14 Steps to Meaningful Student Blogging

When I moved this blog to WordPress some posts did not survive, so in an effort to move some of my favorite posts with me, I will be republishing them here.  This post first appeared in May, 2011 and continues to be one of my most read.

Students getting ready to teach others about blogging

So you have heard about blogging with your students and you are considering taking the plunge but just not sure what or how to do it? I am here to tell you; blogging with my students has been one of the most enriching educational experiences we have had this year, and that says a lot. So to get you started, here is what I have learned:

  1. Pick an easy platform, both for you and the students. I used Kidblog with great success, it fit our needs, it is free and it offers easy moderation.  There are other great alternatives out there such as WordPress or EduBlogs
  2. Teach them how to blog first. We did an excellent paper blogging lesson first (found on the blog of McTeach), which brought up why we were blogging and how to do it appropriately.  This got the students excited, interested as well as got them thinking about what great comments look and sound like.
  3. Talk safety! We assume some students know how to be safe, but don’t assume it; teach them the do’s and dont’s. I came up with the lesson of why the Internet is like the mall and it really worked.  I also sent home safety plans for students and parents to discuss and we discussed it throughout the year.  To see all of the forms I use for this, please go here.
  4. Teach them how to comment. In order for blogging to be effective, comments are needed, but if students don’t know how to properly comment they will lose out on part of the experience. We discuss how to thank people, how to answer their questions, and most importantly, how to ask questions back. This is all part of common conversational knowledge that all kids should be taught any way.
  5. Start small.  The first post was an introduction of themselves. It was an easy topic and something they really liked to do. They then got to comment on each others post as well which started to build community.
  6. Include parents. Parents always know what we are doing and are invited to comment.  The students loved the extra connection and parents loved seeing what the kids were doing.
  7. Connect with one or two classes to be buddies. While comments from around the world are phenomenal, the connections are what it is all about. So reach out on Twitter or through the most excellent #comments4kids and set up something more permanent. The students relish getting to know one another and the comments become even more worthwhile.  Thanks Mr.  Gary’s class in Egypt and Mr. Reuter’s 6th grade class in Merton, Wisconsin for being our buddies.
  8. Speaking of #comments4kids, this excellent site created by Will Chamberlain is a must for anyone blogging with students. Link their blog to it and ask people to comment, tweet it out with the hashtag #comments4kids, and use it to find classes to comment on.
  9. Visit other classroom blogs. Show them how other kids use it and have it inspire them.  Blogs can be found through Twitter or the comments4kids site.
  10. Let them explore. My students love to play around with font, color, and images. They taught each other how to do anything fancy and also let each other know when font or color choices were poor. This was a way for students to come into their own as creative writers and also start to think about creating their online identity.
  11. Don’t grade! Blogging is meant to be a way to practice writing for an audience and learning to respond to critique, not a graded paper. I would often tell students my requirements and even make them go back and edit but I never ever chastised them for mistakes made.
  12. Challenge them. Often students would ask to write about topics but we also had a blogging challenge almost weekly. This was my way of finding out what they really thought about fourth grade, their dreams, their hopes and their lives. The kids always wondered what the next challenge would be and looked forward to writing them.  We would also share creative writing pieces from class, create diaries of work we did, and share our op.ed. pieces.
  13. Map the connections. We have a world map in our classroom that we use to push pin people we connect with, it is amazing to see it grow and what a geography lesson is has turned out to be. Students are acutely aware of where Egypt, Alabama, New York and other places in the news are because they have connected with people there.
  14. Give it time! Some students took to it right away, others weren’t so sure, and yet they all ended up loving it. The sheer mass of paper I have had to print to create their writing portfolio is staggering and it shows how ingrained it became in our classroom. I now have kids blogging when they are sick, out of school or just because.

So here it is, take the leap and believe in your students’ ability to stay safe and appropriate on the internet.  Stay tuned  for a student-created video tutorial on how to use Kidblog, kids teaching kids, that is learning worth doing.  To see our student blogs and maybe even leave  comment, please go here.

I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4, 5th, and 7th grade.  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 “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” can be pre-ordered from Corwin Press now.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

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14 Steps to Meaningful Student Blogging

So you have heard about blogging with your students and you are considering taking the plunge but just not sure what or how to do it? I am here to tell you; blogging with my students has been one of the most enriching educational experiences we have had this year, and that says a lot. So to get you started, here is what I have learned:

  1. Pick an easy platform, both for you and the students. I used Kidblog with great success, it fit our needs, it is free and it offers easy moderation.  There are other great alternatives out there such as WordPress or EduBlogs
  2. Teach them how to blog first. We did an excellent paper blogging lesson first (found on the blog of McTeach), which brought up why we were blogging and how to do it appropriately.  This got the students excited, interested as well as got them thinking about what great comments look and sound like.
  3. Talk safety! We assume some students know how to be safe, but don’t assume it; teach them the do’s and dont’s. I came up with the lesson of why the Internet is like the mall and it really worked.  I also sent home safety plans for students and parents to discuss and we discussed it throughout the year.
  4. Teach them how to comment. In order for blogging to be effective, comments are needed, but if students don’t know how to properly comment they will lose out on part of the experience. We discuss how to thank people, how to answer their questions, and most importantly, how to ask questions back. This is all part of common conversational knowledge that all kids should be taught any way.
  5. Start small.  The first post was an introduction of themselves. It was an easy topic and something they really liked to do. They then got to comment on each others post as well which started to build community.
  6. Include parents. Parents always know what we are doing and are invited to comment.  The students loved the extra connection and parents loved seeing what the kids were doing.
  7. Connect with one or two classes to be buddies. While comments from around the world are phenomenal, the connections are what it is all about. So reach out on Twitter or through the most excellent #comments4kids and set up something more permanent. The students relish getting to know one another and the comments become even more worthwhile.  Thanks Mr.  Gary’s class in Egypt and Mr. Reuter’s 6th grade class in Merton, Wisconsin for being our buddies.
  8. Speaking of #comments4kids, this excellent site created by Will Chamberlain is a must for anyone blogging with students. Link their blog to it and ask people to comment, tweet it out with the hashtag #comments4kids, and use it to find classes to comment on.
  9. Visit other classroom blogs. Show them how other kids use it and have it inspire them.  Blogs can be found through Twitter or the comments4kids site.
  10. Let them explore. My students love to play around with font, color, and images. They taught each other how to do anything fancy and also let each other know when font or color choices were poor. This was a way for students to come into their own as creative writers and also start to think about creating their online identity.
  11. Don’t grade! Blogging is meant to be a way to practice writing for an audience and learning to respond to critique, not a graded paper. I would often tell students my requirements and even make them go back and edit but I never ever chastised them for mistakes made.
  12. Challenge them. Often students would ask to write about topics but we also had a blogging challenge almost weekly. This was my way of finding out what they really thought about fourth grade, their dreams, their hopes and their lives. The kids always wondered what the next challenge would be and looked forward to writing them.  We would also share creative writing pieces from class, create diaries of work we did, and share our op.ed. pieces.
  13. Map the connections. We have a world map in our classroom that we use to push pin people we connect with, it is amazing to see it grow and what a geography lesson is has turned out to be. Students are acutely aware of where Egypt, Alabama, New York and other places in the news are because they have connected with people there.
  14. Give it time! Some students took to it right away, others weren’t so sure, and yet they all ended up loving it. The sheer mass of paper I have had to print to create their writing portfolio is staggering and it shows how ingrained it became in our classroom. I now have kids blogging when they are sick, out of school or just because.
So here it is, take the leap and believe in your students’ ability to stay safe and appropriate on the internet.  Stay tuned  for a student-created video tutorial on how to use Kidblog, kids teaching kids, that is learning worth doing.  To see our student blogs and maybe even leave  comment, please go here.

So I Gave Up Punishment and My Students Still Behaved

image from icanread

When I moved my blog from Blogger to WordPress last summer I mistakenly assumed that all posts would seamlessly transfer.  I have since found the error in my thinking and have decided to re-post some of my more discussed posts.  This post first appeared in June of 2011  but still rings true to me.

Three years ago I gave up my inane punishment plans.  Out went the sticks, the cups, the posters, the pointed fingers and definitely the lost recesses.  No more check-marks, or charts to explain what that check-mark meant, no more raised voice telling a child they better behave or else.  Some thought I was crazy, I thought I was crazy, and yet, here I am now a complete convert.  So what happened?

Well, a lot of conversations.  If just one child was off that day, disruptive, disrespectful and so on, it was usually handled through a quiet conversation off to the side or in their ear.  Sometimes we went in the hallway.  I tried to limit the times I called out their names and I spoke to them as human beings.  No more teacher from the top, I am going to get you if you don’t listen, but rather, “Do you see what your behavior is doing for your learning?”  Believe it or not, framed in a way where they understood what the loss was = the learning, there was better behavior or at least an attempt to behave.  And that was a central part of my plan; make the learning something they didn’t want to miss.  Most kids do not want to miss recess because they have a lot of fun and hang out with their friends, which is why it is such a favored punishment.  Hit them where it hurst kind of thing.  So I decided to make my classroom fun, exciting, and collaborative.  That meant that students actually wanted to participate and not miss out.

Sometimes my whole class was off; jumpy, jiggly, or falling asleep.  In the past I would have yelled, droned on, and probably lectured about the importance of school.  No surprise there that usually didn’t work at all.  So then I would just get mad, tighten the reins and exert my control.  Yeah, didn’t work so well.  Now I instead change my teaching and learning.  While we may have had certain activities planned for that day they are modified to require movement and discussion or totally changed if I can.  The learning goals usually stays the same, the method of delivering them doesn’t.  Often this takes care of a lot of behavior that would have led to a check-mark before.  And I think that is central to this whole thing; bad behavior often comes from disengagement and boredom.  So when we change our classrooms to give students more outlet for their energy, bad behavior reduces.  My worst days were the days that I hadn’t considered my students needs enough, the days were there was too much sitting down and not enough choice.

In the beginning it was hard.  I so instinctually wanted to say “Move your stick!” that I actually had to grind my teeth.  With time it got easier.  The students knew when they were misbehaving because we discussed it.  If the whole class or a majority of students were off we had a class meeting.  Sounds like a lot of time spent on talking?  Yes, but I would have been spending the same time yelling at the kids and doling out punishment.  The kids got used to it and many of them relished the fact that they were given a voice in their behavior and how to fix it, rather than a dictation from me.  Kids started keeping each other in line as well, asking others to be quiet when need be or to work more focused.  They knew what the expectations were for the different learning settings because we had set them together.  This was our classroom, not mine.

So did it work?  Absolutely, I would never go back.  I don’t take away recess but have it reserved to work with the kids that need it, I make fewer phone calls home, and I rarely send a kid to the office.  I am sure there are tougher classes out there than mine, but this is your every day average American elementary class.  We have the talkers, the interrupters, the disrespectful, the fighters, and the sleepers.  And it works for them as well.  The kids feel part of something big, and they let me know on  just how much it means to them.  They relish the voice they have, even when it comes to their own consequences.  They relish that rewards are no longer personal but rather classroom-wide whenever I feel like it.  Kids are not singled out for horrible behavior and so I don’t have “that kid” that everyone knows will get in trouble.  Instead we are all there as learners being rewarded through our community rather than punished.  I remember the relief I felt when I placed my old punishment cups in the staff lounge and finally let go of my old ways.  To this day I  hope no one picked them up.

 

 

When We Let Our Students Plan Our Lessons

image from etsy

“…So what do you want to do?”

5 hands shoot into the air and our discussion quickly gets underway.  As one student shares an idea for a long-term project, another quickly jumps in with their take, and a picture starts to emerge of just what we can accomplish.  As students figure out whether they want to work alone or with partners, what they want to create, and what the objective should be, my brain calms down.  I knew the students would know what to do, I knew the students would have a better idea than mine.  And now, after 15 minutes of discussion, socials studies for the next 4 weeks has been planned with every student excited and aware of what they will be doing.  Welcome to lesson planning in my classroom.

Augustine didn’t care that I had not written sub plans.  Nor did she care that we had no sub.  She arrived when she wanted to and I have furiously been trying to keep my classroom “normal” ever since that day.  Or at least as normal as you can when you have different subs and your brain is rather fuzzy.  This week I returned to school part-time, not just to offer my students a sense of transition to a long-term sub in February, but also to see if they were up for the biggest challenge of the year; working independently with teachers as coaches, not leaders. And oh, are they ever.

All year, I push my students to be independent learners, to carve their own path, to take control of how they learn something, not just how much they learn.  All year, I challenge them to speak up, to step up, and to push for a better education.  One that revolves more around their own needs, rather than just what the curriculum says.  I have told them they need to be independent learners.  I have pushed them to be independent learners.  Now is their time to actually do it.

We don’t know who the subs will be in the afternoon, we hope that they will come back more than once, but we have to plan like every afternoon brings a new face that has no idea what we are doing.  So the students and I decided that together we would come up with a plan that covered all of the curriculum but freed up a poor sub from reading lengthy lesson plans, and my students from being taught straight out of the book.

I could have come up with my own project.  I could have told them exactly what the plan would be.  I even could have created a great learning opportunity for them.  But I needed their buy-in, I needed their excitement, their independence for this to work.  So instead of more me, it became more them.  Instead of more text book, it become more research.  Instead of one size fits all, we will now have more than 20 student-driven projects ready to be presented come February.  All of them will learn the material, all of them will become experts on something, all of them will create.  And they all had something to say.

When was the last time you let your students lesson plan with you?

 

 

 

 

10 + 1 Steps to Meaningful Student Blogging

IMG_2138Last summer, I had the pleasure of guest blogging for Middle Web and chose to do it on student blogging.  While I had started with a 14 step plan, I was able to revamp it a bit and bring it down to 11 steps.  Since then many educators have asked how to best get started with blogging, so I bring to you a re-posting of this popular post.

Four years ago I started blogging with my 4th grade students on a whim. I knew three things at the start: I wanted to get them connected with each other; I wanted to give them a voice, and I knew I had to change the way they wrote. So I started blogging with them – fumbling my way through the how to and the when to.

What I had no way of knowing was how blogging would change the way I taught, how blogging would give my students a way to speak to the world, and how blogs would make it possible for them to create lasting global connections with other children.

Blogging has since become an integral part of my classroom. It’s a way for me to check the emotional temperature of my kids and a way for them to add their voice to the continuing education debate and reach out to other communities.  We no longer just wonder how things are done in other countries. We blog and ask questions and get our answers.

So when I meet with any teacher who wonders how to lower the walls of their classroom and create more authentic learning opportunities, my first advice is to get students blogging.

If they’re interested, I share these steps. They grow out of my own experience working with upper elementary-aged kids, and I believe they can help any middle grades teacher successfully launch a blogging program and integrate it into the daily learning experience.

10 + 1 Steps to Meaningful Student Blogging

Here’s the checklist I follow myself at the beginning of each year, before I unleash my (now) 5th grade students’ voices to the world:

1. Figure out your why

You have to reflect on why it is you want to have students blog. Is it to make connections, for technology integration, to give your students a voice, or for some other reason? If you know the why it is much easier to get students excited about the blogging experience. I don’t feel that blogging should be just to show off student work; it can be something much bigger than that.  So figure out your reasons why before you move on to the how.

2. Pick your platform

I use Kidblog because of its accessibility, its wonderful safety features, and the ease with which I can adapt it to fit our purpose. While some feel (as a result of recent changes) that Kidblog is geared more toward early elementary students, I disagree. But it’s not the only safe and easy-to-use option: Edublogs is another popular student blogging platform that also comes highly recommended.

3. Get your permissions

Check with your principal, your tech coordinator, and finally get parent permission. You need to be prepared to explain and justify what you are doing — and be transparent throughout the conversation — to receive ultimate support for this endeavor. Student online safety is a predictable concern, and it’s much easier to be proactive, seek out these conversations, and present evidence that safety is easily assured and the learning rewards are significant.

I’ve created my own permission slip to ensure that parents feel well informed as they make their decision about whether to let their child blog. And I have yet to have a parent say no.

4. Blogging versus writing

I always introduce blogging by discussing how it is similar and different to writing. Students often get what blogs are but not necessarily how they can use one themselves. So I showcase my own professional blog and other students’ blogs to get them excited about the adventure they are about go on. We discuss what we can blog about, how long a post should be (as a minimum), and what to do about spelling and grammar. These discussions lead to heightened awareness of what is appropriate for a blog post and what isn’t and will also lead to the next step.

5. Discuss safety!

Before students ever log into their blog accounts for the first time, you have to discuss safety. I use the analogy of “Why the Internet is Like the Mall” to get students to really think about their online behavior and what they post. This is an in-depth discussion that covers many aspects of internet behavior, not just those that are specific to blogging. This is also not just a beginning-of-the-year conversation, but an all-the-time conversation.

6. Do a paper blog

Starting out on paper is a great way to introduce students to blogging and how they can add their own personal voice and flair. (It’s an idea I got from Karen McMillan.) By creating and personalizing a paper copy of their dream blog, my students have a tangible piece to work with while we learn the ins and outs of style, substance and safety. Once all of the paper blogs are done, students spend a class period leaving post-it comments on each other’s blogs as well as responding to the comments they themselves receive. This is a natural progression toward our next step . . .

7. Discuss commenting

For blogging to be effective, students need to know how to make good comments. Commenting on other blogs is one important way to grow an audience for your own blog. And when people comment on what you have written, you need to be prepared to respond with follow-up comments of your own. So we discuss how to create a dialogue in comments, how to thank people, and also how to give constructive feedback. We set up parameters for our posts and our comments in order to uphold a high standard of writing and we discover how commenting can (and should) become a conversation. We even act out comments from our post-its to see if they work well as conversation starters or act as dead ends.  Students quickly realize the power of a comment.

8. Start small

When students are finally ready to blog, have them introduce themselves.  That way, as your class starts to reach out to others (because ultimately blogging is about connections), students can showcase themselves and thus spark a conversation.

9. Connect with others.

Use quadblogging or a project like The Global Read Aloud to get students connected – or simply reach out to one or two other classes (preferably far away from you) to establish a blogging relationship. Once you get started, teachers can go on Twitter and use the hashtag#comments4kids to get comments for your students. Kidblog also has a wonderful feature called “Blogroll” where you can build a list of links to other blogs you like to follow in the margin of your own blog. My students use this all year as they check in with classes from around the world.

This is what gets the kids excited about blogging — it’s not just that they get to read other posts, they are able to establish a personal connection with other kids in faraway places, maintain that relationship throughout the year, and learn a lot about life in other parts of the globe.

10. Make it their own

Students need to feel genuine ownership of their blogs. I ask them for ideas of what to blog about; I give them free artistic rein over their posts, and I give them time to explore the blog’s tools and capabilities. This is what gives students ownership and has them take pride in their blogging. If it is truly their voice being heard in whatever fashion they want to present it, then they are eager to show it off.

Blogging has to be authentic for it to work. I don’t correct their grammar and spelling. I don’t require editorial changes unless something is likely to lead to hurt feelings or misunderstandings. I will ask them to add more or to explain further, but I give them the time to do so. I also challenge them with a weekly blogging challenge and then find time to do it in school. (Ideas for the challenge come from students or things I wonder about myself.)

11. Give it time

Great blogging and great connections don’t happen overnight, so give it time. Let the students develop as bloggers, celebrate their successes, and map their connections. Truly celebrate the blogging they do and spend time on it class. Encourage blogging but don’t make it an assignment to just get done. Treat it as an integral part of your classroom and watch it become one. Blogging is not just about writing, it is about bringing the world in and making it a little bit smaller.

In the end, blogging should not be a burden in your already full day. Students should love blogging, not see it as a chore (which is also why I never grade my students’ blogs) and they should be eager to express themselves and expand their worlds.

If you are ever in need of someone to connect to or ask questions, please reach out to me @pernilleripp on Twitter. I will gladly help. After all, blogging is about expanding our own comfort zones and creating authentic, global collaboration.

How to do Student Blogging