Blogging Style Guide
This information is being provided to educators in Goochland County, Virginia, as a guide for posting text and multimedia on teacher weblogs. This first version of this document was written in October, 2008.
Blogging is the practice of publishing short, concise information online using software that organizes information in the order it was posted. Visitors to your blog will confront the newest information first, as it will be listed at the top of your blog. By contributing text and multimedia to your blog, you are extending the boundaries of your classroom walls beyond your school building into many family's homes, and still beyond, onto the screens of educators across the world. Blogging can help you in a number of ways, and that's why we've taken the energy to promote blogging by educators here in Goochland.
Blogging keeps students and parents informed about deadlines. Writing about tests, homework, and due dates is one way to keep learning moving along.
Blogging about your content area provides the opportunities for students to engage this content outside the frame of a prescribed lesson or school day. When parents ask students about what they learned about, citing specific examples given on your blog, it's another opportunity for review. When students read about content being studied in the media center, or on their home computer, they're once again reviewing what you cover in class. When you send a printed blog home in a backpack, you're taking the conversations started in class back home.
Blogging highlights your professional practice. We always hear teachers across the country telling one another they're sure that communities don't understand their role anymore. "If only you knew how challenging my job is!" Promote the calling you followed when you became a professional educator by sharing what you do and what a difference it makes. Blogging takes away the mystery about what's going on in your school, and more importantly, in your classroom.
Blogging can keep parents involved. Many parents have told us they want to be involved, but their work and family responsibilities make that difficult. Let parents know what's going on, what successes their children are experiencing, and how they can help you.
Blogging can facilitate online learning experiences in and out of the classroom. Use your blog to post lesson requirements, hyperlinks to online resources and other activities. If students regularly check your blog, it becomes an easy jumping point for exploration of other sites of interest.
What's in a title? Writing a good blog title reminds us of choosing a good headline for a news story. You'll grab readers' attention with a good title. To create a good title, look beyond the utility of your post, and center-in on the content.
Let's say you are creating a blog post about the day's lesson and want to include the homework assignment. It may seem like a good idea to list the date and assignment, and for a title, more of the same.
Instead of choosing "Homework, 9/14" as your title, think about what the assignment or lesson was about. Again, use your blog to trigger review and to provide a scaffold for the study students will engage in when doing that homework.
A better title might be: "All About Inequalities." If you're a math teacher, and introduced inequalities in class, don't just list the page numbers and problems for homework. Follow up your great title with a one paragraph review of the important things to remember about inequalities, then provide the all-important assignment detail.
Do you need to repeat metadata? Since your blog posts are automatically "stamped" with the date and time, we do not believe the date belongs in a title. Yet, they do win out on titles that reference time without specifics.
Consider these titles:
These are real titles from our teacher blogs. The last two are good examples with regard to titles. "Who Let the Dogs Out?" That teases us to read more, and click the link. "Bully Websites," I know what to expect to find there. But "Homework?" Homework about what? When is it due? "Upcoming Events" sounds good, but there's not a clear reference for time. When do these events pass from timely to... events passed. Lastly, our first example, "Assignments for the Week of..." is more succinct. It includes the date so there's no question about this being the right or wrong post to be reading. But again, we'd much rather see some of the "meat" of the assignments in the title. If you are reading a variety of cool books and poetry, we'd recommend including some of these titles or author names in the blog title, as well.
Here's a way to think about it. The blog title should be able to "stand on is own." The best titles give you an idea for what you expect to find, include keywords that summarize the content, and focus more on the content rather than the utility. A utility title would be "Homework" or "Upcoming Test." A content title would be: "Graphing Inequalities" or "Studying for Uncle Tom's Cabin."
Some teachers like to grab content from other sources, like a newsletter, and repost this content in their blogs. Re-using content is a great idea. But, it does require some care and possibly reformatting, to work on your blog.
Your blog should be easy to read. Short paragraphs are a great idea, by using double-(carriage) returns between each paragraph. If you are presenting a lot of information that could be a list, use a bulleted list. Many readers online are not reading every word you post. Instead, many of us scan and skim content we see online.
You can make the blog easier to read by highlighting important phrases and terms with boldface text or by using an alternate color. Since capital letters are more difficult to read in succession, we don't recommend WRITING IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. It slows people down. Instead, try using the boldface, italic, and color options.
Be sure you read your blog post as parents and students will see it. Some content coming from other (original) sources have spacing and formatting issues that, unchecked and not corrected, are difficult to read.
Is this the best place for this information?
You've likely gotten an e-mail before with someone asking you to share something on your blog. But let's think about it. Does that PDF flier need to go on 60 blogs? 120 blogs? Does it make sense to upload a file 120 times to the server?
If information needs to get out to a large audience, consider forwarding it to the school's principal and/or media specialist for inclusion on the principal's blog or the school's homepage. If you would like to reinforce this information, we recommend linking to the source rather than re-producing text, images, or file downloads.
Let's say on your homepage you see a link about an upcoming school event. Let's say it's a talent show, PTA meeting, or a fund raiser night. Instead of posting about the fundraiser, or using boilerplate text from someone else, use one slim paragraph to mention the event, and link it to the original post.
To create the link, click on the school's homepage, and find the specific page that contains the story of interest. For instance, I see a link on the (current) GHS homepage about the robotics team's recent win. The URL for this news story is long, but points directly to this story alone. We call this a permalink (http://www.glnd.k12.va.us/index/ghs/news_archives/victorious_robots/).
So, this might be the last paragraph in your blog post.
And congratulations go out to my students who take part in the robotics team. They had a great victory this past week at the Virginia State Fair.
I'd link the bold-faced text to the URL above, so when visitors to my blog clicked the emphatic text, they'd get the full scoop about the story.
We should also mention in this section about the legitimacy of what you post: is it a good idea to post rants, disappointments, or unprofessional practice? No! When we're angry about student behavior or disappointed so many kids bombed a test, don't take out these frustrations online, for the world to see. I think you'll agree that blogs should reflect the best of what we do, not areas we or our students need to improve.
Links and Linking
Links are the way the Web works. No webpage (or blog for that matter) should be an island. Your blog gains strength when when you connect it to other sites, blog posts, and content of interest.
One great way to connect to what's going on in your school is to use blog permalinks to direct readers to other events in your school. If a colleague has posted something of interest, grab the permalink of their post, and use it as the URL in your own link. Many blog templates/designs make the title of a blog post the permalink. Try right-clicking on a blog post and choose "Copy Link URL" or "Copy Link Location" to grab the URL to paste into your own link.
We should also make links easy to find and click. Instead of posting (with or without the link) a long URL into a post, use text as a your "hotlink." And while you may be able to use just one word to make a link "button," it's better if you can use a string of words together.
Let's say I want to link folks to the GHS video showcase with technology tips. Here's one possible way to do it:
Mrs. Cross and Mr. Hendron collaborated to produce some videos on how to use various programs on your Mac. Click here.
Try and avoid language like "click here." Instead, this would be a better solution:
Mrs. Cross and Mr. Hendron collaborated to produce some videos on how to use various programs on your Mac.
The link appears at the end of the sentence (at the beginning is good too), and it contains several key words on what we might expect to find when we click: videos, programs, Mac.
Even better, let's say we want to show folks just our video on the OS X Dictionary. Instead of just linking to the page, we could do something like this:
Mrs. Cross and Mr. Hendron collaborated to produce some videos on how to use various programs on your Mac, including a video on using the built-in Dictionary.
So we separated both links with some space. An even stronger way to do this would be to use "titles" when we do the link in WordPress. When using the visual editor, after highlighting your text to create a link, and after you paste-in the URL, there will be a field called "title." Whatever you put in here will appear as a "tool tip" when users hover-over your links.
In this case, I might "title" the first link, above, with "see all videos" and the second, "watch the OS X Dictionary Video." This is not required, but makes linking even more precise for readers of your blog.
Comments are a new feature for us using WordPress. They are transformational in letting your audience continue the conversations you begin. Whenever you share content that includes student projects, pictures, or videos, consider turning on comments so others can sound-off on what a great job you or your students have done!
Share your Passion
Every teacher isn't passionate about writing. And even some who like to write may not feel comfortable writing for a world wide audience. Great blogs, however, do show off the passion of their authors. We recommend sharing from time to time the things you are passionate about, from interesting trips you take, to thoughtful experiences, to reasons why you enjoy teaching and learning.
Have you done a great project in class? Why not share what the kids have done and your experiences in planning the project? Many educators today are sharing their great lessons and projects with the world. Many students benefit from the payoff of being able to exhibit their work for an audience. You may have found great content from other teachers on their websites or blogs. Sharing with others is a growing trend in the blogosphere.
When sharing your content, consider applying a Creative Commons license to your work or lesson idea. These guide others in how they can legally use your work with regards to copyright and attribution.
Today folks are communicating online with media other than text, and it's especially a good idea in our field of education. When preparing photos to go online, it is imperative that you re-size the photos to go onto the Web. Server space is at a premium. To do this using iPhoto, choose your photos for export, and choose settings that will re-size them. A good rule of thumb is to choose:
Quicktime movies may also be uploaded to your Wordpress blog up to 12 MB in size. Other files and large files must be uploaded to our other server through the Finder.
It is always a good practice to introduce what the media is, or about, in text first. Then, embed the media.
For podcasts and PDFs, we recommend using the PodPress plugin by pasting the URL of your media file into its location field. This will embed up to one piece of media into your blog's RSS feed, turning it into a "subscribe-able" podcast. Using the RSS feed from your blog, folks can easily grab your media and download it using software like iTunes.
This is version 1 of the style guide.