Decide what platform you’ll use for student blogging.
There are a ton of blogging platforms out there that you could use. I personally prefer using Kidblog.org. Here’s why:
- It’s easy to manage all blogs in one dashboard.
- I can overwrite or delete offensive comments if necessary.
- I can password protect blogs and comments so students are protected from spammers.
- Private commenting allows me to give students grades and personal feedback.
- It’s an extremely inexpensive service.
- It runs on WordPress, the most popular blogging platform in the world.
Of course, just because I used it doesn’t mean you have to. There are actually a whole host of student blogging platforms out there, each with their own pros and cons.
Set rules and expectations for student blogging.
When I spoke with a former colleague of mine who blogged with her writing class, she hammered on the importance of setting expectations from the beginning. In particular in regards to digital citizenship.
“The most important thing I would share with another colleague is to really instill an importance with digital citizenship and etiquette with your students before blogging,” said Melanie Gohn, my former colleague and a fourth grade teacher. “This is a public way of writing, and these young writers need to understand the power of our words.”
Remember, if you fail to set expectations, you can’t assume kids will behave in the manner that you want. Kids are kids. And when it comes to doing anything on the internet, or on computers in general, it’s crucial that they know exactly what the parameters are — and what the consequences will be if they fail to meet expectations.
Begin by having everyone blog on the same concept.
After some trial and error, I’ve found I prefer to get kids started by all blogging on the same prompt. In fact, I like to provide an outline they must follow. Something like:
- Bullet point or numbered list
- Call to action (question for response)
By having everyone start with a regimented assignment, it’s easier to convey blog post expectations. You can also have students look at each others’ posts and see where someone else did something correct that they didn’t quite understand themselves. And finally, since they’ve each written on the same topic, they should have an easier time participating in the comments section. (If you need help with blogging prompts, here’s a post with some great ideas.)
Avoid editing for punctuation and grammar.
This is a tough one. When I first started blogging with my class, I couldn’t get over how students wanted to blog the way they texted. No punctuation, lots of LOLs, smiley faces. Honestly, half of it was unreadable. And, possessing the almighty editing power as the administrator of the Kidblog account, it was difficult not to edit it myself. While I avoided that, I did make the mistake of correcting some grammar and punctuation in the comments section, which backfired badly.
Suddenly, my higher-achieving students started correcting their peers in the comments section. And that’s when it hit me. If students feel their every word is being critiqued, it impedes their ability to let the words flow. Not to mention their embarrassment at being corrected publicly in front of their peers.
I had to rethink how I was handling it. Sure you want to promote good writing and communication skills, but you don’t want to publicly humiliate or make the experience unbearable. There has to be a balance. So here’s what I did:
- Modeled proper punctuation, grammar, etc. in my own blog posts.
- Did mini-lessons on particular issues I saw across the board
- Pulled small groups of kids who were having particular trouble with certain aspects and worked with them.
Did they ever get it perfect? Of course not. But overall, the quality of blogging increased.
I’ve never regretted blogging in the classroom. Every year I’ve tried it, we had a blast. And speaking with Melanie, she had the same experience.
Referring to the first time she introduced blogging to her students, she said they “went on and on thanking me for teaching them about blogging.” And it didn’t stop there. “Several of them wanted to go home and create their own,” she said, perhaps a testament to the power of trying something new in the classroom.
So if you’re thinking about starting blogs with your students, do it. Just remember, plan and model. Plan and model.