See Why This English Teacher Says Digital Citizenship Must Begin With Pen and Paper
Blogs offer students the opportunity to create an online portfolio that documents success, progress, and achievement. More significantly, they provide students with an authentic audience, which is a great motivator in terms of language use, length, and quality of work produced.
Holly Fairbrother, an English teacher at the Nexus International School in Singapore, sets up blogs with her students to showcase their writing and emphasize the need to create a positive online persona.
Fairbrother teaches her ‘Snapshot’ unit to year seven students on entry into secondary school. The big question underpinning the unit, she says, is one of digital citizenship: “How do I present who I am to the world?” The final outcome is a reflective learning blog that they use throughout their time in school.
But the secret ingredient in Fairbrother’s process is how she begins.
“We learn what blogging is and how it can help our learning – but on paper. We create a paper blogging community that mimics the digital realm, and allows students to learn about safe and ethical behaviours before going online.”
Students begin by writing a draft blog about a favourite food or drink on paper. They then move around the room according to whether their food is hot or cold. This demonstrates tagging or labels, which is really important as it allows them to document and search for their work effectively for comparison and progression. Students then “publish” their work by creating a neatly decorated paper post that includes their text, a referenced image, a title, and tags.
Once their posts are ready, students lay them all on the floor.
“We talk about comments and how this is an integral part of a blog when it comes to learning because it’s like peer assessment. We talk about how to be helpful but critical friends who offer ways to improve, not just mean or nasty comments.”
Students are then asked to take away another’s blog, read it carefully, and write a comment on a sticky note and stick it to the bottom. They are to write something positive, as well as a suggestion for improvement, and return it to the front. They repeat this a few times so each post has a couple of comments on it.
While this is going on, Fairbrother whispers to a few students and asks them to write something deliberately mean, unpleasant, and unhelpful.
“After each blog has at least two sticky notes on, everyone gathers together at the front, where students collect and read the comments,” she says. “Almost immediately some indignant and upset students will storm up to me pointing at the deliberately mean comment, upon which I ask them to read it aloud, and then ask the class, ‘Is this helpful?'”
This leads into a discussion about trolls and how to deal with them. It also leads to a discussion about ownership of the blog.
“I ask the student if they want to keep the comment, to which they always answer no. I tell them to take it off, rip it up and put it in the bin. I reinforce the idea of ownership by saying that they have control of their blogs at all times and can remove any comments that are unkind or deliberately mean.”
The students finish by checking their work against the rubric, editing and finishing as needed, and then “publishing” by sticking it up on the outside of the classroom. Sticky notes are left outside with the paper blogs and the school is informed so that comments from the whole community can be made. Students are encouraged to check their posts regularly and remove unwanted comments.
Finally, they write a reflection on their learning from the paper blogging project. A set of guidelines is then sent home, which students read and sign with parents/carers. Only once this is returned can they set up a live blog, which becomes an e-portfolio for all their best English work.
“Online behaviours are complex,” says Fairbrother. “Whilst they demand the respectful conduct we expect in our everday face-to-face interactions, the distance afforded in screen to screen interactions makes it easier to be detached.”
In order for learners to appreciate having an audience, and to learn how to be critical friends, she says, it is essential to cover these skills in the safety of a school setting before being let loose into the virtual world.
“We want learners to create digital personas they are proud of, that will help secure them a place in university, or a job, and for that, we must explicitly teach them how – starting with pen and paper.”
By providing plenty of opportunities to actively and safely experiment and learn how to be open-minded, responsible digital citizens, Fairbrother equips her students with the proper judgment they need to stay afloat in an increasingly complicated virtual world.