced using their newly acquired knowledge about the writing process using Microsoft Word software (Glewa & Bogan). During this time, students made further requests to learn how to imbed drawings, pictures, and clip art as well as how to improve the display of their writing by changing the font styles and sizes. This same behavior has been observed in other blogging studies as well (Armstrong & Retterer, 2008; Baggetun & Wasson, 2006). Based on the results of post-blog interviews, students realized they had an increased awareness of the impact and quality of their writing due to their experiences with the blog. Young adolescents grow as writers when they write their blogs, and their technology skills also grow as they manipulate the look of their blogs, update the features they include, and troubleshoot problems (Read, 2006). Adolescent girls have emerged as the largest demographic of bloggers in the United States (Davis, 2010). Davis performed a study to examine girls ages 17 to 21 who had experience blogging for three years or more. Over the years, the girls noticed that the content and style of their blog writing had changed considerably. Some may argue that traditional writing instruction can be modified to accommodate learners needs (Glewa & Bogan, 2007; Kelly & Safford, 2009; Simsek, 2009). The demands of local, state, and national assessments leave educators little time to add supplementary activities to their already jam-packed curriculum. Classrooms are ill-equipped to support students in new media literacies given their constraints of time, standardized tests, large class sizes, and a historical culture of individualized accountability (Lewhmann & Frink, 2009). Simsek (2009) addressed this issue by asking the question, is there any difference between the writing performance of students who receive in-class writing instruction and that of those who received 11 the writing instruction integrated with blogging? In this study, the classroom teacher formed a learner blog that made use of blogging in all stages of the writing process, from drafting, to publishing, to assessment. Using the blogs as a tool for writing allows students to share their writing and in return, ease the feedback process. Students are also able to see the feedback their teacher gives to other students, furthering their understanding of what makes successful writing. If students know what they have written will be read by someone other than their teacher, they will produce more meaningful and authentic text (Simsek). When students write only for their teacher, they may adjust their writing to make it something their teacher wants to hear rather then something that is meaningful to them. Knowing that their published writing will be read by someone other than their teacher may cause students to pay more attention to the content and organization of their writing. Through these aspects of blogging, students develop a sense of ownership, producing positive outcomes in their learning process. Contemporary educational standards place great emphasis on empowering students to live in and cope with the fast changing world. This new learning approach should place emphasis on students active involvement in an authentic situation, and such an approach should facilitate the development of their
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