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.