Friday, January 30th, 2015...12:33 pm

Building A Classroom Writing Community Through Blogs

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I’ve been blogging personally for almost 6 years now. It has become a part of who I am and led to personal growth and opportunity that I wouldn’t trade.

Blogging has made me feel like a real writer.

Blogging has introduced me to a community of writers and thinkers and friends.

Blogging has made me look at the world to find moments of significance. It’s made me tune into my own thinking in a really rewarding way. It’s made me set goals for myself and strive to meet them.

As an English teacher, these really are the goals I have for my students as well. I invite them to bring pen to paper or fingers to keyboards and hope by the end of the year with me they will consider themselves not just students, but writers who have important ideas to spread and share. I hope that I am not the sole audience for what they have to say, but that instead they read each other’s work and think of ways to bring readers in to what they write. I hope, most of all, that when they leave room 265 that what I’ve taught them sticks – that they leave my class and go off into the world to think for themselves, to speak up when they see injustice, to know how to argue their point.

So I started to wonder, if blogging did all of this for me, would it work the same way with my students?

This year I set off to find out.

Building-A-Classroom (1)

Every one of my 11th grade students set up a blog at the start of the year.  I sought permission from their parents to have them write for an open and public audience and all but one parent thought it was a great idea.  And as teenagers who have grown up with social media, my students were comfortable and pretty enthusiastic about the idea as well. I have some laptops in my classroom for my students to use, but most of them blog from their phones. They use them all the time anyway, so why not ask them to use them to document their writing life beyond what they already did? Maybe then it will become habit and not assignment – that is the goal anyway.

Since September, my students have written their ideas, responses, drafts on their blogs. They’ve written their responses to books that they are reading on their own. They’ve shared slices of their life with their audience – writing sometimes without any set rules or guidelines.

I won’t lie and say that this has been easy for me or for them.

I won’t lie and say that every single one of them loves blogging.

But I will be honest and say that as my students and I learn together about what blogging in a classroom can look like, we’ve all benefitted.

At the end of last semester, instead of  a traditional pen and paper midterm exam, I had my students host a learning forum. The students each set up a computer with their blog open and ready for readers and we set up the room much like you would a science fair. Other adults from around campus and 9th grade students in a study skills class came in and interviewed my students to see what they’ve learned and how they’ve grown as readers and writers over the course of the fall semester.  Our guests asked my students questions such as:

  • Has your approach to writing changed during this course? If yes how? If no, why not?
  • Have your attitudes about writing changed this semester? If yes how? If no, why not?
  • What piece of writing are you most proud of? Why?
  • What are your goals for next semester?

After our guests left and my students had already started to think about and verbalize their learning, they sat down to write their reflections.

Reading their responses,  it became immediately clear that blogging had started to do for many of them what it has done for me.

Many of my students said they have slowly started to see themselves as writers of words and ideas and not just writers of essays assigned for a class. They said things like:

 “’I’ve learned to love writing, because now I’m actually writing about things that I like, instead of set prompts that only appeal to a small group of people.”

” I never thought I’d be a writer, but look at me now I’m a writer.”

“And writing isn’t just a thing that old people did a hundred years ago. It’s a way to express yourself just like any other art for there is.”

Many of my students said that they felt the community of writers growing and it was evident that it made a difference that I as the teacher was no longer their sole audience. They said things like:

“I’ve learned about so many people through there writing. I’ve learned that people’s personality shine through their writing, it’s beautiful the way you can get to know a person without even meeting them.”

“Then letting someone read it and they like your writing, it’s a good feeling.”

“My writing also changed when we started our word press blogging project. This project changed my writing due to the fact that we were writing in a social media website and we were constantly interacting with different people. This project was a great experience for me and improved my skills.”

“I have always liked writing because I am so opinionated and love it when my voice is heard, so blogging was a hit for me.”

There have been challenges: technology access, getting the students to take writing online as seriously as they do a formal essay assignment, keeping track of what they are writing and when.

But these challenges are far outweighed by the positives. My students now want to publish all of their writing online. They can see from scrolling through their posts just how they’ve grown as writers, they know that online writing isn’t only for informal fun, but for serious spreading of ideas as well.

I’m not sure I would have jumped into student blogging with such eagerness had I not had the experience of being a blogger myself. The blogging conferences I’ve attended, not directly related to education at all, have turned out to be some of the best professional development I’ve done over the last five years. And while my students still do plenty of work with real pen and paper, I know that blogging is fast becoming not only a key to who I am as an individual, but who I am as a teacher as well.

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