Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Organizing Assignments with a Blog

I thought I'd explain how I use Blogger for homeschool assignment tracking and to some extent, record keeping. Blogger of course, does not give you the full flexibility of tools created especially for lesson planning or record-keeping. I've blogged before about record-keeping tools I've tried or heard of and since then, I have also attempted a trial version of Simply Charlotte Mason's $99/yr online planner. Apart from tracking and organization, these tools provide a helpful report function to print a day's, week's, month's or year's worth of work.

However, in the end, these web or software-based tools became either too expensive or too unwieldly for me to use for longer than a month or two. They didn't have the level of flexibility I wanted so I switched to pen and paper record-keeping with a planner.

Lately, thanks to a post by Tracey at Leaners at Home, I have started a private blog to "suggest" (because I don't "direct" anymore) learning trails to the kiddo as well as to help him keep track of his daily routine (e.g. piano practice) and assignments due for his online classes.

Of course, my FunSchooling blog continues to be a major record-keeping resource for me. But I don't envision it to be suitable for listing assignments. Therefore, our new private assignment blog was born. The blog has been a fabulously helpful, visual tool for kiddo not only to keep track of his assignments but also his favorite links. Every month, just before we meet with our charter school education specialist, I'd quickly look through a month's worth of recorded work. This helps me prepare a simple report for her using a one- or two-page Microsoft Word document.

This is a snapshot of what our assignment blog looked like the last few months of Year 3.

If you're curious or wish to start one of your own, here's one way to do it. Please note that if you already have a Blogger account, you can simply sign in, and from your dashboard, click on the Create a Blog link. If you don't have a Blogger account, signing up is free. WordPress, TypePad etc users may want to adapt these steps according to blogging platform of choice.

Step 1: Create a new blog, choose your prefered template (you can tweak it later, see Step 3), choose a blog ID/URL.

Step 2: If you look at my example above, I wanted a template similar to FunSchooling's. So I went to the Dashboard and under my new blog's name, clicked on Design.

Step 3: Under the Design tab, I chose Template Designer. I played around with the Templates, Background, Adjust Widths, Layout and Advanced tabs until I got a look similar to FunSchooling's.

Step 4: Some of you may want to explore using free blog backgrounds. Hot Biggity Blog is one that comes to mind.

Step 5: Once you have a look you like (in my case it was one main body in the middle and one sidebar on the right and three footer columns), click on Apply To Blog and save it.

Step 6: To make assignment planning easy, go to the Settings tab and click Formatting to create a Post Template.

Step 7: As seen above, scroll down to Post Template. List all (yes, every single one) of the materials you've planned for your child to use. I'll explain why below. Since we are often semi-unschoolers, I also listed some of the most frequent delight-directed materials he likes e.g. his favorite historical fiction of the month, his favorite puzzle books etc. You can make the list as simple or as complicated as you want. And you might revisit this step often as your child completes materials and you add new ones. If you are a HTML pro, add your line break etc tags here. Otherwise, see next step. Don't forget to Save Settings.

Step 8: Now go to the Posting tab and click on New Post. If you've saved your Post Template in Step 7, your new post should auto-list everything you typed into the Post Template box. However, it will look a little run-on like this (unless you're a HTML pro!):

To keep it clean and easy to read, you may want to use bullets or a numbered list. So...

Step 9: Reformat the post box so that all your text looks neat and tidy, each resource or assignment in its own line. Next, highlight all the text and click on the numbered list icon (three lines with 1, 2, 3 next to them) as seen on the left. Check to see that everything looks okay.
As seen on the right, click on the Edit HTML tab (top right of post). Highlight all text and right-click to copy. Press Save Now (unless you intend to publish the post as it is). Saving will help ensure you don't have to repeat this step if you make a mistake or your computer hangs etc.

Step 10: Go back to Settings/ Formatting/ Post Template. Highlight everything in the Post Template box to delete, then right-click and choose Paste to paste the copied text with the HTML tags. Don't forget to Save Settings.

Step 11: Return to the Posting tab and choose Edit Posts. Delete the saved draft from Step 9. (Skip this step if you prefer to keep the draft).

Step 12: Click on New Post. It should show a much neater, run-on free, numbered list of materials/ assignments.

Now you'll see why it's easier to list everything. I use the day of the week for the title and the year of study as the label. I then delete all the materials that I don't think we'll use for that particular day, leaving only the materials or classes we *will* use. Easy-peasy! This helps you avoid all that typing every single day! Deleting all the unwanted text is so much easier than typing it all over and over again.

Step 13: You may want to add specific instructions now to the remaining assignments. E.g. things like "Read pp X - Y" or "Do 30 minutes of A" etc. Click on Publish and then View Post.

Step 14: Place the link to your assignment blog's URL strategically on your desktop or somewhere easy for the child to access.

Step 15: For the sidebars, simply go back to the Design tab. Choose Add a Gadget. Scroll down to Link List or Text or the relevant gadget to the sidebar space. Start placing links. Now your child will have all the links handy for his or her lessons in one place and right next to the day's assignment post too.

Step 16: Every morning (or if you're able to, a week in advance), prepare a day's (or week's) worth of posts, click on Post Options/ Scheduled at and select when you want the post to publish.

If like me you prefer to keep this blog private, go to Settings/ Permissions. Under the heading Blog Readers, choose the radio button next to Only blog authors. Click the orange button that appears to save your settings.

Be sure to explore other gadgets (like the Search box) that Blogger offers as well. There are also widgets like Library Thing, Shelfari etc that you can use as you would with your usual homeschooling or personal blog. You'll need to find the HTML/Javascript codes and use the add HTML/Javascript gadget for these.

Do be aware that this idea may not be your cup of tea if a specific homeschool record-keeping tool already works well for you. The reason this works extremely efficiently for us is that it's free (hooray!) and because I have the flexibility to park all of our most-used links within the same interface. I also like changing plans at the drop of a hat and tend to be more and more delight-directed as kiddo grows older and more aware of what he wants and doesn't want to do. I found record-keeping software more rigid for this purpose. I can also see this method working beautifully for very structured homeschoolers because of the convenience of the Post Template feature. However, if printing reports is your thing, record-keeping software may do a better job for you.

The key disadvantage I can think of is that it requires me to spend about 5-10 minutes every morning deleting unwanted resources for the day's post and then another 5 or so minutes editing it in the evening according to how much kiddo accomplished. I do forget to do this sometimes as well. But we don't do so much every day that remembering to do it a few days later is a chore.

Hope this is helpful to someone!


  1. This does look like a helpful idea, thanks.
    I'll have a play with it, I think :)

  2. I LOVE all the organising tools! It totally calls to the planner in me. Thanks for the very detailed and instructional post. I will probably still organise ourselves offline for now but knowing how to do it online is a very useful skill.

    Aren't you supposed to be off on holidays by now?! :-)

  3. I'd say keep using what works best for you! This was written to supplement a thread about recordkeeping on one of my local homeschooling lists. So it may be better suited to new homeschoolers. Unless you're like me and like testing everything you hear about lol.

    Thanks for visiting ladies!

  4. Good ideas.

    I am contemplating using a private blog for Noach to write his history narrations. I had not thought of posting assignments on it as well. Something to consider..thanks.


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