blogging, kidblog, student blogging, writing

6 Steps to Better Student Blogging

image from icanread

When I started blogging with my students, I had no idea what I was doing.  I knew I wanted them to write, I knew I wanted them to connect, and I knew I wanted them to reflect openly on many issues and not just blog their writing assignments.  Sometimes their blogs blew me away and other times I wanted to encourage them to hit delete rather than publish.  Over the years as I have seen our blogging reach a wider audience, we have fine-tuned what it means to blog and it is something that I continue to work on with every batch of new students.  So how can you take your blogging from just writing to actual global collaboration and reflection, well, these tips may help.

  1. Be a blogger yourself!  I show this blog to my students and we discuss what I do to keep an ongoing dialogue going.  We discuss what my writing looks like and who I am writing for.  The students notice the care I take with my posts and also that I (usually) comment back.  Because I am dedicated to my own blog, I know how much work it is and also how fulfilling it is.  Why would you ever ask students to bare their souls if you haven’t bared your own?
  2. Make it authentic.  Yes, I have students write about curriculum once in a while, but rarely is just a typed up version of something they already wrote.  So if you want them to blog about an in-class topic such as science, how about making them keep a science inquiry diary where they discuss and reflect on their discoveries and answer questions from others?  
  3. Discuss the difference.  We tend to assume that students know the difference between blogging and writing but they usually don’t.  So make a chart, a list, a poster, something and use the students’ own language to discuss the similarities and differences.  Post it and bring it up again, particularly if you see students’ writing not developing the way it should.
  4. Create expectations.  Again, ask the students; what should a great blog post look like?  Then hold them to it.  I have certain requirements the students have to follow and they also add their own to them, after all, this is being published to the world.  While I would not have my students write a rough draft and then type that up, I believe we can hold them to a certain standard when it comes to their blogging.  It should be punctuated correctly, spelled mostly correctly, and it should be a blog post, not just a couple of lines.
  5. Make the time for it.  And keep it!  I have an urge to blog most days and I do wait until inspiration strikes, however, that takes training in a sense.  I love to blog and I love the conversations that follow blog posts, but this is something I have grown accustomed to.  I didn’t start out that way and neither do most of my students.  So dedicate class time to blog, discuss their blogs, and celebrate the comments the students get.  Make it a big deal because it is!  When we grow complacent about our student blogs, they lose their deeper meaning and students can take the global connections aspect for granted.  The blog then becomes just another forced writing assignment.  So make them a big deal and keep them that way.
  6. Prepare, Discuss, and Reflect.  Before you start blogging, do all of the necessary preparation.  Then while you blog discuss how it is going, fine-tune the expectations, and maintain a blogging presence in the classroom.  Reflect once in a while; how is the blogging going?  Should we take a break?  Have students run the discussion, it is there hearts and minds on the line, not yours.

If you need more help, please visit my blogging resource page.  I even have a letter for parents on blogs that you can get here.  But in the end, if you do student blogging right, it may just turn into one of the most rewarding experiences for the students and for you.  And even if you don’t do it right, it is never too late to fix it.  Happy blogging!

kidblog, student blogging, voice

How to Create Successful Student Blogging – Taking it to A Deeper Level

One question that pops up in my conversations with people whenever I highlight the blogging I do with my 5th graders is that of safety and commitment.   How to keep them safe while online, how to prevent cyber bullying and also how to get them invested so it is not just another chore on their massive to do lists.  While approaches differ, this is what has worked well for me.
  • Open it up to the world.  One huge fear people have when they have their students blog is opening up the blog to the world but those global connections are exactly what make blogging such a phenomenal experience for everyone.  If I had a private blog I wouldn’t have to teach the students much, it is the vast possibility of the unknown that forces us to really think about how we present ourselves to the world and how we conduct ourselves.
  • Stay on as moderator.  While this may be an “oh duh” comment just leaving you as moderator of both comments and posts and then doing your job (reading everything) is a huge deterrent to anything.  Comments don’t just slip through.  Posts have the right tone and students present themselves well.  And I have only once in my 2 years of student blogging had to intervene in a post.  That’s with more than 1,600 students posts.
  • Prepare, prepare, prepare.  I don’t just set up their blog and let them do it, we prepare through many steps.  We learn about safety and we approach it like any other skill; one we must develop in order to fully understand it.  But it goes deeper than safety, we have to get to the “why” of blogging, otherwise it will just be another demand from the teacher.
  • Treat it with reverence.  Blogging is not an automatic right in my classroom.  It is something the students learn about, build toward and ultimately have to prove that they are mature enough to handle.  We discuss how much of a privilege it is throughout the year which means the students get that this is important.  They know they represent our school district on our blog and that adds weight.
  • Have conduct rules.  Just like in any other situation we talk about what good commenting, good posting, and good conversational skills are.  Students know that their sense of humor can be taken out of context and that they need to represent at all times.  So we discuss how to engage in a dialogue without hurting others and we talk about how to offer appropriate feedback as well.
  • Revisit.  I say this all the time, just like in any other big life lessons, how to blog appropriately, safely and well is not a beginning of the year lesson, it is an all the time lesson.  And you need to make the time for it.  
  • Build community.  Blogging is only really successful if you have the trust of the students.  We use our blog to discuss happenings in our classroom, do curriculum, but also to write about big issues that affect the students.  If they didn’t trust me and their audience, my kids wouldn’t bare their hearts like they do.  Asking a 10 year old to tell them how they really feel about your classroom can be viewed as a trick question, one asked to get them into trouble, so before you get to those big questions, the foundation of honesty, reflection, and trust has to be present in the physical world.  
  • Walk the walk.  I blog extensively and I share it with my students.  I talk about what my take aways are from blogging and why it is a necessary part of my growth as a teacher.  I do not hide what I blog about and I even highlight some posts that revolve around my students.  I show how I comment, build relationships and respond appropriately.  I am right there with my students, doing the same thing they do, sharing the experience.
  • Listen.  I have students suggest topics, I have them give me feedback, and I let them blog about whatever they want.  All of that adds their passion to it and that is why they keep blogging even now when school is out and they are on summer vacation.  They still have stories to tell and people to connect with.  

By no means a complete list, but hopefully food for thought.  Student blogging can be such a powerful learning experience and one that shows students that they have a voice and a place in the world of importance.  They are indeed connected within our class, our school, and in the world.  What else can you do for free that teaches them that?

kidblog, student blogging, writing

What’s A Student Blogging Challenge?

After publishing a list of ideas for student blogging challenges, I was asked to describe them in more detail, so here goes.

What Are They?
The concept is very simple; every week, usually on Friday I post a new challenge for my students to blog about.  This can be related to the academics in our classroom or thoughts on various education topics.  I use this challenge for feedback, for ideas, and for them to become more involved in our classroom. 

The students almost always have 9 days to finish the challenge; Friday to the following Sunday, so challenge postings do overlap active challenges. While this is considered homework or extra work, students are given opportunities to finish them in class and do not have to find the time at home if they do not want to.

What Is the Topic?
I try to keep the challenges short and to the point, such as, “Should education be fun?” and then wait for students to think and respond.  We discuss perimeters for the posts at the beginning of the year and the students know to put their best foot forward, i.e. check spelling, capitalization as well as formatting.

I never grade their posts, since I do not grade in general, but use their writing to assess their growth as writers and also to figure out goals for them and give them feedback.  Comments from me are sometimes private or public depending on the feedback given.  Students love to read each others posts and we often end up discussing the week’s challenge in class because it made the students’ think.  I also tweet out their posts and use the hashtag #comments4kids to get other classes to comment.

Students’ Reaction
Students love the blogging challenges (mostly) and it keeps me on my toes as far as pushing their thinking.  Students also get a chance to offer ideas for blogging challenges which I often use, thus providing another way for them to take ownership of our blogging.

What Else?
Well, these are not the only things my students blog about but it is a main component.  They often take to our blogs to create new challenges for others, to share stories, or vacations.  They write to express themselves and they challenge me.  I love how they take forum of blogging and make it their own, creating those global connections that we all strive to make.

blogging, challenge, kidblog, writing

Student Blogging Challenges – A List of Ideas

One of the things that my students love the most on our KidBlog are our weekly blog challenges.  And while these challenges are in sense homework, they always have the opportunity to do them at school, and get enough time to do it without being a hassle.  Over the past two years we have had quite a lot of fun with these, so why not share for all you blogging with your students.  Feel free to borrow or change to suit your kids.

I have broken these into categories for easier reading.

All About You

  • Imagine you have been given $100 to donate to someone or something like a charity or even to start a charitable business.   The challenge is to make your money grow whether through product or some other form.  So you need to blog about what you will do with the money, how it will grow and how much you can make it grow even more.  Your money will have 3 months to grow.
  • If you could go anywhere in time once round-trip, where would you go and why?  What would you see there?  What would you do?  Would you bring anything back or try to change the past?
  • If you could go anywhere in time once round-trip, where would you go and why?  What would you see there?  What would you do?  Would you bring anything back or try to change the past? 
  • If you could eat only one meal the next year, what would it be? 
  • If you could do one good thing this Holiday season to make others happy, what would it be?
  •  Tell me about the great traditions you have in your family. 
  •  What makes you the happiest in your life and even better how do you show how thankful you are? 
  • This week I would like to challenge you to write about about a place, from the past or the present, where you would like to live or go for a holiday or vacation.

Wacky Challenges

All About School

  • Which school rule you would change, how you would change it and why?
  • How is the year going so far?  What are you excited about?  What works for you?  What doesn’t? How can we make 5th grade better?  What should I change?
  • What would you change about school so that you would love being there?
  • Tell me what was the best, the worst, the most fun, the most boring things of the trimester?  
  • So, if you could decide what we had to learn about, what would it be?  What would our goals be? How would we learn about it? And how would we pass that learning on? 
  • What does a principal do all day?  What qualities does a principal have and what do they do in the summer?
  • You are the teacher; which class would you add to school curriculum that we don’t already have?  When would the class meet, what would the students do?  What would it look like, feel like, sound like?  And what would the students produce to show their learning?

Your Thoughts on Education and School

  • What is the true purpose of education?  Why do you go to school?  Why do you learn what you have to learn?
  • Is teaching and learning the same thing or not?
  • Should education be fun?
  • Give me your thoughts on tests!  Do you think they help or hurt your learning?  What do you suggest to teachers about tests?

Academic Related and Story Writing

  • You need to write to other teachers and tell them about the Global Read Aloud.
  • I want you to tell the world about Innovation Day!
  • Tell everyone about the simulation in social studies 
  • Keep a science diary of our experiments and answer any questions people may leave in the comments.
  • Write a book review of the book you are currently reading.
  • Explain what the author study is, who you chose to study and why.
  • Finish the story, “The crash came from around the corner…”
  • Finish the sentences:  Being a good teacher means…. Being a good student means… 
  • What do you love when teachers do in their classrooms?  What do you wish I did as a teacher? If you were a teacher how would you run your classroom?

Challenges from Students:

  • If you were to go inside of a book, what book would you go inside of, and what would you do?
  • Create a blogging challenge for other students to do.
  • If you could create your own country, what would it be called, where would it be, and what language would the residents speak?

All About Blogging

  • Should we continue to blog or not, convince me!
  • So how has blogging helped you as a writer?  What do you like about blogging?  What do you not like?  What would you change?  Would you continue blogging next year if you could?
  • What are the rules for blogging, how do you stay safe?
  •  Now that you have tried it, what would you tell other kids and teachers about blogging?  What should they know before they start?  What should they be careful with?  How can they get people to comment?  Any advice for people who want to blog but don’t know how?
  • Pick one student from another blog and introduce yourself properly 
blogging, kidblog, letter, student blogging, students

Student Blogging Resources to Get You Started

I love that I get asked a lot about student blogging because it is something I am passionate about.  I often find myself sharing various posts, letters, and lessons that I have created, which means I have to find them first.  So to make my life easier, and perhaps even yours, here are my best resources on the why, the how, and the do on student blogging.

I am sure I forgot something, so if I did, please let me know.  I hope this is useful to you.