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The Smithdown Primary School Blogging Project has been running for 14 months. Deputy Headteacher Fiona Pickering, Year 1 teachers Gemma Hathaway and Sarah White explain the impact so far. Blogging is often seen as a KS2 project enabling KS2 pupils to get their writing published to a global audience. However, what they have managed to do at Smithdown Primary is quite unbelievable. Pupils as young as 5 years old are independently blogging and sharing their writing with thousands of people from countries all over the world!
Blogging got up and running at Smithdown Primary School after Fiona Pickering, the Deputy Head Teacher, attended a meeting back in November 2015 where DeputyMitchell shared the impact blogging had on other schools around the UK and it immediately appealed and aligned with the direction Smithdown Primary School wanted to move forward as a school.
We recognised that blogging would be a powerful tool in providing an opportunity to get children reading and writing in a non-threatening way (often on their own terms), communicating with parents and making links with other schools, not just in the UK, but worldwide.
We committed to working with DeputyMitchell over a 2-year period through, and he quickly came into school and launched the idea of blogging with a whole school staff meeting. It was at this meeting that every class had their own blog set up that canbe viewed here: www.smithdownnprimaryblogs.net through Creative Blogs owned by John Sutton. Staff were given a beginners guide to blogging which included been shown how to log on, how to make their first posts and how to comment on one another’s posts. DeputyMitchell was on hand to answer any technical questions and ensured that staff left that first meeting with enough knowledge to get their blog off the ground.
Teachers sent home letters directing parents to the new class blogs and in the first instance most teachers began blogging by uploading pictures of lessons and sharing exciting moments of school life. Some parents began commenting underneath posts, and also spoke to teachers to express that they loved the opportunity to see what their child had been up to, as when they usually asked they would normally get a response of ‘I can’t remember.’
Once the blogs were established, DeputyMitchell came back into school and began working with individual classes. Children in Years 2-6 were provided with their own log in details, and they were taught how to navigate the blog, how to write a post and how to submit it for review. He also shared the blogs with the thousands of followers on his twitter account, which meant as he was working with the children, the globe and flag counter were active, and the children’s interest level was high, especially if they had visits from the other side of the world whilst they were busy blogging!
Teachers in EYFS and Year 1 had additional sessions explaining how a blog could look with the younger children and apps such as Pic Collage, Photo Peach and Animoto were shared as a way to inform parents of the things that their child had been up to.
One of the greatest pieces of advice that David gave us was to become active on Twitter, connect with fellow teachers and professionals and build an audience for your blogs. Teachers who blogged regularly and maintained an active presence on Twitter found that their blogs were receiving the most hits and comments. It was important to maintain the momentum of blogging, to maintain the wow factor with the children – and receiving comments and new flags on the flag counter did just that.
Homework (some set, and some free choice) became a successful element of blogging in some classes. Children in Year 6 would go home and write diaries in role as Ernest Shackleton.
Children in Year 1 could share what they had been up to in school, and also what they had got up to on exciting school trips.
Teachers in EYFS shared photographs and video clips of life in school, and were also able to share their ‘Stay and Learn’ sessions where the parents themselves starred in the video clips posted up on the blog.
Children from Year 1 to Year 6 began commenting and posting independently in school, and at home. Children would come running into school asking teachers if they had seen their posts and would be keen to reply to anyone who had taken the time to leave a comment on their posts. Parents (especially in EYFS and Key Stage 1) began commenting and engaging with the blog and even started posting and commenting too.
Throughout our first two terms of blogging many of our class blogs had thousands of hits and as teachers in EYFS and Key Stage 1 were so enthused by blogging, maintained an active role on Twitter, and posted blogs regularly, we built ourselves a regular audience and between us had around 10,000 views by the end of the year. Something that surpassed all of our expectations! (The supportive retweets by DeputyMitchell, with his thousands of Twitter followers also helped build an audience, and helped to get interest from around the world.)
Myself and Sarah would have our class blogs (here and here) open on the interactive screens in a morning when the children came into school, before children even said good morning they would run to count the flags on the flag counter, check the comment counter and ask to find countries on a world map if we had new hits from new places around the world! They became obsessed, as did we! We got the blogging bug and it certainly rubbed off on our classes. Children as young as 5 were broadening their understanding of the world and were locating countries and continents that they had never heard of until they started blogging. They would even make requests where they wanted a flag hit from, and we would tweet out to schools in those countries in the hope that someone would visit!
After our first two full terms of blogging, and as our classes moved up into the next year group, it became time to think about how to move forward once again in order to ensure blogging remained a high priority, children’s interest didn’t waiver and also ensure our audiences we had worked so hard to build up came with us as we launched new pages for our new classes.
Sarah and I are both now in Year 1, and we were determined to get the children blogging independently. We wanted to create a balance between teacher posts and those from the children themselves so that children had some degree of ownership of their blog. Both Sarah and I felt strongly that age would not be a barrier and that we could get the children blogging independently from the age of 5. We firmly believed if we taught the children how to blog, in the same way we taught them how to remember their number bonds etc, then it could be done…and it was!
So what does blogging look like in Year 1?
Maths challenges on the blog have been a great success with parents and children alike, especially during half term when parents reported that children were eagerly awaiting their next challenge.
A highlight of Autumn 1 was whilst reading the Lonely Beast by Chris Judge, we set up coveritlive over the blog and had a live chat with the Lonely Beast himself! The children were ecstatic and the questions they came up with were phenomenal. We also tweeted the authors Chris Judge and Mini Grey with some of our work. When they retweeted or sent a message back to us it not only delighted us as teachers, but made the children really proud of themselves and of what they had achieved.
By creating a form on the blog has helped us to provide some structure for the children when composing a blog post, we have used forms to create diary entries and recapping visits out of school etc. You can read these on our blog here.
Blogging with Year 1 might seem like a challenge, but believe us it isn’t! Start your children blogging now and imagine what they will be able to do as they grow in confidence and move up through school! The children aren’t just blogging at school; they are also going home and blogging too. It’s amazing to see their enthusiasm grow and we are excited to continue our blogging journey this year.
What is next for blogging at Smithdown
We have identified groups of children in Y3 and Y4 (www.smithdownprimary.com/projectb) who are making slow progress with their writing and could also be classed as reluctant writers. Like most children they love going on the computers so we decided blogging might be the way forward to boost their enthusiasm for writing. Week 5 into the project and so far so good! As a group, they are meeting once a week to blog about their interests/news and some of the group are choosing to blog from home. Not only is it having a positive impact on themselves their class mates are also going onto the blog and leaving constructive feedback for their peers. Please visit our Project B blog here and see how we are using blogging as an intervention strategy to engage reluctant writers.
If you are interested in a similar project for your school, cluster or district with Deputy Mitchell, please click here to register interest.
The Reading/Bracknell cluster has been running for just over 12 months. Laura Mahoney (Ridgeway Project Leader) explains the impact so far…
Having heard the buzz about blogging from the first Reading cluster we were excited to join the new Reading and Bracknell cluster just over a year ago. We went along to the very first session and David Mitchell introduced us to the many opportunities and possibilities blogging as a school can bring. Slowly, we then began to grow our school blog. I began the Reception blog with photos and videos of daily life in our classroom. As parents began to notice the blog they loved being able to see the learning that had happened that day. This allowed real conversations to develop after school between parent and child as well as learning being continued. This was a marked improvement on ‘What have you done today at school Oscar?’ to which Oscar replied daily with ‘Nothing’ or ‘I just played’. This inspired me to really push the blogging across the whole of Early Years, sitting down with teachers of an evening and making blog posts together. Every morning I would promote the blogs in the playground, asking if parents had seen a particular photo or video. I gave out many, many slips of paper with the blog address on asking parents to comment with their children. Parents very quickly realised, if they commented on the blog Miss Mahoney would leave them alone. Never before had I felt the learning at school was truly being shared and continued at home as it is today in our school. Here are a few quotes from parents on our Early Years about the impact the blog has had.
‘The blog is just great, I never worry about what he is up to in school now. I know he is safe, looked after and most of all having the best time’
‘It is lovely for my family in Syria to see him at school’
‘Every day the first thing he does when he gets home is log on to the blog himself and talk about every picture in detail’
‘We love the blog, she now will tell me about everything you do in school, I can’t believe how much you squeeze into a day’
‘I can’t believe Paul Hollywood commented on my daughters cooking, that is just amazing’
In KS2, the Year 3 blog with children writing up their very best writing for the world to see, loving the ability to comment on each other’s writing outside of school. One by one each class had their own blog launch, globe watching, the works. The most successful of which was in Year 6. With friends strategically placed around the world popping up on the globe leaving a few comments and David Mitchell retweeting us to the world we waited. The next morning sitting next to the Year 6 teacher we logged on to check for more comments, 106, we were blown away! A school in Hong Kong had found our blog and started a dialogue with our Year 6 class. No more motivation was needed, they were blogging quicker than the teacher could approve comments, which certainly kept them beautifully busy at the end of the Summer term. By the end of July we had a large number of children in KS2 excited about writing at home and teachers showcasing those ‘wow’ moments in class.
September brought an influx of new teachers and new enthusiasm for the blog. We began with a staff meeting, demonstrating how to use the blog to share all those amazing moments in class for the world to see. By the end of September every class had their own blog and were using it weekly if not daily. When the enthusiasm wore off we introduced ‘The Golden Laptop’. This now is awarded to any class, group or individual for the blog post of the week. Now things have got competitive. But we still knew this was only the tip of the iceberg as far as the possibilities blogging could open up.
In Early Years we wanted to harness the interest the parents were showing in the blog to take it further and allow the children to blog at home. We thought the ideal opportunity for this was to replace the traditional ‘Bear Diary’ with the ‘Bear Blogs’. So far we can’t find a negative. Every child has taken home the class bear and written a blog post. It only do you not have to worry about that tatty old book going missing, parents don’t have to worry about printing off photographs, sticking them in and writing in their best handwriting all by Monday morning.
After watching David deliver a few Coveritlive session and using tools such as Padlet and Thinglink we knew our next step was to use the blogs as a day to day teaching tool. We are still at the beginning of this new journey but have had some great examples. In our staff meeting Paul Hollywood answered some questions the staff had abut hot cross buns, many were disappointed it was Mr Frost on Coveritlive. Year 5 children have become experts at giving feedback, leaving live comments on Year 4’s sentences. Nursery children could not believe that the Bear from ‘Whatever Next’ told them all about how to turn a cardboard box into a rocket. Year 4 have begun to use it to reinvigorate guided reading sessions with Thinglink. After putting a survey on the blog Year 5 received over 150 responses, leading to amazing pie charts and graphs being created and developed into a power point presentation.
Blogging has opened the window to the world for the children at http://theridgewayblogs.net/The Ridgeway Primary School. It has inspired, encouraged and excited the children to always display the very best of themselves for the whole world to see.
The Norwich Pupil Premium Cluster Blogging Project has been running for 14 months. Sarah Shirras (Headteacher at St. William’s) explains the impact so far…
The blogging cluster has enabled us to set up class blogs across the school and for staff to have training and support both from David and from our staff involved most closely in the project. We have also benefited from working with the other schools in the cluster, learning from their practice and sharing ideas. The blogs have impacted on several areas of our work and contributed significantly to school improvement. They have improved communication with parents, particularly about the content of the curriculum as they can view photos, videos and audio recordings of the children’s work. They have given children another voice about the activities we do in school, writing their thoughts and feelings in no uncertain terms! Children are highly engaged with the blogs, choosing to write about their activities in and out of school and express their opinions about their learning. It has been great to see reluctant writers being able to write on subjects of their choice rather than those chosen by staff. The blogs have also increased connectivity across and beyond our school as children and staff read each others’.
We have lots still to do as blogging is not used as much in some classes as others. There is so much that can be achieved, but we are delighted with the impact they have had so far!
Headteacher at St. William’s
You can view their blogs here.