Using WordPress in the classroom

I recently decided to experiment with using WordPress for my Year 6/7 students as a vehicle to explore the Information outcome in Technology and Enterprise.  Little did I know, the project would grow legs and become a far richer experience for both the students and myself!

Initially, I set them the following task:

In teams of four, you are to create a personal website using the WordPress platform. The site should be about something you are interested in – a favourite band, actor, video game. Alternatively, you may create a website that informs people about aspects of school life – a blog, assembly reviews, etc. Your topic should be relevant and useful to others (so they visit it). Your group should make something you would all be proud to show your friends, your parents, your family and your teachers. You will then need to advertise your websites.

We then discussed all the things that make a website effective.  With 28 students in my class, I had seven groups.  Setting up seven separate WordPress installations on my webspace took a little time (I’ve since discovered WordPress multi-site), and there was a little outlay of the class budget on cheap domain names that the students selected to “best” represent their site.

Our next step was to ensure we all understood why we were learning WordPress, and the outcomes we hoped to achieve as a result:

Outcomes

  • The Nature of Information
  • The Creation of Information (Technology Process)

There are four stages in the Technology Process that you will need to follow to complete this project:

  • Investigating: You will need to research your topic, learn how to use WordPress, learn some effective advertising techniques and make sure you know how to reference properly.
  • Devising: You will need to use the above design brief to plan your webpage and advertising campaign.
  • Producing: You will need to create your webpage in WordPress, implement your advertising campaign, and keep a reflective journal.
  • Evaluating: You will need to complete your reflective journal, and complete a peer review on other groups’ webpages.

Each week, an hour was set aside specifically for WordPress development.  Sometimes I would start with a whole class lesson outlining a specific skill or idea, other times I “floated”, spot teaching where necessary, or encouraging peer tutoring.  On the occasions I did spot teach, I followed up by posting a video tutorial on our class website, mrhinchliffe.net, so that other students could log in and view the skill in their own time.

Assessment

Students were aware of the specific criteria before beginning their projects.  As well as ongoing individual feedback, I provided each group with a mid-project review – that is, the grade I would give it at that moment.  Students responded to this feedback, focussing their efforts on improving the areas of concern.

Two other key aspects of the assessment were the reflective journal, allowing students the opportunity to critique their collaboration and ability to adhere to the design brief; and the peer review, which allowed the students an opportunity to critique their peers’ work as well as receive constructive feedback on their own.

Ultimately, however, the students were most driven by what they saw as the most important “feedback tool” – the hit counters at the bottom of their websites!  This real-life feedback regularly drove groups to approach me or their peers seeking new ways to improve their website or advertising techniques to “get more hits”.  At the end of the day, people write for an audience, and the students developed their understanding of this in a way with much more clarity than they could have by writing a narrative or a poem in class!