This is a long overdue post, but I was reluctant to write until I felt I had some prize winning strategy to share with others. But it really isn’t about that, is it? The goal in keeping this blog is to practice the art of writing, to reflect on my teaching and learning, and to write beside my students. In an effort to have my students writing more, I decided this year my students would keep their own blogs. I wanted them to have an authentic audience, a way to showcase their work, and a window for parents to see into our classroom. I have far from perfected how it should be done, but I will say that my students are writing more than they ever have and often by choice. The choice part is my favorite.
To keep life simple, I chose the Kidblog.org platform. I did have to pay a minimal yearly fee, and, yes, out of my own pocket, but the ease of use, privacy features, and ability to connect with other classrooms was worth the price for my first attempt at real student blogging. My classes include two block periods of 6th grade ELA and social studies, and a single GATE social studies class. I wanted them all housed in one place and Kidblog offered this as well.
At first I couldn’t decide how I wanted to use it- as a digital portfolio? Journaling? Free writing? Responses to literature? I decided to try a little bit of everything, but I wasn’t being consistent due to my fear of how I could handle reading and “grading” it all. I was stalling, but my students kept asking when they’d be allowed to use their blogs. I had to give up the notion that I needed to have everything decided before beginning. With that, we started and I started assigning topics to write on.
In October, I attended a literacy workshop with Kelly Gallagher, and I took home that it was crucial students write more than I could possibly grade. I had to increase the volume of their writing, and students had to do a lot of “bad” writing before it could get better. They also had to be doing daily revision of their writing, even if it was just for a minute or two. I started assigning a blog post or two weekly. Free choice topics mixed with assigned ones seems to be what I’m doing right now, and it’s the one assignment that most students are doing regularly without fail. One class, a single social studies period, is using the blog as a simple digital portfolio, where students upload and reflect on projects, but I realize in reflecting here as I write that these students should be posting weekly as well.
I just recently added to my classroom routine “Revision Friday.” We look at our blog assignment for the week, and I teach students a revision strategy. Using a variety of resources such as Barry Lane’s After the End and Rozlyn Linder’s The Big Book of Details students have started to go into their blog and use a strategy for revision. They will then highlight the part they revise, demonstrating their understanding of the strategy. With the highlight, I can simply check for that. Here is an example of using Gretchen Barnebei’s “Bada Bing Sentence” which entails describing what your feet are doing, what you see, and what you think. By having students highlight their attempt at the strategy, I can instantly see whether or not students understood it and attempted to revise. Their blogs have overall become a platform for practicing writing and revision. I’ve also introduced a weekly challenge. Last week, the challenge was to use properly credited photos from photosforclass.com and to include a link to take readers to a related website.
Along with their own blogging, students comment on each other’s blogs. Teaching how to comment became very important to me as I realized it would be another way for them to practice writing. Students comment using guidelines I found from Linda Yollis, an elementary school teacher and blogger. At first, students complained about having to write detailed comments. Writing messages like, “This is a cool blog,” or “I liked reading your story” was instinctual in the beginning. Now, students’ comments are much more precise and detailed. What is most surprising is that they are commenting on their own, without me assigning it, and their comments are thoughtful, kind, and respectful.
After a recent post assignment on the election, one student commented:
You are my friend and I want to respectfully disagree with what you are saying. I really think that the email issue was way over blown by the media. If you go online you can see that they consisted of friendly work emails and political strategies. You mentioned that you want a president that is kind. Did you know that Donald Trump has made fun of a disabled reporter? In addition, he has said very sexist things about women. I believe this election wasn’t about a vote for Donald Trump as much as it was a vote against women. I understand that you were, and are for Trump. I just want you to think about what that means when you or anyone else says, ‘I want Trump.’ Again, I just want you to have all the facts.
Respectfully your friend,
After reading a free choice post about video games, James commented:
I really enjoyed reading your long, high vocabulary blog post. I noticed that you like modern realistic war games. I am the same but don’t think that ANY Cod game is realistic. I enjoy playing Tom Clancy Rainbow Six Siege for the pc. Though if you would like a recommendation for an ultra realistic war game (you die your out) I would recommend Squad or Arma 3 for the pc. They are slow paced as in real life. I mean you can sit in the field for an hour waiting for a firefight. If you would want a game that is like Cod, except 1 shot and you’re dead, I would HIGHLY recommend Insurgency. It’s a really fun more realistic version of any Cod ever made. Personally I’m not a Call of Duty fan as I like the realistic/tactical feel in a video game. Perhaps once every month I enjoy Call of Duty zombies. I hope you take my recommendations into consideration and enjoy Modern Warfare Remastered!
PS-When Cod 4 came out I played it for hours on the xbox 360. It was really entertaining back then.
Not only are they writing more frequently, they are practicing good digital citizenship. They are learning how to recommend, disagree, and compliment. Parents are also invited regularly to comment and have been given the commenting guidelines.
I haven’t figured out the whole grading thing yet, but it’s not really that crucial at this time, and I’ve discovered I can give them feedback without assigning a grade which ultimately is what they need. Feedback. What I’ve been doing is checking for completion, but before the semester is over, students will choose one for me to assess and I will choose one at random to look over with a fine tooth comb.
I am looking forward to continuing on this journey of student blogging and am hopeful more teachers at my school will begin theirs.