I had the fortune of being asked by Kidblog (which I love so much) to write a little about how student blogging has changed my classroom and although this was published a long time ago on their blog, I forgot to cross post it here.
“Do you really mean it Mrs. Ripp, you want the truth?”
The student is hesitating, eyes are cast downward and they are waiting for the inevitable, the answer that most teachers will give, but it doesn’t come. Instead I tell them, “Yes, don’t hold back, tell me how you really feel about being a student in this classroom. My feelings won’t get hurt, I promise…”
The spring is back in the student’s step and they bounce over to the computer, log on to our Kidblog classroom blog and happily answer this week’s blogging challenge. And just like that, with that little question and one website, I have given my students a voice.
I didn’t use to want to hear how my students felt about their role in the classroom or our school. I didn’t use to care about what my students thought about their education, about their feelings or desires. I certainly never asked them to tell me what I could do better, or solicited advice. Yet, here I am, two years into a student blogging journey, and that is exactly the types of posts that I love the most. Those where the students bare their thoughts and really tell it like it is.
For too long, education has been done to students. We graduate with our teaching degrees thinking we know best. We know the research, we know what students need, and we know that we know. So we enter our classrooms as experts on education and students. We plan and create the lessons that students have to soak in whether they want to or not. We take just enough time to build a relationship and to listen to students but we often don’t ask the questions that students want to be asked. How often do we take the time to ask them what they think of what we are doing? How often do we genuinely care about how they feel about us, how they feel about their part in the classroom? How often do we ask them to please be honest, don’t hold back, and then don’t hold a grudge when they follow our directions. It is hard to be told that students are bored but a necessary step for us to become better teachers. Yet it takes time, students won’t be honest from the moment you meet them, we have trained them too well to be “rude” like that. So I start with blogging challenges that speak to their creativity like, “What is the color of fifth grade?” Then I ask them to change just one rule at our school, just one, and we inch into unknown territory. Students are always hesitant at first, after all, teachers don’t usually ask them to take ownership of their classroom. They are waiting to get busted by you or for your relationship to sour. It never does, I am thankful instead and I communicate that to them.
I have tried to start out having these conversations, rather than through their blog, but it was too much too soon. Blogging provide us with a venue in which students feel in control. They can record their thoughts, edit them, mull them over and then hit publish when they feel ready to do so. They have time to think of the question and of their response. I acknowledge that I am asking them to open up and at first it is frightening for them, but then, when they see that I change according to feedback, when they see that their words hold power in a positive way, then they find their voice. They don’t hold back and offer up topics for discussion. What they write on their blog, how they share, translates directly into our classroom. The trust grows, the discussions get livelier, and students become more invested.
Blogging allows us to take it to the next level; international discussion. Now students are not just telling me how they really feel but anyone who will read it. Blogging allows us to start discussions, to compare our school situations to those around the world. To realize that we can change the world when we discuss the every day. School stops being done to students and instead becomes something they also have some control over, they also have an active part in because we have provided them with a mouthpiece and a captive audience. Finally, students know that they do matters, what they think matters, and what they say matters. So when they see assignments change because of their feedback, when they see the role of the teacher change because of what they told me, that’s when they know that their voice matters. Students run to their blogs to tell me their thought of their prior week, they use their blogs to invite others to debate the merit of homework, tests, and grades. They write directly to our principal asking for longer lunches, extra recess, or perhaps just a little of his time. No longer needing an adult to pass on their message, they have found a way to share it with the world. All through the power of a blog.
I am a passionate 5th grade teacher in Middleton, Wisconsin, USA, proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day. First book “The Passionate Learner – Giving Our Classroom Back to Our Students Starting Today” will be released this fall from PLPress. Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.