November 23rd, 2015
Since I presented at the Innovation Summit a few weeks ago, I’ve gotten a few inquiries from teachers who want to start blogging with students but they aren’t sure how to start. Or where to start. Or what they should emphasize first. I’ve written them back with quick answers to their questions about choosing a platform, keeping track of students’ writing, and dealing with communicating this new endeavor to parents.
But mostly I reassure them. This is going to be so much fun!
Starting a new classroom endeavor isn’t easy. We want to always do our best and sometimes, when we aren’t sure how it will go, we put it off even if we suspect it might be in the best interest of students. Rarely are we given to time to try things out in low-pressure situations or even time to process what we learn. Blogging in the classroom happened naturally for me since I was blogging for myself personally. It felt like a way to break down the tension between online and offline life that existed in my classroom. Because I was confident, because I work in an environment supportive of innovation, I just jumped right in to blogging with my students, knowing that if anything we could learn together.
So you want to start blogging with students? Here are five things to think about:
You are not the expert. And that is ok! That is better than ok! You are a learner and throughout this process you won’t pass on knowledge directly, but you will show your students what it looks like to learn. And isn’t that the goal of a good classroom, anyway?
Let the community know what you are doing. Communicate clearly with parents and other teachers – tell them what your students will be writing and sharing. Explain the reasoning behind it and the many benefits of opening your classroom to the outside world. Have your first of many discussions about the lasting power of words online and the way we need to treat each other in the digital space. You can see the letter I send home here: blog letter and send me an email (dille.sarah at gmail) if you want to see my digital citizen contract I use.
Start small and think visually.
Students Humans are attracted to the visual. We love photos and images and our world is saturated with them. How can you challenge your students to take some of the more traditional writing they might do and make it visual? How could they create images, videos, infographics, memes, etc out of your usual content. Adding blogs to your classroom doesn’t at all mean shedding the traditional writing and reading we need students to do. It simply means that we can take those traditional ways of thinking and broaden them or represent them in new and maybe more meaningful ways. We aren’t limited to pencils and paper, so don’t make your students’ blogs into things they could just as easily accomplish offline. My students all begin by writing a six word memoir and turning it into a digital project that they can share. They may make a short video like this student; a photo collage like this student; or a simple photo and text like this student. Starting small, with a writing assignment that everyone can do and that asks students to add a visual media component sets students up for success.
Make the blogs visible outside of your classroom. The point of blogging is to let the writing leave the writing folder, leave the classroom, to hopefully push students’ words out into the real world. That can’t happen if you’re the only one who knows that these blogs exist. Depending on the age of the student, you might open the blogs up to peers and parents only, or, if you’re like me, teaching older students, you may want your students’ words in front of experts in the field and interested audiences we may have never even met. The first step, no matter how big you go, is to ask students to create a poster and QR code for their blog. My students love this – they’ve always seen QR codes, but have no idea how easy they are to make or how useful they can be. My students make a google slide or doc that has their name, their blog name, the url, their image from their six word memoir and the QR code they made. I then hang these in the hallway and anyone who walks by can quickly get to my students’ writing and they can also quickly get to each others’ writing.
Get students reading each other’s work as fast as possible. The more comments they get, the more the writing feels interactive, the sooner there is buy in. The blog shouldn’t feel like just another place to write, just another folder to keep text in. It needs to feel like a place where students are heard – by their teacher, but more importantly by their peers and any other audiences you can bring them. Students really need help commenting on each other’s work. This was something that took me by surprise my first year blogging with my students. They had no idea how to leave productive comments. This year, for the first time, my students are really leaving meaningful comments for each other. I have given them four guidelines which you can download and use here: Good Comment Guide