How Blogging Can Improve Student Writing
Command of the written word is a vital 21st-century skill, even if we are using keys, buttons, and tablets instead of pens and pencils. In fact, in our digital world, communication is now more instantaneous than ever.
How do we prepare our students to meet the challenge?
Blogging can offer opportunities for students to develop their communications skills through meaningful writing experiences. Such projects not only motivate students to write, but motivate them to write well. Furthermore, student-blogging projects can be designed to address the Common Core State Standards for writing. For example, see anchor standard six, which calls upon students to use technology to "produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others." Score!
So how can you get started with student blogging? These steps helped my students have successful writing experiences:
1. Choose a purpose.
Decide what you want students to write about, then work from there. Will you ask students to write reflective math or science journals, book reviews, or opinion pieces on current events? How can the blogging project support learning objectives in the discipline(s) you teach?
My students have blogged about many topics, ranging from the political uprising in Syria to the Trayvon Martin case. They also created a blog to share letters they wrote about social issues. They have blogged during reading workshops about the books they are reading. We even set up a "tournament of inventions" blog during March Madness, practicing persuasive writing.
Choose any focus that supports your students' learning—but make it specific and stick with it. This clear focus is crucial, especially your first time around, and especially with younger students.
2. Decide on a format and an online platform.
You could opt for one class blog for all of your students' work. In this case, you'll be in charge of gathering student writing and posting it for them. This gives you complete control over the content. One pro: This strategy provides a built in "quality-control" measure—nothing gets posted until you believe it's ready. And one con: You'll need to invest more time and effort as you gather and post each student's writing.
When I create class blogs, I opt for Blogger as our online platform. Students write blog posts and then transfer them to me via email or flash drive so I can post them.
Another option is for students to have their own individual blogs. In this case, each student has an individual username and password, and each is in charge of posting his or her own work.
To set up individual blogs, I use KidBlog.org, a free platform developed specifically for teachers and students. As the KidBlog administrator, you have many options when it comes to privacy. Students' blogs can be completely private, open only to class members, or public on the web. You also can enable comments moderation, so any comments on the blog posts are emailed to you before they are published for all to see.
You could use the Blogger platform for individual blogs if your students are 13 years of age or older (when they can set up Google accounts). I recommend creating the blogs for the students as the administrator. That way you'll have complete control over content and comments, adding students as authors so they can post. In the interest of safety, it's also a good idea to subscribe by email or RSS to each of your students' blogs, so that you are notified automatically whenever new items are posted.
3. Prepare and practice.
Structure your blogging project and prepare your students to understand the fact that others (classmates or, if the blog is public, anyone on the web) will read their work.
This opportunity generates a great deal of excitement and motivation, but also requires a great deal of responsibility on students' parts. Remind them that blogs offer readers a chance to see their best workwork that has been drafted, edited, and revised. Leaving comments and responding to them are important parts of the blogging experience, so be sure to practice this kind of dialogue. Talk explicitly with students about the ramifications of negative blog posts and blog comments.
Many teachers introduce online blogging with "paper blogging": Students write a practice blog post on a large piece of paper. Students then read each other's posts and practice commenting by writing responses to the post on sticky notes, which they then attach to the original piece of paper.
Such activities can give your students practice with "publicly" displaying their work and commenting. Educator and consultant Silvia Tolisano has been advocating for student-blogging activities for many years on her blog, Langwitches. She describes the paper blogging activity in detail here.
4. Take it public.
Once my students' blogs are up and running, I require them to read and comment on one another's work. And I require individual bloggers to reply to every comment they receive.
Receiving comments from readers outside of the classroom can be a powerful experience for students. You can solicit comments for class blogs or individual student blogs by tweeting about them, using the very active hashtag #comments4kids. This tag was created by teacher William Chamberlain, whose blog shares additional information about expanding the readership of your students' blogs.
Setting up a blogging project may sound like a hassle—but it's worthwhile.
I believe it's important for students to have their writing read by more people than just their teacher. When they know that their families, their classmates, and people from around the world can read what they write, the impact is measurable. Students pay closer attention to everything from the mechanics of writing to word choice to structure to clarity.
I've seen it happen. Students rushed through assignments "for me," making careless mistakes. But when they knew their writing would appear on a blog, their focus intensified. They read and re-read their own work before submitting. They asked their friends to read it, too.
Right before my eyes, my students were engaging in meaningful conversations about writing. They were asking questions and sharing observations more sophisticated than any I'd heard from them before. My students became writers, they lived writers' lives, the ultimate goal for any teacher.
There are other reasons that blogging can be beneficial, of course. It provides students with supervised practice using social media. I have embedded lessons on digital citizenship and copyright in blogging projects, along with conversations about what it means to have a "digital footprint." Thanks to the practice of commenting and replying to comments, I have seen students develop a stronger sense of community.
Each time my students blog, the quality of their work and their passion for the writing process amazes me. I think you'll find student blogging projects to be just as rewarding.
Many of you may have blogged with students already—what tips would you add to mine? Want to share links to your students' blogs?