How teachers can use WordPress blogging to enhance student engagement

Every teacher’s goal is student engagement, both in and out of class

Strong Stuff

Strong Stuff

The more our students act on our lessons and expectations outside of class, the better they function in class. Nothing new there.

And the difficulty to achieve it in part explains the annual Professional Development (PD) flogging with the latest, greatest solution to student engagement: “Differentiated Learning,” “Flipped Classrooms,” “Student-Centered Learning,” “Cooperative Learning,” and so on, that attempt to trick students into suddenly caring about our lessons and classrooms.

I’ve tried them all, and I know you have, too.

It’s what goes on outside of class that makes for in the class engagement

While we might find that one thing that really works for us in the classroom,  it’s what our kids do with it after they walk out the door that really matters.*

My teacher “ahah moment” came from locker-room duty. Watching the kids load and unload their backpacks was truly illuminating. I could tell just by looking at their routines in the morning, at lunch or after school which kids were thinking about their classes and which were not, which were engaging teacher expectations and which were not:

  • The high-functional students were deliberate and made direct choices on books and materials going in and out of the locker or backpack.
  • The less-functional students stopped, looked, thought, and, hopefully, asked a friend what was going on in the classes that day or what’s due the next.
  • The least functional students performed what I can best describe as “the drop”: books and materials in and out to no other purpose than getting rid of them.

By the time they got home and, hopefully, when their parents asked them about their homework, they had already decided whether or not to do it. Parents either got a real “to do” list or white lies – either to themselves or their parents, or both.

I began to watch these students come and go in my classroom. I spoke with them about what I observed in the locker room, in class, and how it related to their grades. It came down to simple self-awareness:

“What do I need to be doing next?”

Or if that question was even asked at all.

Compartmentalization

With bus timetables, 7 or 8 periods, block schedules, and extracurricular routines spelled out explicitly, no wonder some high school students just kinda go along. Most of their day is spelled out for them, so when it’s up to them to make the decisions and apply the rules and boundaries, they lack ownership.

Worse, with their flow one class to the next, bus schedules, practice, whatever, with each transition to the next scheduled, programmed event, the previous pieces of the day are left behind.

I call this “compartmentalization.” In at one bell and out at the next. Unless they carry thoughts and expectations forward, what happened last is lost in the next, and so on through to the next morning when they’re staring at their lockers, thinking,

“Hmm, period 1, period 2, period 3… uh…”

From class to home and back again, fully engaged

With expectations and routines compartmentalized, many students don’t connect, they don’t think about the one until it’s in front of them again.

What we as teachers can do, then, is to break through the compartments, break into their days and routines, especially while they are at home. When “out of sight” is truly “out of mind,” our best hopes of breaking through is to put it back “into sight” or mind.

Enter WordPress

We’re all supposed to use technology,” – whatever that is. I’d include a textbook in my list of high-technologies. The problem with textbooks, however, is that they depend entirely upon the student for use.

Here a “technology” known as the internet can both scaffold student engagement and independent learning and create routines for students that break their daily compartmentalization.  The key to it is two-way communication and interface.

With standard email, you have no way to know how it was acted upon.**. With your school Learning Management System (LMS), you have no record of student activity. And with those LMS, you have no control of interface and navigation.

WordPress puts you in control of all your student interactions. These include:

  • tracking student usage
  • guiding content navigation
  • managing notifications

I’ve created a video to show you how WordPress can work as a class page: Tips for Teachers: how to use WordPress to empower student learnig and manage your class. But let’s not worry about the technical side yet. Instead, let’s look at the practical purposes of using a WordPress blog for creating student engagement .

  • Foremost, a class blog is created by you, the teacher. You manage its form, its processes, and output.
  • Unlike school systems such as Blackboard or Google Docs, you the teacher control student interface and student activity
  • Your entire class is on a single URL. No getting lost and no useless functions that distract and deter student use.
  • It works on cell phones, tablets, and desktops equally well.
  • WordPress can be used in class as-is. Every user, including you, has the same “front-end” view. You can’t show your LMS site in class, because you’d have to login as a particular student or yourself, which is not appropriate.
  • WordPress engages student interactions for group learning.
  • WordPress has auto-assessment capabilities.
  • You manage the data, which you can use for assessment, accountability, and oversight.

Class Community

Where school LMS are primarily about individual students, it takes considerable effort by teachers to use those pages meaningfully. Plus, students don’t perceive them as anything but a source of good or bad news. It can be done, depending on the system and the resources your school has put together, but in general, there is no community in an LMS page.

Community means common goals, common effort, and communication shared with an by all members.

The cool thing about a WordPress class page is that it is inherently community. Each student has a login, a profile, and equal access to each other and the entire site. All you the teacher has to do is to guide the students into the system routines, clarify expectations, and support it in class. Once it gets going, it runs itself — rather, the kids run it. And then we truly have community.

Student Engagement

With student activity, content, and interactions fully driven by you the teacher, you now have a powerful tool for extracurricular student activity that empowers in-class engagement.

Best of all you can scaffold its use in the classroom by running all your class materials through your WordPress site. I have run a class entirely within WordPress, and by doing so it becomes the natural habitat for students and their interactions with class and it’s lessons and materials.

WordPress gives a teacher a fighting chance for student employment of our in-class expectations, learning and materials.  Every student extracurricular touch of our classes increases our in-class interactions and learning.

Strong stuff!

Check out the demo video, or ask me directly and, I’ll be glad to show you how it’s done.

– Michael

* My secret sauce in the classroom was individual whiteboards for every student that they used to interact, practice, express, and demonstrate their learning in the classroom.
** MailChimp and other email systems can track “opens” and “clicks.” Very useful.