My last post was about how teachers don’t have enough time to do everything we need to do, so it may seem like producing a classroom website is just adding work to an already overloaded schedule. I have to confess: At first it is a bit labor intensive. Unlike so many tasks thrust upon us as educators, however, hosting a classroom website has payoffs that far exceed the work put into it.
Is it really that easy?
- Educators need to be pragmatic and watch expenses, and websites are a free resource. I use WordPress for all of my sites, and I love it. They have a fantastic support community and offer “Blogging University” courses throughout the year to help bloggers get started. Their support has been wonderful.
- It’s actually easier than you think. I set my sites up using a free WordPress Theme, so much of the design work was already done—not so much that I can’t customize it to fit my own needs. That’s where much of my initial time was actually spent: trying out (playing with) different themes to see what I liked the best.
That’s great, but how does it help my students?
- It’s a stress-free way to individualize instruction. You can put anything from extra practice for struggling students to enrichment activities.
- This is a great place to put reference material for your students. I post videos, links to related material, and photos for each new piece of literature I start with a class. Will all of my students avail themselves of these wonderful resources I spent so much time lovingly selecting for them? Of course not. If I played that film clip in class, they wouldn’t all watch either, and I’d be wasting in-class time.
- It’s a great way to help students to become more responsible for their own learning. I love being able to tell students that if they lose the vocabulary list, they can download a new copy on the website. If they forget the schedule, it’s on the website. If they tell me they just didn’t understand the chapter of Jekyll and Hyde from last night, I like being able to ask, “Did you check out the resources I posted online?” This doesn’t mean I don’t help them in person, but getting students to learn how to become self-directed learners is part of my job.
- How many times have we said as teachers, “If I can make a difference for even one student…”? Well, this gives us an ideal way to reach even more students. One reason we’re teaching because we want to share what we love; having a classroom website allows teachers to share their passion with the world.
- It’s a way to help student to realize that the Internet can be a powerful learning tool, not just a playground. On your classroom website, you can help them glean the wheat from the chaff. Sturgeon’s Law notes that 90% of everything is noise; this is certainly true online. Students need guidance in how to navigate this online labyrinth; your classroom website can make a good starting point for them.
But Wait…There’s More!
A Classroom Blog Can Capitalize on Students’ Innate Desire to Communicate Online. Facebook’s popularity among teenagers demonstrates that many students enjoy communicating online–in writing. I ask my students to get involved with the resources I provide by commenting. I have noticed that a majority of my students seem attentive to word choice and sentence structure in their comments, and I am not alone.
In a report on ABCnews.com, a teacher who has 10th grade students post assignments on blogs noted, “I see…greater ownership of their writing when [students] know it will be seen beyond the class and the teacher” (Stern). A study into student writing conducted by Stanford University determined that online communication is embedded in students’ daily lives, altering how students interact with writing assignments. According to a report on the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Ultimately, students were more interested and impassioned about the writing they did outside of class. Thus, they did more of it and learned more from it.” This might or might not automatically make better writers of our students, but the report did find that “students who compose messages for an audience of their peers on a social-networking Web site were forced to be acutely aware of issues like audience, tone, and voice.” These are all components of formal writing that I teach in class. The writing that the students do while participating in an academic online community might not meet the criteria for a formal essay, but this type of writing gives teacher a place to start with students.
Teachers Need All the Support We Can Get. I posted earlier that I found funding for a unit on The Bridge of San Luis Rey purely through my online support community. I have also discovered many other resources online. It’s a great way to share your favorite lessons and units with teachers around the world. I’ve had visitors from India, Pakistan, The United Kingdom, South Africa, and many, many other places on Logophiles Unleashed.
It’s a Great Way to Stay Organized. It’s even a great way for me to catalog my resources for myself. No longer do I find myself trying to remember which website that was that had those great images of Victorian culture Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. “What did I do with those extra copies of the test?” I used to say that all the time. Now I know: All I have to do is go on my own website.
Does your site need to be like mine?
Of course not! Classroom websites are as varied as the teachers who host them. Not every teacher needs to invite comments. Not every teacher will have a need to write lengthy posts. Do you want to use it as an online calendar? Do you just wish your students could see those great pictures of the Siberian gulags? Are you positive your students would all become mathematicians if they could just watch that one video? (I’m an English teacher who wanted to go back in time to become a mathematician when I saw this video: The Code.) Would you love to inspire your students to explore space by sharing links to photos from the Hubble space telescope? Your classroom website can be your way to share your passion for your subject with your students…and students around the world.
Post them on your website!