There is real value when my students begin to understand that words to not just magically spill from my brain to the paper or screen. They need to see that writing is often difficult for me. ~ Kelly Gallagher, Write Like This (p. 16)
It was reading these words that changed my mind about blogging. Failure could be an option. That was freeing in so many ways. When I started blogging with my students in Septemeber 2015, I was not exactly sure what I was doing or what the outcome would be… I wasn’t even really sure what I WANTED the outcomes to be. I had plenty of lofty ideas that I wanted to try when it came to blogging with my students, but I had no idea how to make them happen without getting in the way of the curriculum that I had to teach. I finally decided to put on my bloggy bikini and jump in the deep end of the blogosphere… sink or swim! I spent a week with my students setting up blogs, choosing themes, throwing up a few poorly composed and horribly revised posts and gave myself a pat on the back because I was now officially a teacher who blogged with her students (albeit a really really horrible one)!
We spent the first nine weeks reading poetry and Greek Mythology and… setting up blogs. The first step of blogging had been done. The trouble I had was finding time to go back to them. What was I supposed to have them “blog” about? We moved into reading The Hobbit and then A Christmas Carol, and I constantly found myself stressed out that we had created these awesome blogs, but weren’t using them like I had originally planned. Man oh man was it hard to keep up with them! It seemed like every time I thought about having the students do something with their blogs, I was peppered with questions. “How do I create a post??” “What’s my password???” “How do I publish my page???” “How do you add a link?” “What’s a widget?!?!” I found that that every time that I blogged with my students that I was exhausted at the end of the day from having to sort through 130+ posts and pages. I was frustrated because I had not really set my students up for success the way I had intended. I really felt like this first round of blogs was more like a science experiment gone horribly wrong than an answer to my question “would blogging make my students better writers?”
It seemed like every time I thought about having the students do something with their blogs, I was peppered with questions. “How do I create a post??” “What’s my password???” “How do I publish my page???” “How do you add a link?” “What’s a widget?!?!” I found that that every time that I blogged with my students that I was exhausted at the end of the day from having to sort through 130+ posts and pages. I was frustrated because I had not really set my students up for success the way I had intended. I really felt like this first round of blogs was more like a science experiment gone horribly wrong than an answer to my question “would blogging make my students better writers?”
Student blogging empowers students to take charge of their learning, gives their learning purpose while helping with reading, writing, digital citizenship, artistic, critical thinking, and social skills.” ~ Jason Teitelman, Theedublogger.com
Over the course of the short and busy fall months, I slowly warmed up to the idea that my students could blog WITH the curriculum I was teaching and that blogging would not get in the way. I realized that I had started wrong and that I should have done things differently. I realized that failing at blogging was acceptable, as long as I learned how to do it differently – and better. I resolved to start over with blogging in the Spring. I spent a good deal of time over Christmas break reading blog posts on student blogging and watching a ton of Youtube videos on how to get classes set up the right way to prevent an outbreak of confusion and frustration on both the teacher and student end. I scoured the edublogs.com website and stalked to the websites of teachers who were successful at blogging with their students. Come January, I had a plan.
I began to get really inspired by what some blogging teachers were doing. I started to work on my classroom blog. I set a few goals, changed my theme, started making posts. Come January, I had a plan.
- Could blogging make my students better writers?
- Could blogging improve the classroom community?
- Could I treat blogging as it’s own kind of writing workshop?
- Would my students become more interested in writing because of blogging?
- Would connecting with other students and teachers from around the world inspire my students to write more?
When students understand the real-world purposes for writing (instead of simply writing to meet the next school requirement) they begin to internalize the relevance of writing , and more important, they develop an understanding that writing is an important skill to carry into adulthood. ~ Kelly Gallagher
Blogging – as in the entirety of the thing – is similar to the writing process. There are stages that some teachers will naturally excel at that others will struggle with – setting up and choosing themes, keeping usernames and passwords organized, giving the students ideas to blog about, helping students with the technical aspects of their blogs, writing posts, sending assignments, etc. No matter which level of technical expertise you have, the benefits of having students blog definitely outweighs the frustration of learning how to run classrooms that blog.
In the past eight months of blogging with my students, I have learned that getting them started in the right way is the most important thing that can be done. Some teachers may not have the luxury to spend a few weeks on teaching their students about the basics of their blogging platform, but it is crucial. When the proper amount of time is spent introducing students to the potential a blog can have, what blogs are, and how they can be used to connect with others around the world, blogging can be a very powerful learning vehicle. When students get past the basics of setting a blog up and learning how to add posts, links, pages, widgets, and other fun features, they start to become engaged in writing more. When other students from around the world start to visit their blogs, read their posts and leave comments, they begin to see their writing as important.
The more and more that my students blogged, the more I noticed:
- they wanted more time to write – many asked if they could blog instead of write in their journals.
- there was an increase in awareness of grammatical conventions – I had more requests to conference about spelling or grammar things.
- they wanted more peer feedback – I noticed that the students were asking each other to read their writing more often.
- they were bringing their iPad fully charged – they didn’t want to miss a chance to see if they had new comments!
- they became more aware that writing is a process and were starting and saving drafts to be perfected until hitting publish.
“…the deep reading students do during the immersion phase of inquiry helps them to develop a vision for the writing they are going to do…” Study Driven
Developing a Vision:
I treated blogging like writing workshop. Because I was going to be asking my students to create blogs and write all sorts of things to go on those blogs, we started with a close study of blogging. Blogging was our inquiry, and we spent a full week looking at what blogging was, great examples of classroom blogs, student blogs, popular blogs, editorial blogs, informational blogs… blogs, blogs, blogs! We had discussions on why blogging was important, and I introduced them to the world of possibilities and opportunities that came with running one.
My students had a clear vision of what they were to create, now they just needed to know how to create it.
What we Noticed About Blogs:
Through the immersion of dozens and dozens of high-quality blogs, my students created the following anchor charts that were later used to create our blogging expectations. The charts have since been condensed and stay posted on a wall in my classroom. I used those anchor charts to develop rubrics and checklists to take grades on my student’s blogs, which has also helped to hold them accountable and meet deadlines. You’ll notice that what they included in the original charts were at first very general, and included things like “this one has pretty colors” and “this one has a great layout” but gradually became specific to the type of writing that was most done by the author of the blog or naming specific elements of a blog (sidebars, widgets, footer, etc.).
Writing Under the Influence:
After a week of immersion, we were ready to set up. We spent a week on this part of the process, making sure that each student had things in place that would enable me to visit their blog and grade posts easily. I wanted to keep my classes separate and organized (for now), so I created a quick and easy Google Sheet. I sent the link to the students and had them find their name and paste the url of their blog into the space next to their name. I also created several screencasts for the students to view to help them learn how to run their blog from behind the scenes. I created a gigantic list (101 Things to Write About on Your Blog) and sent it out to the students and let them choose topics to start bulking up the number of posts.
I was tempted to spend time on grammar lessons when I saw comma splices and misspelled words and fragments and run-ons…. but I remained focused on letting the students play with their blogs. The templates, the colors, the pictures, what they wrote about. What I did not budge on were the expectations. They were expected to have certain things in their sidebars to help them navigate between their blog and mine. They were expected to have at least three posts a week. They were expected to read their classmate’s blogs and leave comments. I somewhat expected lots of slacking or non-interest, and that honestly wasn’t the case. For the most part, my students were eager and excited to work on their blogs. I thought that the newness would wear off and that interest would fade, but that has not been the case either.
My overall hope was that blogging would inspire my students to write more and to write better. I believe that it has. Blogging gives my students choices and freedom. It allows them to showcase their writing to a global audience. It teaches them about the writing process while simultaneously connecting them with classmates and peers in receiving feedback. Does it come with challenges? Absolutely. Does it come with setbacks? Most certainly. Does it take a while to learn? Of course. But if you ask any one of my students if blogging has helped them to become a better writer, they will gladly direct you to their blog to show you that it indeed has.
…Writing matters. And if writing matters, so too do the roles that teachers and schools play in teaching writing and supporting literacy. Young people today have an unprecedented level of access to a wider range of content and connecivity than ever before, yet access does not ensure that reflection and learning take place. ~ Because Digital Writing Matters (page 2)
As my students and I learned what was working and what did not, I made sure to save my list of resources and things I had made so that when I start school in August I am 100% prepared to give my students every tool they need to be successful at blogging and thoroughly enjoy it.