Got students blogging in class? Teach ’em TOAST!

In the past few months, there seems to have been an increase in the number of teachers considering using student blogging for their classes. There are a lot of excellent posts as of late that one can look to to get them started—for example, this—but I have yet to see anyone address how a teacher can easily grade and give points to students who do quality work. 3 years ago, when I began having students blog assignments, I recognized a need to assess the level of their work, so I started researching what a good blog post looked like:

Weak blog posts Strong blog posts
contain obvious, easy-to-correct grammatical mistakes. look like they’ve been proofread, edited, and checked a few times.
echo things that have been covered on countless other sites. bring something new to the table.
jump around topics, without any sort of main idea or point. quickly and effectively get to the point and present clearly.
aren’t aesthetically pleasing; don’t include any sort of media. look classy, sophisticated, and tech-savvy.
have no heart. motivate an audience to be interested in the subject.

There are some similarities between blogging and, say, writing an essay; however, a teacher really shouldn’t be grading an informal blog post and an end-of-the-semester essay the same way. So then what should students be focusing on?

In my classes, I’ve instructed my students to consider TOAST when writing their posts:

A giant sticker of TOAST expectations in my classroom.

A giant sticker of TOAST expectations in my classroom.

  • Technical elements: grammar, linguistics, spelling, etc.
  • Originality: creativity, new perspectives, different outlook.
  • Appropriateness: Completion of the objective of the assignment (e.g required length, subject matter, quality).
  • Supplements: Inclusion of applicable multimedia (e.g. images, video) and formatting (e.g. lists, links, blockquotes, text formatting).
  • Time invested: visible effort put into the assignment, not simply thrown together.

When it comes time to grade posts, I read through the entire thing 5 times—once for technical issues, once for how original/different it is, once for how appropriate their response is to my expectations, once for how “pretty” or cool the post is, and once for the overall je ne sais quoi. Each element gets rated on a scale from 0-to-3, and each element gets an explanation from me on why they earned a 0, 1, 2, or 3.

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An example of a student blogpost

The last part is most controversial—both the scores and explanations are posted publicly as comments underneath the post. This happens for each students’ posting, so they, their classmates, and the entire world can see how well I think they reached my expectations. While a few students aren’t thrilled about their grade being open, I find that most of them rise to the occasion and work even harder to meet my standard of excellence!

In fact, the biggest reason I personally love student blogging over a contained universe (ala Moodle or Edmodo) is that there is the peer pressure to put their best foot forward.

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