Near the end of the school year, I had the chance to see something amazing happening in one of the elementary schools in my school district. Marina Rodriguez (@mrodz308), a 4th grade dual language teacher at South Knoll Elementary, reached out to see if I would come by and participate in the “Hour of Blog”–a time she and her students use after school to explore all things blogging.
The experience was amazing.
She and her students, none of whom began the school year with any blogging experience, created hundreds of blog posts throughout their after school “Hour of Blog” they began together during the spring semester. Our time together went so quickly. The students asked wonderful questions and shared insights beyond their years.
A lot of people would look at the end product and want to replicate it, but not know where to get started. I asked if she would share about her experience. Marina was happy to share about the project and offer some tips for anyone who is interested in getting your students blogging. I also love the student and parent reflections she shares, too.
Enjoy this post from Marina Rodriguez, and get your students blogging!
Back in January of 2017, I decided to bring blogging into my 4th grade dual language classroom. With state testing right around the corner, I wanted to offer my students something engaging they could experiment with, lead, and make their own. I caught the name of a blogging website called Kidblog off a post on Twitter, and the only thing I knew for sure was that this blogsite was safe for kids.
My initial concerns were many… How would I introduce something I have never done before? When would we find the time to practice this unique genre? Are my students mature enough to handle working independently online? Will the novelty of trying something new fizzle out before we get anything valuable accomplished? How would I make sure students practice good writing habits? How would I manage it all for so many students, when they will have online access anywhere, anytime? Is it crazy to try to do this on my own with 4th graders?
Even with the many concerns, blogging online seemed to carry possibilities that would excite our learning and launch us into something new and wonderful. After talking with a small group of my students for some feedback, we decided to make it an experiment. I decided to trust that my students would at the very least have fun trying something new. I took a breath and we jumped into the digital world.
What happened in my classroom those next few months of school was nothing short of amazing. My classroom shifted. We went from a classroom to a community, from students to guides, from rule-followers to leaders… independent problem solvers, collaborators, creators, innovators, and explorers. Learning became contagious. Students kept a “Blogger’s Notebook” and worked hard to find reasons to write, and they wrote often.
During this process, I became a part of this magnificent shift in our learning environment. I became a guide and an actively engaged learner. I learned to trust myself as I pushed to learn more, just as I encourage my students to do the same. This adventure helped me to become a blogger. I also discovered that my students, my bloggers… are some amazing human beings. They ended the school year feeling like a part of the world around them, thinking beyond the walls of the classroom, and ready to make an impact.
Here are my Top 10 Tips for Student Blogging for teachers thinking about getting started…
Top 10 Tips for Student Blogging
- Why blog?
Let your students in on this secret… the more you write, the better you get at it. Here are a few other reasons… to value student voice, to give students meaningful and purposeful reasons to write, to allow students to learn for themselves and learn from each other, to allow students to make an impact on the world, to connect with others and build relationships, to experience having an authentic audience, to struggle and reflect, to explore, to grow, to research, to collaborate, to problem solve, to create, to innovate, to practice critical thinking, to prepare for the future. There are many other reasons why blogging can be powerful for students. Blogging helps students learn, reflect, and grow.
Encouraging students to write what they want as much as possible is a powerful way to grow writers and critical thinkers. When students have the freedom to lead their own learning, amazing things will happen.
- Make Expectations Crystal Clear
Making expectations crystal clear is key for just about anything. Picture your ideal learning environment, then let students in on your vision. Together, you can build towards that goal. Teach mini-lesson, after mini-lesson, offer reminders, reviews, notes, etc., as much as you see is needed. In an ideal learning environment, everyone is a learner, and everyone should develop the skill of guiding others to learn new things.
The goal is to have a room full of independent, critical thinkers, and creative problem solvers. With the right guidance, a classroom can quickly become a place where both students and teacher carry the title of Guide, where everyone is able to offer what they know with respect and willing to help others in the process, not because it is a mandate, but because it’s the right thing to do.
- Begin with a Small Group
It is easier to manage things when you start small. Begin with a group of 6-8 students who you think would not have issue with independently making decisions, setting goals, expectations, etc. These students can be your mentors for the rest of the class.
Guide your small group in the right direction, but allow them the freedom to lead and make decisions. Hold special blogging meetings during lunch or before school, to help launch and establish their special leadership positions. Encourage a plan for everything, so they understand that things work best when planned. This will give students ownership, and naturally allow them to develop the need to care and protect their work with great passion. Students will often set the bar much higher than you expect, and will lead other students to do the same.
- Encourage Inquiry Projects
Inquiry learning is phenomenal. Encourage students to use blogging to share what they learn. When children begin school at the age of 4-5, they come in excited and ready to explore the world, often with spectacular curiosity. They are typically ready to jump into learning and exploring with little fear or hesitation. As the years in a classroom begin to lay its heavy hand on their curious minds, students become less of explorers and more rule followers.
Allow for natural curiosity and exploration to develop through student inquiry projects. Blogging about an inquiry project is a fantastic way to bring back a student’s inner explorer. Students practice developing a higher-level ability to think through what they want to learn and make good choices, not because “the teacher” told them so, but because true explorers and learners must make good decisions as they push to learn more.
Encouraging the explorer part of a student’s brain is essential to having a student-centered learning environment. Allow students to investigate, research, and write about the things they enjoy or find intriguing and/or interesting. It can lead to some powerful learning.
- Share with Parents, Admin, and Others
Sharing student work with an authentic audience can make a powerful impact. I still remember the look on my students faces, when we talked about having their parents and other teachers read their work. They were both nervous, but incredibly excited. These experiences help students truly own their work, and it helps them to understand the true purpose of this communication skill we call writing. It’s more than developing a writer or blogger, it is showing students that their words have value and can cause impact.
Publishing for a target audience helps students understand that the value of their own voice. Not only is it important for students to publish and publish often, but by focusing on specific audiences, students practice real-world communication skills. Writing to specific audiences is a skill that students will use for the rest of their lives.
- Digital Citizenship vs. Being a Good Human
The best advice to give students is that they are responsible for being good humans, both inside the digital world and out in the real world. The difference between having digital citizenship and being a good human is absolutely nothing. The sooner students understand that who they are online is who they are in real life, the better.
Technology is a part of our everyday lives, and students need us more than ever to help guide them into making good choices. Trusting that students do the right thing may sound like a lot to ask, but it is well worth the investment when student-centered learning is the goal. Most students would rather participate in the digital environment to learn, than to be denied that option for poor choices.
- Walk Them Through the First Blog
Guiding students through their first piece is important, because it sets the expectation. Our 21st Century Students know a lot; however, they need our experience and our guidance now more than ever to help keep them on the right learning path.
Don’t expect perfection, expect their best work. You may want to approve the first few blogs before they post to an audience, however, only a teacher knows when best to move a student on to what comes next. Make sure to give them the freedom to write without your approval at some point, better sooner than later. Try to read all of their work, as much as possible. When students begin to write more than you can keep up with, you have succeeded in creating a group of students who are living as writers.
- Focus on the 4 C’s
According to the National Education Association (NEA), in order to prepare our 21st Century Students for a global society, we must help them develop four key components:
- Critical Thinking & Problem Solving
- Creativity & Innovation
All four components can easily be embedded into blogging. Making sure students understand why these components are important will help keep them focused on the big picture… their future.
- Teachers Can Be Bloggers Too
The best way to lead students into blogging is leading by example. Diving into something new with your students is a priceless experience for both you and your students. It turns everyone into a learner instantly, and allows both the teacher and students the opportunity to live as true explorers. What an amazing experience to offer students! Sharing experiences, good and bad, reduces the fear of making mistakes and builds an environment where students feel safe to learn, grow, take risks, and push forward to become life-long learners.
- Give It Time
Give yourself and your students time to develop. Again, only the teacher knows when her class is ready for what comes next. The use of a program that allows students to write electronically anywhere they have access to the internet is exciting. They will develop quickly the need to write, and write often. They will make mistakes, and you will need to help teach them how to pick up the pieces, how to make their writing stronger, fresh and fearless, or more impactful. It will take time, but it will happen sooner than you think.
Technology is in integral part of the lives of our students. Blogging is one way to help students maneuver in an environment that will continue to be an important part of their lives. Preparing our 21st Century Students to become leaders in a world already at their fingertips is not only important, but necessary.
Comments from my 4th grade class of 2016-17 students and parents…
“I blog because it is fun and I love inspiring people. It helps them get through a problem.” -Malichi, 4th Grade
“I love blogging because it’s a way for me to express my writing in the form of technology, and I just love how blogging brought all of us together as a tiny community.” -Mariana, 4th Grade
“I like blogging because it is challenging for me.” -Juan, 4th Grade
“I like to blog about just about anything I can. I like blogging because I like seeing other people’s perspectives on blogging and what they think about the different categories that you can blog about. I personally think it’s COOL to see what other people think about it.” -Isaiah, 4th Grade
“I like to blog about things that would help you later in life. I also like to post quotes and poems.”
-Luke, 4th Grade
“I like blogging about poems. I like blogging because it helps me interact with my friends.” -Luis, 4th Grade
“I like to Blog about how to build character. Most of my Blogs are in the category of Building Character. I like to Blog because it is a great way to express your feelings for a certain topic. Blogging is a great experience! I can’t wait to continue with it.” -Sam, 4th Grade
“I like to blog about Star Wars, and science fiction. I like to blog because I do not like to share my work a lot, but Kidblog makes it less scary.” -Hudson, 4th Grade
“I love to blog because other people can learn from my blogs and create more like mine, and just carry on the idea! I blog to change the world, and to follow my dreams! ( ; I like writing encouraging poems and also writing fictional stories.” -Halle, 4th Grade
“I like to blog because it helps me with my learning and my writing skills.” -Efrain, 4th Grade
“I like to blog about things like family. I also like it because you can learn from it, and you get to chat about the things that you are to do. You can learn from your mistakes, and that helps you get better, and you will love it even more. That is why I love blogging.” -Madison, 4th Grade
“It is fun and educational.” -Nathanael, 4th Grade
“I like blogging what is in my mind. I think that blogging what is in my mind makes others think how I think about things around me.” -Ashley, 4th Grade
“I like to blog, because you can interact with your friends, you can share your writing, and give your opinion about the writing.” -Paloma, 4th Grade
“I like blogging, because the options to write about are endless…” -Lily, 4th Grade
“Blogging helped my daughter in so many ways with her attitude toward writing and her overall writing skills! She would write short stories here and there at home prior to blogging. Once introduced to blogging, her short stories began to expand to include elaborate titles and chapters! She began writing stories! She looked forward to being a part of the blogging group after school. She learned to express more of her thoughts on paper/computer. Being shy, this provided an outlet for her. She found that writing can be fun! She would think of topics, plan ahead and write creatively. We are grateful that she was introduced to blogging at SK by you!” -Parent
“So many positive changes in my son since he began the blogging class with you. He has always been a voracious reader, this opened him up to the process of writing & not dreading writing assignments. I even noticed improvement in his vocabulary & spelling habits. For him being such an introvert, the most positive change I noticed was social. He seemed to forge stronger friendships with his classmates as this was a fun bonding assignment outside of the normal classroom setting. He corresponded via email with a classmate about topics & ideas for their blog, and spend lots of time brainstorming & collaborating with a friend. Having a “special” time & fun activity outside of the traditional classroom structure was so beneficial for my son, as it gave him the opportunity to be creative & have complete control over his work product. We are so thankful & appreciative for this opportunity, and… he thoroughly enjoyed staying after class each week to participate!” -Parent
“My son has grown immensely this year in his writing and I believe it is largely due in part to his blog experience. I have seen him use his free time to write and blog, which is a big change from years past. He enjoys brainstorming and coming up with new ideas for his writing… I wanted you to know how much you had an impact on him.” -Parent
“The blogging experience conducted by Mrs. Marina Rodriguez helped my daughter increase her interest and motivation in writing generally, and more specifically in writing poetry and even some ‘philosophical’ meditations about life and other essential topics. She became more aware of her spelling weaknesses and made the best of the opportunity to correct them. She also visualized (and still does) herself as a ‘blogger’ and, in many occasions, she has introduced herself to other people by using the expression: ‘I am a blogger.’ It clearly means that she has become more familiar with several contemporary media platforms that are now part of our daily technological experience. My daughter also had the opportunity to interact with some of her classmates’ blogging activities, exchanging therefore with them thoughts and getting in the know of their areas of interest or concern. That made her more aware of her circle of friends and contributed toward friendship and communication, and not the opposite. Also, she has kept her interest up projected to the future and plan to continuing her blogging activity despite the class is over.” -Parent
“We feel it is a wonderful example of using current technological resources to reach children academically… without them seeing it as work at all! Well done!” – Parent
“Blogging created an excitement for writing for my son. He was often eager to share what he had written with our family. He also enjoyed reading others entries. I felt like blogging was very helpful for his social and emotional well-being and helped him feel very connected with his classmates and wonderful teacher! Thank you Sra. Rodriguez!” -Parent
“I feel that it helped my daughter become more expressive with her writing. This is obviously very subjective, but it seems that she started to see writing as more of a tool to initiate communication than simply something used to respond to others.” -Parent
Be sure to check out Marina’s blog (www.marinarodz.com/blog) and connect with her on Twitter (@mrodz308).