It’s been a pretty interesting digital week for my students and me.  After hearing from George Mayo—an eighth grade teacher in Washington DC—through Twitter, our classes connected for a web conference using Skype to talk about a kid-driven effort to raise international awareness about the genocide currently happening in Darfur.

Recognizing that my students were relatively savvy when it comes to digital creation, communication and collaboration, I figured that George’s project would be a good one for us to tackle.  Genocide is an issue that blights our planet—and an issue of passionate interest to middle schoolers who are driven by fairness and justice.

What’s more, George’s project is incredibly approachable!

You see, all he’s asking is that interested participants leave a comment on his Many Voices project blog expressing support for those who suffer at the hands of others on March 6th or 7th.  His kids have even created a series of interesting prompts that readers can reply to.

Leaving a comment on a blog is an infinitely easy activity.  While commenting takes a measure of “know-how,” a good comment can be left in less than five minutes.  Students learn to read and respond to others—and to craft a concise statement expressing their positions on topics of interest.

Interested in participating?

Then check out the blog commenting tip sheet that I use with the students in my classroom:

Tips for Leaving a Good Blog Comment:

The best blogs are truly interactive—with users listening and responding to one another. They are super interesting digital conversations! Highly accomplished commenters are constantly thinking while interacting with others who are leaving comments. They come to the conversation with an open mind, willing to reconsider their own positions—and willing to challenge the notions of others.

Blog commenting requires users to develop the skills that active thinkers bring to any learning experience. Some of the best tips about active thinking have been developed over time by teachers like Kelly Gallagher and Matt Copeland—who have each written books about reading and writing in middle and high schools. They’ve also been developed by an organization called Project CRISS—Creating Independence through Student Owned Strategies.

The following tips for blog commenters are adapted from the collective work of Gallagher, Copeland and Project CRISS:

To be an active blog commenter, start by carefully working your way through the comments that have been left by others. While viewing the comments that have been added by other users, you should:

Gather facts:  Jot down things that are interesting and new to you.

Make Connections:  Relate and compare things you are hearing to things you already know

Ask Questions:  What about the comments that have already been made is confusing to you?  What don’t you understand?  How will you find the answer?  Remember that there will ALWAYS be questions in an active thinker’s mind.

Give Opinions:  Make judgments about what you are viewing and hearing.  Do you agree?  Do you disagree?  Like?  Dislike?  Do you support or oppose anything that you have heard or seen?  Why?

Use the following sentence starters to shape your thoughts and comments while viewing or participating in blog conversations. Comments based on these kinds of statements make blog conversations interactive and engaging.

  • This reminds me of…
  • This is similar to…
  • I wonder…
  • I realized…
  • I noticed…
  • You can relate this to…
  • I’d like to know…
  • I’m surprised that…
  • If I were ________, I would ______________
  • If __________ then ___________
  • Although it seems…
  • I’m not sure that…

While commenting, try to respond directly to other readers. Begin by quoting some part of the comment that you are responding to help other listeners know what it is that has caught your attention. Then, explain your own thinking in a few short sentences. Elaboration is important when you’re trying to make a point. Finally, finish your comment with a question that other listeners can reply to.

Questions help to keep digital conversations going!

When responding to another reader, don’t be afraid to disagree with something that they have said. Challenging the thinking of another reader will help them to reconsider their own thinking—and will force you to explain yours! Just be sure to disagree agreeably—impolite people are rarely influential.

If your thinking gets challenged by another reader in a blog conversation, don’t be offended. Listen to your peers, consider their positions and decide whether or not you agree with them. You might discover that they’ve got good ideas you hadn’t thought about. Either way, be sure to respond—let your challengers know how their ideas have influenced you.

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