Review of Sarah R. Jones’s “Digital Access: Using Blogs to Support Adolescent Writers With Learning Disabilities”

Jones: Writing to communicate or to get the passing grade?

The purpose of effective writing to many students is to get a better grade rather than to communicate ideas; with such a paradigm, writing becomes artificial for students and the output is correspondingly hollow (Jones, 2012).  If students’ writing occurs in a blogging community, however, the purpose becomes one of communication and the motivation is to keep trying until one is understood.  Also, the idea of audience becomes real rather than an abstraction (Jones, 2012). 

“Although research on blogging for students with LD is limited at this point, studies suggest that (a) authentic audiences can increase the writing output and achievement of diverse groups of learners, including those with LD; and (b) blogs can facilitate authentic writing, increase writing output, and improve writing quality.” (Jones, 2012)

The article by Jones, published in the journal of TEACHING Exceptional Children, begins with a narrative account about a special educator named Ms. Randolf and her decision to design specialized writing instruction for her resource program in order to help her students with LD see the real world relevance and value of effective writing.  Throughout the article, the reader hears how Ms. Randolf uses classroom blogging to accomplish this goal.  Though the article does not state explicitly whether Ms. Randolf and her experiment is classroom blogging are true, the reality presented by her narrative can be accepted as accurate.  At the end of Jones’s introduction, she addresses the self-posed question “can blogging work for students with LD?”  She emphasizes that students with learning disabilities are very unlikely to receive benefit from a blogging strategy without adequate and structured instruction.  She outlines seven steps for implementing classroom blogging and successfully reinforces each step with an account of how Ms. Randolph used the outline process.

  1. Choose a blog platform based on students’ needs and available resources.
  2. Create a writing community.
  3. Create meaningful writing assignments.
  4. Use evidence-based prewriting strategies. 
  5. Support online composition with assistive technology.
  6. Teach students to create and respond to comments.
  7. Maintain, evaluate, and tweak the blogging experience for long-term success. 

This review will provide a summary of each of Jones’s seven steps and volunteer opinions on the cost-effectiveness and ease of implementation of this blogging strategy in separate ‘boxed’ highlights.

Step 1: Choosing a platform with student need in mind.

Jones explains that the choice in blogging platform must be made according to each student’s unique needs and strengths.  Various platforms have varying degrees of complexity with some being mostly text based and others that can be enhanced with pictures, music, videos and more (Jones, 2012).  Another consideration is audience.  Different platforms may allow for more or less different types of audience.  Ms. Randolf’s commentary about choosing a blogging platform is the largest of all her accounts and for good reason.  In it, she explains how she considered the unique IEP goals of each of her students when making her choices.  In the following segments of the commentary, Randolf explains how each student’s blogging experience is progressing, providing the reader with a storyline of progress for each IEP goal type.  Jones does describe advantages and disadvantages for each of three different blogging platforms: Google Blogger, Word Press, and Edublogs. 

Step 2: Generation of an appropriate writing community

Jones stresses that, for blogging to succeed in promoting effective writing, it must be accompanied by consistent and constructive feedback.  This is why choosing the correct audience is key.  Opening the student’s blog to public view is a way to invite feedback, but there is always the risk of unproductive negative feedback being given.  A student’s audience can be manufactured to include only their peers or maybe even a group of selected and trusted adults in that student’s life (Jones, 2012).  In the corresponding excerpt from Ms. Randolf’s story, she explains how she made a point to confer with her school’s administration about policies that might forbid or limit her ability to use blogging in her classroom.  She also took the time to communicate the intentions of the project and obtain the necessary permissions from parents and guardians.  Ms. Randolf included the student in choosing her or his own audience members and after doing so she adjusted the blog’s security settings accordingly (Jones, 2012). 

Step 3: Selection of meaningful assignments

If the purpose of blogging is to provide students with an authentic audience for their writing, then the teacher must give them topics that are authentic according to the students’ interests.  Jones suggests that teachers interview their prospective blogging students to determine what their interests are, what important ideas they may have, and what they want to do with their lives.  With this information in hand, they can design assignments to complement those interests and goals (Jones, 2012).  Ms. Randolf explains how she planned and taught a 20 minute minilesson on the reasons why people write and had students review writing pieces to discuss the authors’ purposes for creating them (Jones, 2012). 

Step 4: Teaching prewriting strategies. 

“Many students with LD need support to structure their writing independently” (Jones, 2012) and as a result, teaching students about how to select and use graphic organizers, implement composition strategies, and use computer based planning programs is crucial before setting them loose in a blog (Jones, 2012).  Ms. Randolf’s class created a visual display showing how each strategy they had learned connected to different types of writing (Jones, 2012).

Step 5: Support your students’ compostion

Jones discusses the use of various types of assistive technology (AT) that could improve writing achievement for students with LD when accompanied by effective instruction.  Students may want to use word processing programs with which they may be more comfortable instead of the interface provided by the blog platform.  Increased comfort and familiarity can decrease frustration and the potential for losing work (Jones, 2012).  Speech recognition software may help students get thoughts out of their head and onto the page during prewriting and word prediction software may aid in expanding vocabulary (Jones, 2012).  The most important support Jones discusses is the use of model posts to show students good-quality compositions.  She also states that help with “form, function, and conventions” may be especially appropriate for students with LD (Jones, 2012).  Ms. Randolf’s account provides specific examples of the supports outlined by Jones.

Step 6: Responding to comments                                                                       

Students with LD may “need direct instruction” about how they should put the comments of others to good use in improving their writing (Jones, 2012).  Ms. Randolf previewed with her students a sample blog and comments made on it in order to analyze how the blog’s writer could use the comments to improve the piece.  Ms. Randolf also shows her students how to use “text-to-text, self-to-text, and world-to-text connections” when commenting on others’ posts (Jones, 2012).

Step 7: Maintaining the blog

Like all good teaching tools, reflection makes them more effective; classroom blogging is no different (Jones, 2012).  Because of the reverse chronological record of posts, teachers can track student writing progress easily of time. 

Positive Aspect: Use of ‘boxes’ to provide and highlight additional valuable information:

Jones includes the following ‘box’ figures to bring attention to extra details she considers worth special attention:

  • Figure 1. Sample Blog
  • What Does the Research Say?
  • Blog Platforms
  • Protecting Students Online
  • Boosting Blog Accessibility
  • Ms. Randolf’s Student Blogs

Negative Aspect: The article alludes to using certain strategies but does not provide information about those strategies and does not give reference for where to find them either.

  • Composition strategies
  • Computer-based planning programs
  • Also, how to tweak security settings on blog platforms, no tips are provided

Cost-effectiveness: Jones mentions several products and services that can be used to implement the blogging strategy. 

Low cost:

  • For the most important component, the three blogging platform, the three platforms mentioned are free services.
  • Some word processing programs come with built in speech recognition functions, thereby incurring no extra cost.

Potentially expensive:

  • The more user friendly speech-recognition programs mentioned are expensive.
  • Word prediction programs, in particular the one referenced (Co:Writer) are expensive as well.  No free or low cost alternative
  • word prediction softwares were mentioned. 

Impact on students in the classroom

The last part of Ms. Randolf’s story does an excellent job at describing the effect that blogging can have on students.  Ms. Randolf noticed that while some students required more encouragement to continue than others, the output of all of her students with LD increased (Jones, 2012).  One of her students was so thrilled with the feedback she was getting, she posted three different versions of the same composition in an effort to apply the feedback and improve the piece.  This same student declared to her IEP team that she was working on writing because she “want[s] to be able to say things, and be heard” (Jones, 2012).

Final thoughts of reviewer

Jones does a good job of explaining how classroom blogging can be implemented by teachers who read this article.  Though some of the strategies important to good writing that she mentions are not fully explained, the instructions for how to make this happen in one’s classroom get the job done.  Even the lack of directions on how to alter security settings is forgivable since many Help features on websites provide adequate instructions.  The theory behind this strategy is based on evidence based values such as the importance of authentic audiences in writing and the fact that blogging is inherently authentic.  Even this author, a science teacher, wants to find a way to use this himself.

Reference

Jones, S. R. (2012) “Digital Access: Using Blogs to Support Adolescent Writers With Learning Disabilites.” TEACHING Exceptional Children, 45(2), 16-23.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Education. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s