Why bother blogging?
Blogging affords many benefits to literacy learning. From a simplistic perspective it is just another writing tool, another medium for written expression. Look deeper and you will find that the power of blogging to motivate students to write and think deeply is much greater.
Blogging motivates students to write
If students are motivated to write they will write more and more often and therefore gain more experience in the process of writing. The motivation for writing that blogs facilitate cannot be underestimated. In one of their studies in a primary classroom, Kajder et. al. (2004, page 34.) note that students ‘appeared hungry for writing on their classroom blog’. The main reason for this was that blogging provided a real audience and purpose for writing. (Witte, 2007)
In the traditional classroom students are asked to write in many different genres and styles and to imagine their audience. Unfortunately the real audience they are writing for is limited to the teacher or a parent who may read a student’s writing.
Due to the online nature of blogging the audience becomes wider and more real. A blog can have a worldwide audience. The motivation of having a real audience to write for is very powerful. Students want to write because ‘real people’ will read what they write and possibly provide real feedback through comments. In this way the purpose of writing is demystified for students as the connection between audience and purpose is clearly exposed.
In the online world it is very easy to connect the students’ blogs to a real audience outside the school walls. It is extremely validating for a student to realise that people the student doesn’t know are commenting on their blog — complete strangers providing feedback by way of blog comments. Furthermore the kudos is amplified when experts from the ‘blogosphere’ are enlisted to make comment. Huffaker (2008) points out the positive effect an author commenting on a student’s storytelling blog would have.
Witte (2007) cites a number of examples where blogging has motivated and appealed to the most reluctant writers because of the real-audience aspect that blogs afford. For example, a student who was reluctant to put pen to paper, was producing pages and pages of writing on her blog every night. Posts included poetry and creative writing. Her motivating factor was identified as the real audience and feedback which blogs facilitate.
Blogging supports storytelling
Telling stories is an essential element in promoting the growth of students’ literacy (Bransford et.al. 1999). When students tell stories they explore language as they attempt to express themselves. Storytelling also supports the development of imagination and creativity (Cassell & Ryokai, 2001).
Blogs provide the platform for students to tell their stories and realise the benefits in literacy development. Their stories can take a variety of forms on the blog, for example, a written post; an audio recording (podcast) posted to the blog or even a video post.
The real blog audience further proves to validate students and the stories, yet another blogging benefit. Students who would otherwise not have the confidence to contribute to class discussions have in many instances found their voice once they started posting to a blog.
Blogging allows collaboration
By collaborating students develop their language abilities, building on each other’s knowledge. Blogs are by nature conversational as readers are encouraged to comment on the posts they read. Furthermore the author of the blog can then comment on the reader’s comments. Therefore blogging facilitates collaboration and communication between students and subsequently helps to improve students’ literacy. (Ryokai et al., 2003)
Blogging promotes quality writing
Richardson (2004) and Huffaker (2008) both confirm the ability of blogs to make students more aware of the quality of their writing. As students realise how real their audience for writing is, an improvement in the quality of writing can be observed. Once a blog is started it is not uncommon for students to start putting in extra effort to produce quality pieces of writing, ensuring that they are making meaning for their real audience.
Promotes a deeper understanding of the elements of quality writing
As stated previously, as students become aware of their real and wide audience they become more conscious of the quality of their writing. This makes students more interested in what makes a quality piece of writing. Quality writing criteria developed with the students suddenly make sense to them. (Huffaker 2008, Asselin, 2004)
Promotes deeper thinking about writing
Students who are blogging will be in a better position to actively participate in developing writing criteria as they experience first hand which pieces of their writing have worked and which have not, with their blog’s real audience. Blogging allows classroom conversation to go beyond the semantics of literacy and into the realm of techniques that writers use to affect their audience.
Blogging supports the development of visual literacy
It is not a new understanding that communication also occurs through visual means. It can be argued that now more than ever to be literate means more than simply the ability to read and write. Our exposure to multimodal texts is forever increasing. So for students to be truly literate they must also be comfortable in making meaning from visual text and also creating meaning with visual text (Gee, 2003).
Students’ visual literacy development is supported through blogging when students use graphics and video to express themselves (Huffaker, 2008). Blogs also become a platform for conversation about multimodal texts and choosing the best text type to convey a message.