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Last Updated: Monday, 14 June, 2004, 10:54 GMT 11:54 UK
The seven-year-old bloggers
Dot.life - where life meets technology, every Monday
By Giles Turnbull

Hangleton children in action
Weblogs are sometimes criticised for being the self-obsessed ramblings of people who have little to say and too much time on their hands in which to do it. But there are gems out there - including many sites created by children.

Children as young as seven in one British school are using weblogs as part of their normal routine, and are doing better than non-webloggers as a result, their teacher says.

Weblogs, easy-to-use personal journals published on the internet, get children more interested in school work they might otherwise have disliked, says junior school teacher John Mills.

Children at Hangleton Junior School in Hove, Sussex, have been using weblogs in their spare time to learn more about things that interest them, but as a result their performance in class has improved.

Hangleton weblogs
Some of Hangleton's weblogs
John believes his is the only school in the country using weblogs to such an extent for such a young age group.

"I first saw weblogs when I was working in Holland a couple of years ago," he says.

"What I saw made my jaw drop. I knew children would love to use this at school."

Extra homework

John set up an after-school club about weblogging at Hangleton, and it has become so popular that nearly half the school turns up for some sessions.

The local community can be drawn in on something that, without the weblog, would have been isolated within the school
Stephen O'Hear
The children enjoy using the weblogs so much that they happily do extra work at home, even though they've not been given homework to do, and expand their weblogs far beyond the four pages John suggests they aim for at the start.

Crucially, some of the children who attend the club have improved their knowledge of IT far above what is required of their age group by the National Curriculum.

"The Government target is for 80% of children of this age to reach level 4 by year 6. All of the webloggers have done that, and some have reached level 6. They are doing what 14 or 15-year-olds are expected to do.

"The children using weblogs are streets ahead of their peers in IT, and they have made greater advances in literacy than we would normally expect for their age group," John adds.

The weblogs make a difference to day-to-day IT lessons, he says.

"A typical lesson aim might be to teach the children how to copy and paste, and change text from one font to another.

"We can do that in Microsoft Word, which is fine, but the children aren't very inspired by it.

"The weblog software we use, Manila, looks very much like Microsoft Word and has similar features. When you use a weblog to teach copy and paste, or changing fonts, the children are a lot more interested.

"They are really involved. They know it's different, they now have something that lets them speak with their own voice. Adults tend to tell children what to think; weblogs give them a chance to voice their own thoughts.

"There's a degree of trust involved. They know that if they post anything they shouldn't, their weblog will be taken away from them."

Award nomination

The school's weblogs project has been so successful that it has just been shortlisted for a New Statesman New Media Award, an annual event highlighting the best web development in the UK.

What I saw made my jaw drop - I knew children would love to use this at school
John Mills
In the US, weblogs are starting to be taken seriously by teachers.

Students are encouraged to contribute to group weblogs devoted to a particular project or class, or perhaps maintain their own personal blogs on which they post essays and homework assignments.

By connecting together the weblogs of a whole class, or even a whole school, it's possible to create a virtual community where students can read, and make comments upon, one another's work.

Web developer and teacher Stephen O'Hear shares John's passion for weblogs in education. In his capacity as a fellow of the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (Nesta), he is exploring ways of using technology and multimedia for learning.

"Weblogs are incredibly versatile. They are simple to understand and simple to use. They offer the ability to publish and get feedback," he says.

Posting to a weblog is not like pinning an essay on the classroom wall.

"That's not a two-way process. Weblog-based discussions can continue long after a post has been published; they can go far beyond the scope of the original work."

Individual voices

Stephen sees opportunities for using weblogs across all areas of learning.

"Rather than using a weblog as a platform for an individual voice, you can use it for a collaboration of many voices. A class of students doing a project on the environment might want to start a weblog about their local river; because it's online, it might attract interest from local residents and policy-makers too. The local community can be drawn in on something that, without the weblog, would have been isolated within the school."

Back at Hangleton Junior, John Mills is full of optimism about the future.

"I'm leaving this school later this year, but I shall still be helping to set up weblogs for each class and possibly subject-specific blogs.

"Ideally, I'd like to see every child with a weblog of their own."

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