Blogging with students can lead to some powerful and unexpected outcomes
Student blogging is one of the best ways to implement writing across all areas of curriculum. From reading response to explanation of math lessons, you can have your students blog in virtually any subject area. And guess what? They’ll like it a lot more than answering multiple choice questions on a worksheet, which will lead to deeper thinking and higher quality work.
So if you’re considering using blogging in your classroom, check out these tips to set yourself (and your students) up for success.
Begin by starting your own blog.
I’m a firm believer in not asking students to do anything that I’ve never done before, especially when it comes to technology. So before you ever try to get your students to start their own blog, you need some experience running your own.
Now I could go into the minutia of how to start your own teacher blog, but I’ve already created a guide on that topic that you can read here. Just know that, while the process is simple, you may run into some kinks along the way. Better to figure those out on your own time, as opposed to on the day you’re introducing it in class.
Introduce your blog to your students.
Your own teacher blog is the best introduction you could possibly give your class to blogging. I started off by blogging for a little while to get the hang of it. Then one day, I posted a lesson review after class with a link to a YouTube video that helped explain the lesson (YouTube is full of great reviews that take some of the work off your plate).
The next day in class, I pulled up my blog on the smartboard and showed students the review. I emailed them (and their parents) the blog link, so they could check from home. (Unexpected benefit: students were able to view lessons they missed in class when they were absent).
From there, I posted an assignment on my blog, in reference to a novel we were reading. It was an open-ended question that required a short-answer response. Students were instructed to answer in the comments, and then to comment on other student responses. The upshot was that by the time my students created their own blogs, they were well-acquainted with the idea.
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.