In preparation for three different Teaching the iGeneration workshops I’ll be delivering in October, I’m pulling together a ton of content for structuring classroom blogging projects. I thought Radical Nation might benefit from some of the content, too.
Here are three tips that I always recommend to teachers interested in blogging with kids:
Tip 1 – Create ONE Topic-Focused Classroom Blog
A lesson that session presenter Bill Ferriter learned early in his work with blogs is that they are far more vibrant — and attract far more attention — when they are updated regularly. The challenge for student bloggers, then, is generating enough content to bring readers back for more.
The solution in Bill’s classroom is to always START classroom blogging projects with ONE classroom blog that EVERY student can make contributions to. Doing so takes the pressure of generating content off of individual students simply because there are dozens of potential writers who are adding content at any given time.
Bill also tends to create blogs that are focused on a specific theme or topic rather than general blogs that contain content across several domains and/or interest areas. By focusing his blogs on a specific theme that is connected to a cause that his kids are passionate about, he can tap into the desire of students to “do work that matters.” He sells these kinds of blogs to his students as an opportunity to raise awareness about important issues.
That does mean, however, that his blogs often have clear starting and ending points. Once students feel like they’ve covered an issue completely, they are generally ready to move on to something new — and their blog becomes a static home for people interested in learning more about an interesting topic.
For an example of this kind of blogging project, check out the Sugar Kills blog — a site that Bill’s students are currently maintaining that is designed to raise awareness about the amount of added sugar that is in the common foods that today’s tweens and teens eat.
You might also want to check out the Birds of Salem blog — a site that a group of Bill’s students put together in 2012 as a resource for the school community. Their goal — the work that they thought mattered — was helping visitors to our school’s campus to know more about the birds they could find on our grounds.
Another mistake that session presenter Bill Ferriter made during his early work with classroom blogging was thinking that “classroom blogging” started and ended with WRITING blogs. In reality, there is a TON of hidden power in encouraging students to become avid READERS of blogs as well. Doing so gives students samples of the kinds of writing that blogs make possible. They can spot topics for new posts and post styles that they might never have considered.
Along with READING blogs, Bill also encourages his students to become active in the comment sections of the blogs that they are reading. Responding to the bits written by others is an important bit in developing student bloggers because it provides short, safe opportunities to craft first-draft thinking about important issues. Each comment helps students to practice articulating thoughts in writing. What’s more, each comment can serve as a starting point for a longer post on a classroom or personal blog.
To encourage students to become avid readers of other blogs, Bill used Netvibes — a free RSS feed reader — to create this collection of blogs that students might enjoy. By doing so, he made it easy for students to find blogs worth reading. He also gave students time during sustained silent reading to explore his classroom blog collection.
To encourage students to become active commenters on other blogs, he required that any student that chose to read blogs during sustained silent reading leave at least one comment on another blog. To help them master the skills necessary to leave good comments, he used this handout.
If you teach elementary schoolers, this video on composing good blog comments made by Linda Yollis’s second and third graders may be an even better resource to explore. It makes the principles of good blog commenting approachable for younger audiences.
And if you teach middle grades students, you might consider sharing this reflection on the characteristics of bad blog commentswritten by a fifth grade student named Max in Pernille Ripp’s classroom. Written in an engaging style that will resonate with students, Max’s post reminds readers that “cool” isn’t a comment worth responding to!
For any blogger, the ultimate reward is crafting a piece that resonates with readers and leads to a TON of comments.
Every comment left for a blogger is proof positive that they DO have an audience and that they ARE being heard. Just as importantly to classroom teachers, however, every comment is an opportunity for a student blogger to have their thinking challenged — and the tension that results whenever thinking is challenged ALWAYS leads to new learning as students are forced to refine and revise and polish their positions on the topics that they care about.
Take a look at how students used a blog in Bill’s classroom to wrestle with the income disparity between American oil companies and the Nigerians who work for them. Then, look at how he turned blog comments into new sources for challenging conversations for his kids.
The challenge, however, is that classroom blogs won’t AUTOMATICALLY generate enough attention to receive comments. The simple truth is that in a digital world where there are thousands of new blogs created every hour, “being heard” isn’t nearly as easy as “getting published.”
To address this challenge, Bill always recruits volunteer commenters when his students are working on a blogging project. Most of the time these volunteers are parents or PTA members who want to help at school but can’t find the time to get away from work during the day. Bill will ask them to monitor the blog for a month at a time and to leave two or three comments a week that are designed to challenge students.
Other times, Bill turns to his own professional friends and family members — pointing them to specific posts that he’d like to generate comments for. He’s also established relationships with other classrooms that are blogging, encouraging both classes to read and comment on one another’s posts. Doing so generates momentum, ensuring that students feel the reward that comes along with having an audience.
If you’re interested in establishing relationships with other classrooms that are blogging, spend some time poking around the growing collection of blogs at the Comments4Kids website. And if you’re trying to generate comments for individual blog entries, consider sharing a link to the post in Twitter using the #comments4kids hashtag.
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