Using blogs to make learning visible

James Hopkins

Having taught and led ICT in a challenging area in North London for four years, James Hopkins moved to New Zealand in 2010 and took up an ICT leadership position in a mid-decile school. He then spent two years building technology use and integration throughout the school using a range of short and long-term, personalised professional development programmes. Moving to a decile 10 school in 2012, James undertook the development of Modern Learning Environments and Modern Learning Practice across a variety of year groups. James’ passion lies in MLP and connecting via a variety of social media outlets.

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Visible learning is not just about John Hattie. This is not to take away from Professor Hattie’s research, merely to say that creating visibility around student learning can redefine a learner’s understanding of the world. When in classes facilitating, I often open with the question “Do you know how many people in the world have access to the internet?” to which there are a myriad of guesses from the students. Very few get anywhere near the 3.1 billion internet users suggested by websites such as Internetlivestats.

By the time this blog post is finished, I’ve no doubt that number will be closer to 3.2 billion and still climbing. Of course, these are estimates, but the realisation that the potential audience for a student’s learning could number in the billions is a very exciting place to start with a classroom full of learners. Be under no illusion, I’m very careful when I use the term ‘potential audience’ as without driving traffic to any online space where learning is shared. It is as redundant as the marked work in an exercise book from years ago that currently resides in the bottom of a box in the attic.

It begs the question, why isn’t everyone sharing their work online? For some it’s simply a lack of knowledge. If you cannot identify a vehicle within which to share, then you cannot begin sharing. For others it’s fear. Students and teachers alike are often afraid of criticism or being judged by others; something we develop as we get older, as my two year old son certainly isn’t fussed by what others think of his finger painting! It would be easy to say “get over it”, but it’s not that simple. It’s an entire mindset shift. It’s an understanding that sharing learning online needn’t be in the form of a portfolio or record of achievement. It could echo the journey that millions of students take every day, the visual growth of knowledge and progress in an online forum. And lastly, for many, it’s time! Teachers in New Zealand are no different from many others around the world. Overworked, exhausted and constantly being bashed by the media.

I’m very fortunate to work in one of the world’s leading education sectors and within that, working alongside a well-known, progressive group of schools, a truly inspirational and world-recognised cluster, focused on accelerating student achievement in a low socio-economic area - and they’re doing it! So I thought I’d take the opportunity to delve a little more into the ‘Why’, the ‘How’ and the ‘What’ of creating visibility around learning, a reference to Simon Sinek’s amazing Golden Circle TED Talk:

YouTube Link


I briefly touched on this earlier, but I often ask students why they feel it’s important to share their learning. The usual answers of “to connect with my family” or “let others see what we’re doing” come up, but when you drill down a bit further students as young as seven or eight years old can begin to talk to you about audience and purpose. It’s amazing to watch the transformation in a student’s effort and dedication to learning when they realise that the audience is no longer their peer, their teacher or (in the very ‘best’ case) the principal.

"Why isn’t everyone sharing their work online?"

The audience becomes real. It becomes unknown but exciting. The awe and wonder that comes from a student asking the question, “Who could end up reading this?” is a magnificent sight. Something we shouldn’t ever stray from is the vision within the NZ curriculum. - To create young people who are confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners. Forgive my paraphrasing. So I return to the Why that underpins the need to make learning visible. Our learners need to be confident when sharing their learning, proud of their progress first and then their achievement. They have the right to connect beyond the four walls of their classroom, seeking feedback from those interested in their learning, wherever they may be in the world. Connecting through structured commenting, through ongoing feedback in an online environment as well as the classroom, gaining perspective and new momentum.

Our learners need to look for their audience, find the opportunities to connect and engage both in and out of the classroom, becoming actively involved in online communities and developing their voice. And lastly, it falls upon us as educators to show students that learning doesn’t end at 3pm. It isn’t constrained by the four walls of the classroom. It’s rewindable. It’s about finding passion and pursuing dreams!


How can this be achieved? In a GAFE (Google Apps for Education) environment it’s certainly a little easier, but outside of it (with a little grit and determination) it’s certainly just as possible. Within a progressive cluster of twelve schools here in New Zealand, students each have a blog. This is an initially underwhelming statement until you begin to realise that there are around 1500 active blogs within the cluster, all being posted to constantly by students and all being commented on constantly by other students from all over the world. So my How becomes, “How do I do it?”

"They have the right to connect beyond the four walls of their classroom, seeking feedback."

Start small, create a class blog and post examples of students learning. Encourage others to look at it, comment on the learning. Share the comments with the students. Parent engagement is a powerful tool to motivate learners. The wonder of a conversation between parent and child about their day that doesn’t start with “how was your day?” and instead begins with the parent sharing their thoughts on their child’s learning posted online that very morning! It’s about looking for opportunities to connect with other blogs and beginning to analyse the style of comment you’d like to see- Is it positive, thoughtful and helpful? A simple three part system worth visiting each time students comment.

A simple blog, sharing ongoing learning to engage the community and connect students to the world. There are many apps out there to help capture learning and experiences as they happen, stopping it from becoming yet another thing to do! Of course, there will be times that a post needs to be something special, not a snapshot window into the classroom, but a carefully constructed display of the brilliant things happening in and outside of the room… I can’t think many better teachable moments, can you?


And so I come to the easiest part of all. If you know Why and How you’re sharing, then the What falls into place effortlessly. Whether a student blog or a class blog, what to share isn’t really the question. It’s more about defining what the purpose of the blog is. To me, it isn’t a portfolio of best work. It isn’t a place for typed up stories after being drafted in books or perfect, finished pieces. It’s a place to show the journey. The ups, downs, ins and outs. The rollercoaster that learning can be.

Whether it’s simple photos of the stages when creating a piece of artwork or a digital story plan, it’s about showing the process and thinking, just as much as the outcome. A blog can be a place for incredibly elaborate animated movies or a quick picture of something that made a student think, and everything in between! It’s a place to show student voice, progress, achievement, failure, success, choice and perhaps most importantly reflection and growth.

Something I’ve lived by over the past few years has been, don’t be afraid to FAIL. Because in itself, it’s simply your First Attempt In Learning.

Recommended reading:

Manaiakalani Blog
Manaiakalani Story
The Manaiakalani Outreach Project
Start with the why
Start with the why- blog  
The Principal of Change

Do you use a blog as part of your teaching? Let us know in the comments!

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