Student Contributor Plugin v 1.2

An update to the Student Contributor Plugin is ready for release. The main change is as follows:

  • The comments column from the ‘All Posts’ list and the comments option from the ‘screen options’ drop-down have been removed.

Many thanks to Luke from High Lawn Primary for spotting the need for a plugin update for the WP 3.21 version :-)

If you blog with Creative Blogs, the NorthantsBLT or Primary Blogger then you do not have to do anything as the plugin is already being installed on your sites :-)

For other interested parties, feel free to visit the Student Contributors Plugin Page.


Student Contributor Plugin v.1.1

An update to the Student Contributor Plugin is ready for release. The main changes are as follows:

  • The ‘Right Now’ dashboard widget has also been removed for contributors. It adds little of value for student contributors and Askimet, when activated,  pushes summary links to comments through this widget. Thanks to Andrew Chadwick for taking the time to point this out.
  • Removed the ‘Tools’ and ‘Profile’ menu items for contributors from the admin sidebar.

If you blog with Creative Blogs or the NorthantsBLT then you do not have to do anything as the plugin is already being installed on your sites :-) For other interested parties, feel free to visit the Student Contributors Plugin Page.

Student Contributor Plugin v-1.0

Many schools, classes and students are enjoying the benefits of using WordPress blogs in a myriad of ways for more engaging learning, teaching, communication and collaboration. Often pupils are given ‘contributor’ rights to allow them to write content that must first be approved by a teacher before being published and ‘going live’ to the world. This process generally works well but recently it came to my attention that a child logged in as a ‘contributor’ could also view the whole list of unmoderated site comments via the dashboard widgets or the links to the comments section in the menu bar. Although they could not approve these comments and publish them, they could still view potentially unsuitable input before it was dealt with appropriately by the teacher’s moderation processes.

Therefore, I’ve recently spent some time pulling together a plugin that removes the ability for ‘contributors’ to view any comments via dashboard widgets and also removes removes the link to comments in the menu navigation bar. My initial fix built on an existing plugin and took these features away for all levels of user but the brilliant John McLear spent time tidying up the code and limiting the effect of this plugin to ‘contributors, leaving other user roles unaffected.

I worked on this with the WordPress multisite set-up in mind, mainly because existing plugins might do the job on a single site but would not transfer their settings across to other sites when network-installed. This potentially meant installing the plugin on hundreds of individual sites. The Student Contributor plugin removes this as an issue as it can be network activated and will only impact on the pupils set up as ‘contributors.’ In fact, I think the new contributor’s dashboard is less cluttered and more useful for use by children. Here’s the dashboard view for a ‘contributor’ with the plugin installed.

In summary, if you have a self-hosted individual or multisite wordpress blog and have pupils set up as contributors then the Student Contributor Dashboard plugin is worth using for extra peace-of-mind that students are not exposed to any unsuitable comments.

If you blog with Creative Blogs, PrimaryBlogger, or the NorthantsBLT then you do not have to do anything as the plugin is already being installed on your sites :-) For other interested parties, feel free to visit the plugin page, read the instructions and download it.

Breaking the Fourth Wall – with real purpose…

The fourth wall is a hypothetical barrier between actors and audience. This barrier is broken when an actor interacts with the audience through an aside.

There were three rules in my classroom in 2001:

  • Mr Ford must have fun!
  • You (the children) must have fun!
  • We need to get learning done!

The pupils owned this mantra and we used it as the basis for evaluating and improving our daily experiences in school. They often reminded me when I broke the rules. We generally enjoyed a convivial atmosphere and even the mundane drudgery of spelling tests and multiplication tables or my uncreative SATs revision techniques, would not dampen the general zest for learning. My ‘smile loads before Christmas’ approach had paid dividends in building a class community that had fun and generally did the business of learning – often despite my teaching.

Parents were offered limited and occasional insight into the exciting and sometimes mundane world of Year Six through homework tasks and diaries, assemblies, exhibition weeks, open days, open-door policies and access to beautifully double-mounted displays of the highest quality that nobody really looked at in any great detail.

When I fell into the ease of blogging – via an email suggestion from a parent and after weeks of unsuccessfully trying to code a website by hand – I realised that a blog could open the ‘window’ into class life wider for parents and extend our three class rules beyond the school day and beyond the classroom walls. If successful, I knew that combination would be good for learning.

My first post on the class blog set out the core purpose and direction of the blog. It aimed to be a dynamic, collaborative, informative  and two-way. That is what the fun and learning would be with our blog or it would be a short-lived endeavour.

Parents were to be a key target audience for the class blog. My first post and subsequent early bland entries reflect this desire to engage parents with the blogs. I worked hard both on- and offline to develop this parental audience – the subject of a later post. However, the core audience and motivation for my writing was always the children themselves. They initially motivated me and I never lost sight of this right thought to my final post a few years later.

The gap between the lofty goals of the initial vision and the reality of trying to build towards them was not magically bridged by the free blog software. It had to built, step by step. The post ‘A menu for Robbie Williams’ provides a painfully embarrassing snapshot of the class blog after few weeks. The Robbie Williams menu task, complete with a hyperlink to further reading was a tiny step to engage my budding pupil-stars on the blogging stage. It is combined with a quick aside to the parental audience about school places in Year Seven. It may be breaking the fourth wall but it is hardly the West End or Broadway!

The early stages were less about attracting a wide external audience and much more about modelling a blogging skill or writing process and encouraging the pupils to do the same in their own time without pressure. Therefore, Ryan posting a useful link to the site was a mini-milestone, as was Minkyu adding his account of the Pompeii disaster. It also allowed me to model the editorial process of choosing and attributing links, comments and content to promote on the homepage. The pupils would need these skills in abundance if they were to take on real responsibility for the blog in the future.

With the emergence of Twitter, PLN’s and an increasingly mobilised audience of eager educators, it is possible, indeed likely, that a class blog will launch to an audience fanfare and flurry of comments. Children can have their sense of audience heightened and ‘delivered’ to them with an immediacy  that I could only have dreamt of for my class of 2001. New sites look fabulous as well from the outset with a range of wonderful multimedia ‘bells and whistles.’

However, these developments are no substitute for actually building your community of learners online – for actually showing the mechanics of ‘breaking the fourth wall’ for themselves. Exposing them to an external audience is nowhere near as important as equipping them to be able to generate and manage their own – or to find innate pleasure in learning when the seats behind the ‘fourth wall’ are empty.

Considering the real purpose of a class blog is a foundational first step in ensuring that any drive for audience ratings remains the servant, rather than the master of a class blog’s destiny.

Tomorrow: Building a class blogging community through a pedagogy of nudges…

Breaking the Fourth Wall – Introduction

As a class blog its appearance was definitely unremarkable. There is no engaging design-flashiness to draw anyone to read it, let alone a Year Six class made up of children of eight different nationalities and languages.

On 7th January 2001, however, Mr Ford’s Class Weblog accidentally found itself at the bleeding edge of edublogging. It marked for me the beginning of an experience that continues to define my career today. Over the years, it has also had an impact, directly or otherwise, on a fair few others too.

Ten years on and after re-discovering – with the help of the Wayback Machine – snapshots of my long-forgotten class blogs, it seems fitting to finally record in bite-size chunks some of the class-blogging memories, principles and approaches and that served me and my pupils so well. Those pupils are are now about twenty years old and I’m going to get hold of some of them to reflect on what they remember of their days as pioneering student bloggers. That should be interesting…

Do our experiences have anything to teach us about the use of class blogs today? Quite possibly… but when discussing the use of blogs I continue to defer to advice given to me by John Johnstone in 2006:

In the education timeline blogs have only been around for a millimetre or so. The possibilities are endless and many still to be discovered. It seems to me  far too early to decide what a blog should or should not be used for . Certainly no one should be laying down rules just yet.

That is as true today as it ever was. Hopefully this series of posts will offer some insights, ideas and challenges about class blogging that are useful. However, if I get all didactic on you, take what I say with a pinch of cyber-salt ;-)

Coming tomorrow:  Breaking the Fourth Wall with real purpose…