Giving students a global audience

David Mitchell

David Mitchell is an award-winning former headteacher of two schools and now a freelance consultant who is possibly better known by his Twitter name, @DeputyMitchell. David introduced blogging at Heathfield Primary School, resulting in a dramatic impact on standards. Writing SATS level 5 scores at the end of Key Stage 2 rose from 9% to 60% in just 12 months with each child in Year 6 making on average double the expected progress for the last three years. In 2011, David founded QuadBlogging which has now seen over 500,000 pupils from 55 countries take part. David’s mission is to get as many teachers as possible using exciting and inspiring Web2.0 tools to engage learners of all ages.

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Plenty of pupils love to write - why wouldn’t they? However, many of the UK’s schoolchildren have what David Mitchell, deputy head of Heathfield Primary School, aren’t getting anywhere near the audience that they should be.

As published in the September 2013 edition of our magazine.

After a grueling week with your wonderful Year 6 class surpassing their non-chronological reports, you think you have aced it! They have chosen their topic of choice, and it’s 10:50am on a Friday – it’s BIG writing time! The candle is burning… or more realistically, the interactive whiteboard is displaying the faint flicker of a candle flame. If you silence the class, you can hear the calming tones of Mozart tickling away at thought processes. It’s then, just as the children pick up their Big Writing pens that you utter those important words: “Don’t forget... consider your audience!”

However, do we ever pause to think of what is going through our students’ brains as they process what we have just said?

“If I’m lucky, this piece of writing will get marked!”

“If I do my very best, and Miss likes it, my writing might end upon the wall!”

“If I impress Miss, and I get sent to the head and she likes it, my writing might get shown in assembly!”

Even if all of this did happen, their audience at best will be a couple of hundred other children.

What if you could give your children an audience of millions? What effect might that have on your pupils? The days where students’ efforts of planning, thinking and writing end up in books only to be wheeled out of the writing tray once a week are numbered.

Web 2.0 epitomises the evolution of the world wide web from an online library of static pages to an interactive two-way environment. It is the experience that many of our pupils have of the internet whenever they are outside the school building, yet, despite it being around since 2006, many schools are not capitalising on it.

I first introduced blogging at my school in 2009 and this turned around the way pupils experienced writing. A blog is a website where you simply ‘post’ information on a particular topic to the public, but its real power is harnessed in the ability to share opinion via ‘comments’. Although pupils can log into a class blog and post whatever they want whenever they want, nothing appears on the class blog without the teacher approving it. Even comments have to be approved.

After introducing blogging to my Year 6 class, children began to fall in love with writing; so much so, some boys wrote over 100,000 words on their class blog in one year. Results for writing at Level 5 shot up from 9% to 60% in just 2 months (National Key Stage 2 SATs Tests 2010) with each child out of a cohort of 30 making double the expected points progress.

My pupils were not only getting a global audience for their writing, they were also receiving high-quality constructive feedback from other pupils, teachers and interested parties worldwide. We saw visits from famous authors including Michael Morpurgo, Pie Corbett, the German Ambassador to the UK and many more highly important and influential people.

I once asked a pupil of mine, “Why, after all these months of me harping on at you to start using capital letters and full stops do you start to use them after a comment from New Zealand?” And he replied, “It’s because you aren’t real, Mr. Mitchell! You’re a teacher; you’re paid to help me. Mr. Smith isn’t; he’s given up his spare time to leave that comment!” That’s the power of a simple comment from a ‘real’ person!

Running a class blog isn’t too difficult and neither is it too time consuming, but a class blog needs the teacher to be enthusiastic and committed to bringing an audience to their pupils. After the initial investment of time showing your pupils what blogging is all about, a successful class blog can be managed with little over 45 minutes per week. Once you see the effect this has on your pupils, however, I’ll challenge you not to get even more excited than them! Whether you want to change their behaviour and attitudes or enhance their progress and attainment, starting a class blog could be the most important thing you ever do for them.

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