“Ms. Clark, I can’t believe it! Someone from Argentina and New Zealand just read my blog!” This kind of wide-eyed excitement is why I have been blogging with my students for nearly 10 years. With the infusion of technology in most classrooms, many teachers are finding blogs a great way to galvanize and encourage purposeful writing and then to quickly publish student work.
Publishing is an important step, but I urge educators to think of blogs as so much more than just a way to publicize student work. A blog empowers students to interact with a global audience. It helps students create their own online identity and authentically learn about the importance of a digital web presence. To help build connections, and become part of a global learning community, students must learn how to blog in a compelling way – a skill that requires more than just an understanding of good writing.
Teaching blogging requires instructors to take a step back and really set up some of the initial ground work. Below are some practical strategies to make the blogging experience richer for students and to help them build new connections – to eventually become valued contributors of their learning community.
Jen Wagner, a pioneer of blogging, first introduced me to this concept at a workshop session. She stressed the importance of having students write their first blog post on paper. Once they have completed their writing, they hang their posts around the perimeter of the room. The students then use post-it notes to comment on two different blogs. This is where she begins the process of helping students learn to comment effectively.
To take paper blogging one step further, I morphed Jen’s suggestion with another effective strategy. I ask students to stand by a blog and act out their comments. After a student has provided us with their dramatic interpretation, the class can debrief on what insights the comment offered, how it helped to continue the conversation or how it might have been lacking something helpful. Linda Yollis, a prolific blogger from California, has her primary grade students commenting better than most adults. She does this by spending a significant amount of time talking about the process with them. Her EduSlam below is an invaluable resource for getting started with blogging and commenting in any age classroom.
When I first started blogging with my students, it was painful!
Painful because students were giving their blog posts the absolute worst titles ever. Their blogs had titles like these: “Assignment #1” and “My Blog Post.” Before pulling all of my hair out, one boring blog title at a time, I decided that I had to teach my students how to create catchy titles for their blogs so they could entice other people to actually read their writing. Publishing is important, but if no one reads what you published, what is the point? It is much like the tree in the woods that falls when no one is around to hear it – does it make a sound?
Consider this example from my own seventh graders. I had asked them to do a blog post debating Mac vs. PC. Most blog titles were either Assignment #1, Macs are best, PC’s are better, or some other boring concoctions of the same generic name- until we got SERIOUS about titles. After really stressing the idea that no one will read your blog without a great title here is what my students came up with. My personal favorite is the last one, though all of them were catchy enough that I was excited to read the content. I am so proud of what they were able to do once we really talked about the importance of an enticing title.
David Theriault , a visionary English Teacher from Southern California, does re-framing best. David does not like the idea of always assigning a prompt for kids to write about – he calls for reframing the blog post and says “If you want to create a prolific writer, you need two things: first you need an authentic audience, second you need motivation.” He accomplishes this by reframing the prompt. David says to “Re-Frame something, students take something that they have learned in class and Frame it through the lens of something they love.”
For example (and in my words not David’s), if you want kids to write something about Hamlet’s characteristics – change how you think about the prompt. Instead of assigning the prompt about Hamlet coupled with something directly in the play, consider allowing students to find something they are passionate about, like surfing, and have them explain why Hamlet might have been a good surfer. This is reframing the prompt. It is simply approaching the blog through the lens of the students’ passions, not another prompt made up by the teacher. This modification can be powerful for helping students write with a creative passion.
Think about not grading the blogging process. Allow their motivation to come not from grades but from the work itself. Daniel Pink, in his book Drive, delivers a great case of why we should do more of this. “Pink asserts that the secret to high performance and satisfaction-at work, at school, and at home—is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.” I truly believe in allowing kids to write without a fear of a grade will give them the opportunity to be creative and take risks.
As you begin blogging, or begin to consider about how you might make it better, these ideas might give you some food for thought. These practical strategies have changed blogging in my classroom have helped me inspire more purposeful and connected writing from my students.