Looking for Best Blogging Experience for Elementary Students

This year in my fourth grade class, I would like to do journal writing. The other fourth grade teachers in my building do this, but I would like to enhance it by blogging for my journal writing.

Here is what I am looking for: I would like a blogging experience for my class that only the members of my class can read and reply to each other. I want to call it "The Blog of the Week". They will be given thirty (30) minutes to blog on a choice of topics, and must at least reply to one (1) other blog during the time.

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We have a class blog made with Drupal and served privately. I could tighten the security if I wanted to to exclude all readers but doesn't that defeat the purpose. Blogging opens up the student writing to a wider, authentic audiance. We have parents and classroom teachers as well as approved students from other schools blogging with us.
I too am wondering why you want only the students in your class to read the blogs. Perhaps as a beginning process this might be okay but then wouldn't you want to open it up to others either in your own school or better still around the world.(with your approval of course) If you are concerned about safety and privacy you can set these up at the beginning of the process with guidelines and codes of conduct. Also depending on the blog host that you use, you can require the posts to be approved by you. I don't use blogmeister but I think that their version gives you that option. Anyway it's just a thought. I think it's really important that we don't use blogs just for the sake of it And I don't mean to imply that this is what you are doing. But we have to ask ourselves why blog rather then simply write in a journal or in a word document. And the reason is that a blog affords the writer the opportunity to share with a much wider audience and to have that audience comment and share with them.
John,

I have a solution for you. It's called Studeous (www.studeous.com) and I think it's exactly what you are looking for. Studeous has created the first free and hosted complete e-learning platform. Each student is put into a private school network upon sign up, so it's safe and secure. Teachers create pages for each of their classes and students join the classes, protecting the class information from the rest of the school network. There are many web 2.0 tools that you can utilize on your class page, one of them being our own blogging platform. Studeous Blogging allows you to attach your students blogs to your class page, so they can only be read by students in your class. Classmates can even read and comment on their peers' blogs. Check it out and let me know if this works for you.

Jefferson
I understand how you might be worried about the privacy of your students, but the only reason I have a class blog and my students have individual blogs is to widen our audience. It can be especially effective when you get teachers from other states or countries to comment on a few of the students' posts.

I also think you may be expecting your students to work faster than they will. I allow 20 minutes for my fifth grade students to comment on a post. I think you will need to give them more time to make a post and comment on another person's post.

Finally, I applaud you for taking the next step in student writing. I think you will find both you and your students will find writing on the blog both satisfying and addictive. Good Luck!
We have our students blog outside of school, too.
I don't think there is any such thing as "blogging just for the sake of blogging" in the fourth grade, simply because the activity itself opens up a myriad of learning opportunities. One that first comes to mind is participating in a threaded discussion, and being able to read through a writer's previous posts with ease. Big accomplishments for 9 year olds. I also think it is prudent to keep the audience to classmates for a first time blog. The audience is still authentic, and probably the most immediately influential for the students, parents and administrators are much more likely to be comfortable and embrace the activity, and when it all goes successfully, with no security problems, other teachers in the building are more likely to give it a go and become collaborative partners in the future. Thumbs up, John!

About the time concerns- maybe you could have two weekly sessions, one for the kids to concentrate on writing a blog post, and the other when they are commenting on posts from classmates.
Good points, Ellen.
WordPressMU allows students to experience a real blogging interface and has 5 levels of privacy settings. These settings can be configured differently for each blog need be. The interface is fairly straight forward--especially if you have used WordPress as an individual blog.

Here are some posts on using WPMU.

Drupal has a great reputation as a content management system with community features and blogging built in. I haven't used Drupal myself, but I plan to explore it. I understand there is a fair learning curve with it.
Folks, Thanks for all the valuable information in your posts. The only reason why I wanted to start out at first with the blogs being only within the privacy of our classroom is that our tech coordinator is a worry wart about outside our school building viewing anything.

Hopefully I will be taking that position in the next year or two and then I want to open it up for the world to see our accomplishments. I'm all for parents, other teachers, the world responding to our work.
John,

I too am a fourth grade teacher. My class is blogging using Blogger. I have it set up so that I have to see posts and comments before they are published. I did this last year with my students and it worked great. We used the blog mainly to publish finished writing assignments. I would be very interested in connecting with another class to read each other's blogs and build a student learning network. Let me know if you are interested. We are at room24.blogspot.com.
Hi John,
Your blog looks great! One caution when using blogger. The "next blog" link up at the top can take kids to some unsavory locations. Not too much of a problem at school where the filters take care of things, but a potential real problem when students get home and there aren't any filters. You might consider removing that feature with fourth graders.
Good luck!
Elise

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