This guest post is written by Rayna Freedman, a fifth grade teacher at Jordan/Jackson Elementary School in Mansfield, Mass. I asked her to write this post after seeing her share links to her students’ blog posts. She shares her entire process here. Enjoy it! — MattBy Rayna Freedman
Three years ago I embarked on the voyage “Ss Blogging” in my fifth grade classroom. (It’s a take on the “SS” abbreviation for “Steam Ship.” Remember the “SS Minnow” from Gilligan’s Island? In this case, Ss is the Twitter abbreviation for “students” … very fitting!)
It has evolved into a learning adventure, where I am no longer at the helm, filled with passionate voices that are curious about the world.
As an alternative to regular spelling homework worksheets, I decided to create and offer a student blogging option. I see homework as an extension of the students’ lives. It should be something they want to do and not a chore to complete in order to play.
Giving students a safe place for them to share their ideas and feelings globally enticed many students. It also empowers them and builds confidence in their reading, writing, and communication skills.
Here are some of our first steps with the links we used:
- We began with a discussion of our school responsible use policy that was written in a student friendly format.
- We then viewed and discussed existing student blogs from the previous year and read over Scholastic’s Blogging Rules.
- Students were given a direction packet to bring home, should they choose the blogging alternative. This was also emailed home to parents, who are an integral part of the process.
- After running a student blog for a year I came up with a list of common themes for blog posts. This helped students who might be stuck choosing a topic get started.
Here’s a general step-by-step process of how we blog:
- Students access Google Docs to create their blogs, as it affords an opportunity for online conversations and feedback between students and me. Microsoft Word could be used as well!
- We work together during the week on their post until it is ready to be published, which is something I do later.
- Students must include hyperlinks to resources they used.
- They also were taught to utilize Creative Commons for images that have permission to be shared.
- I simply copy and paste the student blog post from the Google Doc to our student blog page. Using Blogger, I created a safe place for students to share their work. This offers a real world experience of what a writer goes through with his or her editor.
- The students’ work is emailed to both the student and their parents, creating a bridge to home. A link is also shared on my professional Facebook page and Twitter feed. Often, when we tweet the link out, there are hashtags and specific people we share the blogs with.
We’ve had lots of interactions, but connecting with author Peter Reynolds has been the most memorable. He gave our class the original Blue Bunny from his local bookstore. Students get to take the bunny for the week, blogging about the time spent with the student in the bunny’s perspective.
Peter has been known to comment on the students’ posts. The pride on a student’s face as I share that comment is priceless. Students have gotten tweets and retweets from authors, companies, athletes, motivational speakers, and more! Learning becomes exciting with the power of blogs!
I also share the blog posts in our Google Classroom for other students to read and comment. This provides an opportunity for me to teach commenting with students, another life skill to develop!
Linda Yollis’ YouTube video was a great initial step for this instruction! It led to a great discussion, followed by students’ practicing how to do this. One student told me this helps create an online community for our classroom.
I started tracking the number of students who chose the blog over other choices for homework and was astounded at the results! (See image at right.) Ever since the first week more students chose to blog rather than take the regular homework options.
In asking students why they choose to blog their answers are powerful, showing the impact of allowing them to write in this manner.
Here are some comments from students:
I choose to blog instead of regular homework because it is really fun because not only do other people learn things but you do too!
I enjoy expressing feelings and thoughts on the web to tell other people about.
Well first of all, blogging is way more fun than regular spelling, and it still teaches the students that choose to do it all kinds of skills. Ms. Freedman corrects things like run-on sentences, which I didn’t even know what they were before. So I still learn about spelling and grammar. Also, you get to learn so much about the topics you don’t get taught in school.
I choose to blog instead of regular spelling homework because expressing your personality is always important and blogging is one way to do just that! I know homework is important, but blogging makes it fun! It does not weigh you down as much.
I choose to blog because blogging for children is a way to share something interesting with people. Through blogging I can inform people of my interests, likes and dislikes or just something we are learning about in school. I also love to write.
Blogging helps me share original ideas about certain topics to my readers. I love stating different opinions about different things because it lets people get to understand me better. It also lets you express emotions and ideas about certain topics. You can honestly talk about any topic that you find interesting in a blog because it shows emotion and feeling on the specified subject.
I think the blog is more fun because I’ve never got to do this. I also like that you get to research almost anything and it is very educational sometimes because you get to research things like I said.
One reason I would choose blogging for regular spelling homework is because it tells how I feel or some of my knowledge. Another reason I rather do blogging than regular spelling homework is because it is a lot more entertaining for me than having spelling words. Lastly I rather do a blog than regular spelling homework is because I can be a lot more creative.
To encourage student blogging, some of our writing assignments in class are done in this format:
- Students did an expository writing sample where they created their own Wonderopolis article.
- They used Google Keep to take notes, collaborating with classmates and me!
- Students worked together, developing research and writing skills to create their blog post.
- I then created a Google sheet where each blog post had a tab.
- All students were asked to comment on each tab, reading and celebrating their classmate’s work. It also gave them a chance to give positive and constructive feedback, learning from each other.
Everyone has a story to tell, things they want to learn more about, or an opinion to share. Blogging gives a venue for our youngest students to express themselves through writing and video for a global audience. Students have a desire to do this, but it needs to be awakened, inspired, and taught.
Blogging motivates students to work for an authentic purpose. It relieves the homework stress and creates partnerships and builds community.
The voyage “Ss Blogging” is not returning home anytime soon. The adventure continues to expand and be challenged by fifth graders who have taught this teacher that blogging allows students to take risks with their learning, stretching their thinking beyond what they thought was possible.
In the next few weeks students will learn they can collaborate on blog posts, as my pedagogical tool bag is always expanding.
Want to hear it in their own voices? Click here to read the voices of fifth grade students — in their own words — as they reflect on their blogging experience. They responded to a Google Forms survey, and these are their unedited, unfiltered responses.
It is an adventure well worth embarking on!
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