In this refreshed, updated version of a 2013 post, sixth grade classroom teacher Bill Ferriter reminds readers that classroom blogging projects depend on more than finding the right blogging tool and turning students loose. In it, Bill argues against creating individual blogs for students and for creating blogs centered around causes that kids care about.
Just getting back to school with your students? Interested in trying to pull off a classroom blogging project this year?
Then these three tips — based on almost ten years of trying to make blogging a part of the work that my students do in the classroom — might be useful to you:
Tip One: Create ONE Cause-Driven Classroom Blog
A lesson that I learned early in my 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 is generating enough content to bring readers back for more.
That’s why I recommend that teachers 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.
I also tend 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 our classroom blog on a specific theme that is connected to a cause that my kids are passionate about, I can tap into the desire of students to “do work that matters.”
For an example of this kind of blogging project, check out the Sugar Kills blog — a site that is designed to raise awareness about the amount of added sugar in the foods that today’s tweens and teens eat. You can also see how my students feel about their #sugarkills blog by reading this interview that they completed for MiddleWeb magazine and learn more about my rationale for using cause driven learning as a focus for blogging projects by reading this article that he wrote for Smartbrief.
Tip Two: Get Your Students READING Blogs
Another mistake that I made during my early work with classroom blogs was thinking that “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, encourage your 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, I used Netvibes — a free RSS feed reader — to create this collection of blogs that students might enjoy. By doing so, I made it easy for students to find blogs worth reading. I also gave students time during sustained silent reading to explore his classroom blog collection.
To encourage students to become active commenters on other blogs, I 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, I used this handout.
Tip Three: Recruit Commenters to Push Against Student Thinking
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 student bloggers 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 polish their positions on topics that they care about.
Need an example of this intellectual revision and public challenge in action? Then check out this comment, left on a post that my students wrote about the amount of sugar that teens and tweens can eat on a daily basis. Then, check out the action that the comment provoked in my student writers.
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, I always recruit volunteer commenters when my 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. I 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. Doing so generates momentum, ensuring that students feel the reward that comes along with having an audience.
If you are 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 are trying to generate comments for individual blog entries, consider sharing a link to the post in Twitter using the #comments4kids hashtag.
Blogger’s Note: This is an updated version of a post originally written in September of 2013. All links have been refreshed and new links have been added to relevant examples.
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