Blogging 101--Web logs go to school

As a middle-school teacher, Clarence Fisher is used to spending time grading papers and reviewing lesson plans. But this year he's got an additional task: updating student blogs.

As a middle-school teacher, Clarence Fisher is used to spending some time each evening grading papers and reviewing lesson plans. But this year he's got an additional after-school task: updating his students' blogs.

Fisher set up online personal journals--Web logs or blogs--this fall for each of his students at Joseph H. Kerr School in the Canadian town of Snow Lake, Manitoba. His combined seventh- and eighth-grade class generates about a dozen entries a day on topics ranging from classroom assignments to weekend plans, which Fisher reviews before posting online.

Schoolhouse blogs

As blogging enters the classroom and takes its place alongside reading, writing and 'rithmetic, adult Web surfers have the chance to relive the trials and tribulations of the wonder years.

Students in Clarence Fisher's combined seventh- and eighth-grade class at Joseph H. Kerr School in Snow Lake, Manitoba, and in Hillary Meeler's fifth grade class at J.H. House Elementary in the Atlanta suburb of Conyers serve up entries that can amuse, charm and captivate with their simplicity and candidness. Click here to read some excerpts.

He's more than glad to do it. Like other teachers , he thinks the online journals will spark students' enthusiasm for computers, writing and opining.

"They're learning the technical skills, but they're also learning that they have a voice online," he said. "They may be from a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, but they're writing online, people are commenting on it, and they're learning that they have a voice."

Fisher is among a small but growing number of teachers and professors experimenting with classroom blogs. The exact number is hard to pin down but it's well into the thousands, said Will Richardson, author of "An Educator's Guide to Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Cool New Web Tools that are Transforming the Classroom," which is set for publication next year.

Richardson is also supervisor of instructional technology and communications at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, N.J., where at least 10 percent of the teachers have worked blogging into their lesson plan. It's taken a while for the concept to catch on, though. Hunterdon began its first classroom blog about four years ago.

"I think that blogs have a bad reputation," Richardson said. "People think of them as online journals or diaries, but they are much more than that. They are learning tools."

Take Hillary Meeler's group of fifth-graders at J.H. House Elementary in the Atlanta suburb of Conyers. Every Thursday morning, the students spend two hours writing about current events on their blogs. Meeler, an instructional technology specialist, asks them to choose topics from CNN's student news program and use writing skills they're learning in English class.

The kids love having an audience, she said. Parents, teachers, students and sometimes complete strangers from as far away as Brazil will respond to the blogs with comments. And depending on the tools they're using, student bloggers can track how many times people have clicked on their entries. In an effort to build a following, they often clean up their grammar, stretch their vocabulary and generally write more creatively, Meeler said. "They take a lot of pride in it," she said. "They have to write a title that gets attention, or people won't leave comments or come back."

The students seem to have no shortage of material for their blogs, tapping their daily lives, the news and the blogosphere for inspiration. Some, including Jay Nieves, even write poetry.

The sophomore at East Side Community High School in New York City began blogging last year and now does it almost every day in his New Journalism class. He said he's hooked and will probably keep blogging after he graduates. "It's part of my life," Nieves said.

Jose Bernal, a senior at Galileo Academy of Science and Technology in San Francisco, blogs for his American Democracy class. He's one of about 60 students participating in a blog with a neighboring high school. Bernal is especially keen on reading and commenting on other

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