Feb 18 2009

Online Expressions

School uses blogging to increase writing proficiency.

Charles Youngs, an English Language Arts Curriculum Facilitator teacher at Bethel Park (Pa.) High School, engages students in an activity many don’t enjoy: writing.

Youngs’ students blog their thoughts and feelings about books they’re reading in class. Youngs, who monitors the blog, often brings some of those discussions back into his classroom.

“It’s another forum for them to discuss literature and to write,” he says, adding that he’s starting to use wikis in a similar fashion.

“They’re presenting their ideas to an authentic audience. They care a little more about what they write on a blog because more than 80 students will be reading it rather than one teacher.”

Likewise, a handful of students have piloted a new program with Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh that will open to a wider audience this fall. While viewing artwork, Youngs says the students will create podcasts that will be posted on a blog hosted by the museum, along with a written narrative of their experiences.

While innovative, is blogging really effective for increasing writing proficiency?

It is, says Nicole Roth, a ninth-grade English teacher at Bethel Park. She conducted a study last year with 104 of her students.

After giving them writing assignments, she divided them into three groups: those who blog their responses; those who handwrite them; and those who use a computer to write their responses, then print out a hard copy for the teacher.

By far, bloggers experienced the most improvement. Writers considered proficient showed a 43 percent increase in grades, while advanced writers logged a 31 percent increase.

“Overall, the bloggers not only caught up, but even exceeded the growth of the handwriters and word processors by the end of the 11-week study,” Roth says. “When blogging has a purpose and is structured, it becomes a huge teaching tool.”