They are expert digital collaborators, connecting with others to discuss topics near and dear to their hearts.
That’s why I had them start blogging this year. Theirs is an online world, and I want them to be there when they engage with my content.
It’s a work in progress, and I’ll do it much differently next year than I did in this inaugural year. But I like the connections they make with each other when they blog and do it well.
After a year of experience and absorption of as many student blogging articles/chat comments/podcasts as possible, here are 20 things to consider:
1. Write about class and more: Connections to and opinions about class content are great, especially if students discuss via comments. But we’re missing a great opportunity if we limit it to that. Kids don’t automatically reflect on their lives and what’s important to them. Their blog in your class may be their only opportunity.
2. Open topic posts are good: Richard Byrne of Free Tech for Teachers recently suggested that students reflect on what they’ve learned that week in a simple blog post. It could be open to all classes or just from your content area.
3. Go to their world: So what do they write about? Try to meet students in their world as much as possible. Making content touch their own lives is a connection that can last a lifetime. Pop culture, music, sports, etc. Listen to what they talk about in class. Example: How does one of their relationships mirror the relationship that two characters from your class have?
4. Let students pick: Open the floor for writing prompt suggestions. You might be surprised at the kinds of creative, relevant connections they make.
5. Teamwork works: Encourage students to connect with each other in their posts to make them more personal, and not just in the comments they leave. Q&A interviews and polls work well.
6. Do your homework: Encourage (or require) students to link facts in their posts to real-world sources. Hyperlink webpages. Cite hard-copy texts. Use direct quotes when citing a classmate’s opinion.
7. Encourage readability: Good blog writing crosses over from the “real world” to the classroom. Catchy introductions. A “what’s it about” paragraph early on. Bullet points and lists. Short paragraphs. Simple sentences. Conclusions with questions.
8. Reward out-of-class blogging: I believe in making student blogs a place where students want to go at home and on the go. I’m interested in trying incentives for after-hours activity (i.e. extra points/privileges, polls/games for interest, etc.) Real-time blog responses to events (i.e. school activities, news, etc.) can do this.
9. It takes time: I’ve found that rushing students to write and comment leads to shallow content. A little time can encourage a great digital conversation.
10. Emphasize clean copy: Online writing doesn’t mean text-messaging writing conventions, and some students might miss that point if you don’t bring it up. Solid spelling, grammar and idea development gives them credibility in the eyes of their readers.
11. But don’t nitpick: Avoid the temptation to correct every spelling and grammar error. Real-life blog readers don’t do that (not much at least!). Plus, it discourages their creativity and initiative. If a spelling/grammar pattern emerges, consider addressing it privately.
12. Good comments are key: Well-thought-out comments are online conversation jewels. Good ones add ideas/information to the discussion, insert personal experiences, provide insightful links/quotes, ask follow-up questions, etc.
13. Choose a stance on comments: I can see two schools of thought on comments: quantitative and qualitative. The quantitative stance has countable requirements (comments, words, etc.). It can assure participation but promotes an “I have to” mentality. The qualitative stance values quality of discussion over quantity but may result in less participation. A mix of both may be the best option.
14. Create respect: The lack of face-to-face communication in online discussions makes it easy to forget that real people actually read what we write. Students can become brazen with harsh comments if they don’t remember the peers they’re addressing. Civility should rule.
15. High-five good work: Find ways to promote quality blog posts and comments outside of the student blog. Mention them or post them in class. Add them to the class webpage. Include them in school newsletters. The sky is the limit.
16. Decide on privacy: Public student blogs can open children to the harshness and dangers of the real world, but they offer an authentic, global audience. Students thrive on outside-of-school comments. Link to student blog posts on Twitter with the #comments4kids hashtag to open them to a huge worldwide audience.
17. Find a medium: There are plenty of potential homes for your students’ blogs. Richard Byrne lists several in this post. They range from the basic (Kidblog, Edublogs, Blogger) to the complex (self-hosted WordPress).
18. Break the economic barrier: Students without home Internet access are at a disadvantage. Help them find Internet time in school (study hall, library time, computer lab time, before/after school time) or out of school (at a library, a friend’s house, etc.). A phone call or e-mail to a parent could uncover the answer.
19. Cumulative products are good: Find an end-of-the-year product students can create using their blog posts. They could create a book (print or PDF ebook), derive a Weebly website, compile a top-10 list of posts or comments.
20. Reflection is good, too: When students look over their work for a year, they can see how they’ve grown as a writer, a learner and a person. They relearn important lessons. They combat the “I didn’t learn anything in that class” mindset.
What are your experiences and lessons learned from using student blogs? What encourages or discourages you from trying them? What are your reactions to these suggestions? Please tell us in a comment below!