“Has Doreen been on yet?”
That’s the shout that starts most of my Year 1 classes each day. The call is followed by children running into the class to see if they have any more flag hits or comments on our class blog.
Doreen refers to an educational consultant from Australia (@doreen_blyth), who visits our class blog regularly and praises the work that the children post independently.
Let me be clear: this is not me writing a blog for our class, this is the students themselves writing. Five- and six-year-olds with a blog? Yes, it might sound like too young an age, but it works and it has had a significant impact on literacy in our school.
It began because writing had been on our school development plan for a long time and we felt we needed a new approach to encourage children to write independently. We felt that blogging provided an opportunity to get children writing in a non-threatening way (often on their own terms).
Children blogging independently
We decided we needed some help getting things started, so we recruited David Mitchell (@deputymitchell). He came into school and launched the idea of blogging with a whole-school staff meeting. It was at this meeting that every class had their own blog set up, and staff were given a beginner's guide to blogging.
I was in Year 2 at the time and couldn’t wait to get the class up and running on the blog. But last year I moved into Year 1. Would the children be capable of making it work at such a young age?
My colleague Sarah White and I were determined to try. We wanted to create a balance between teacher posts and those from the children themselves, so that children had a degree of ownership of their blog. Both Sarah and I felt strongly that age would not be a barrier and that we could get the children blogging independently from the age of 5. We firmly believed that if we taught the children how to blog, in the same way we taught them how to remember their number bonds etc, then it could be done.
So what does blogging look like in Year 1?
By creating a form template on the blog, we have been able to provide some structure for the children when composing a blog post. We have used forms to create diary entries, recounts and book reviews as well as many other things. Children are directed to write into certain boxes and given prompts about what to write, if needed.
Love of writing
Children write on the blog during a range of lessons, and, interestingly, the normally reluctant writers are often the first to ask for an iPad to write their own post or to leave a comment for someone else. Children leave encouraging comments for one another, as well as making suggestions on how to improve a post.
What has been great to see is that the children aren’t just blogging at school; they are also going home and blogging, too. It’s amazing to see their enthusiasm grow and we are excited to continue our blogging journey this year.
So what's it done for English in Year 1?
At the start of the year (and up to Christmas), I had a large percentage of children still unable to access the curriculum. However, with the help of the blog, children who were way below the expected standard soon started writing, and displaying a love for it, too. By the end of the year, I had children who had progressed from Pivats 6 right up to 1 expected.
The engagement and love of writing has been a pleasure to watch, as children have transferred skills from the blog to their class work. And, across the school, the blog has increased engagement and has started to have a positive impact on writing attainment levels, too.
Gemma Hathaway is the English lead at Smithdown Primary School in Liverpool