WordPress is one of the most popular blog hosting sites, and allows for posting of text and images, allowing multiple users to post to the same blog. This makes it ideal for a class magazine. The fact that it is a mature open platform and therefore likely to be used by students when they leave school makes it more attractive than some of the platforms that are designed purely for students. It is also free – which is a huge plus! I can’t remember a time when I haven’t had a class working on some kind of class magazine project – sometimes linked to literature studies, publishing an edition of The Venetian Times (Merchant Of Venice) or sometimes linked to History, Madame Guillotine (The French Revolution), and sometimes just for creative writing.
I use it for literature because it seems to me that when asked to write about a Shakespeare play in class, many students either freeze or do a very perfunctory job. No-one wants, willingly, to write an essay. But creating an online newspaper in which students role play reporters reporting on the events of a play seems to work quite well. A good idea is to get your reporters to draw assignments from a hat: one to write an obituary for Duncan (from Macbeth), another to cover a story about three witches and their prophecies, a third to write-up a Your Stars Foretell section. This ensures that the whole play gets covered. As a teacher it removes the effort of collecting essays no-one wants to write, and they are easy to assess if that is required – I simply make a printout of the post.
My very first class magazine – gosh, how many years ago – involved students writing their work in columns and pasting it onto cardboard. As computers started to become more ubiquitous I quickly started using word processors. The problem was always unifying the formatting. Teenagers tend to be highly idiosyncratic in their choice of font, and the way they format a document. Sometimes so idiosyncratic I could not use the file they gave me it was so riddled with problems. Combining different files usually fell to me as teacher, by default, and this was always a pain.
The beauty of a blog is that once students have signed on, and been added to the site as authors, you can sit back and let them do all the writing, formatting and worrying about layout and the like. Students love to comment on each other’s work, and I usually give moderator status to those who make five or more posts. Students then weed out any inappropriate comments or posts on their own.
What I like about blogging in the classroom is that it serves two of my main concerns around creative writing. Firstly it encourages students to write with an audience clearly in mind. As soon as they click publish it is out there, and visible to all. It is quite unlike writing for the teacher – authors are very conscious of the fact that others will comment on their posts, and it makes the tone quite different. They write about things which interest them, rather than what they think will interest me.
Secondly they tend to strive for greater accuracy, although curiously, very few seem to remember to use the spell check facility on WordPress! I have even had students demand that I show them how to remove the squiggly line under words they have typed in – you know, the one that indicates spelling errors! The fact that what they write is instantly published on a glossy interface does not eliminate all writing errors, but it certainly does encourage accuracy. WordPress has an edit feature which allows the author to edit, or update a post even after it has been published – a very useful feature indeed!
What it does for creative writing is that it instantly adds authenticity. WordPress is a public blog site, and complete strangers can read and like your writing! I get students to take home a letter explaining this, with signed parental permission to use the blog, but it does add that sense that the publishing is real, serious and valued. That certainly is not true of most writing done in school! If you wish to keep your blog site private that can also be done – but I would recommend making it public. Students really enjoy receiving comments from strangers – and the response will overwhelmingly be positive. I have never had a bad incident.