I decided to try blogging with my class after attending the ICE conference in 2013 and going to a how-to session on this topic given by Pernille Ripp. She presented a step-by-step organized plan, beginning with an initial blog on paper. Internet safety, tagging, commenting, including parents, and opening up to connecting with other classes were discussed. Pernille also said she doesn't grade her students's blogs. She encourages them to come up with their own topics, but also offers a weekly challenge topic.
I was excited about trying student blogging as a way to develop student enjoyment of writing, as well as their growth as writers. I also saw blogging as a way to practice digital citizenship and safety, and as a window into our classroom for parents. On the other hand, I had some concerns about beginning this project. Where would I fit it in? Like all teachers everywhere, my school day is packed. I was also worried about how parents would feel about their children blogging, especially the safety factor. Our technology educator Vinnie Vrotny, encouraged me to give blogging a place in 4th grade, but also to take the time to plan before starting. This I did, using the information from the ICE session as well as online sources noted below.
I decided to sign up with kidblog.org. Though there are a number of sites specifically for blogging with younger children, kidblog was recommended by Pernille Ripp and it is easy to use. For the digital citizenship part of blogging, I chose to use the online lessons available from Commonsense Media. I attended one of their workshops and my grade level partner and I had already been using the lessons for our grade level. I decided to use 30 minutes per week of language arts time for blogging.
I introduced blogging by showing the class several examples of real blogs for students to get a visual of what a blog might look like. Then they designed their own blogs on paper and wrote a sample post on their favorite foods. A lesson on paper blogging can be found here. Several weeks later, after digital citizenship lessons and planning on paper, students began their kidblogs.
Blogging was very popular. At the beginning, many students spent a lot of their time finding images, both as their identity and as their posts, but most began writing short posts within a week or so. I wanted to leave blogging fairly open as an assignment, but I did offer a weekly challenge, which was a topic suggestion or a question. I asked that they take at least one challenge a month as a topic. I soon found that I had to make a few more rules:
- Posts must have a topic. This led to better paragraph writing.
- No more than three exclamation or question marks can be used in a row.
- No begging for comments from others.
- A comment must be a complete sentence with substance. If you write "Cool!!!" you must follow up with more.
After my students were comfortable with writing posts and comments, I opened up the blog to parents, who could read and comment, but not join as bloggers. I had only a few parents leave comments, but all were positive. Before introducing blogging to my students, I explained the idea in detail to parents through my newsletter. None of my parents expressed concerns about blogging.
Later in the year, I read the students' blogs from the first post to the most recent and I was amazed at the growth in writing. From the beginning posts where many of the kids focused on posting visuals, they grew into the idea of sharing their thoughts in a fairly organized way. They also developed a positive community through reading and leaving comments for each other, supporting others' ideas and adding their own. I see student blogging now as an important aspect of writers' workshop, not an add-on.
I plan to repeat this blogging journey in the 2014-15 school year and expand by connecting with other blogging classes. Two sites to help with connections are Comments4kids and QuadBlogging.