When I arrived at ISB last year, one of the first major projects I started with two of our wonderful grade 5 teachers was student blogging (um, and did I mention that we started blogging at the same time as participating in Chris Craft’s Life ‘Round Here digital storytelling project?). I had come from a middle school position where every student in the school (grades six – eight) had their own individual student blog and was ready to continue that experience here.
What I didn’t know was that none of the teachers or students really had any experience blogging prior to my arrival (oops!). So, while they (both the teachers and the students) were absolutely fantastic at going with the flow and experimenting, I realized quite quickly that individual student blogs may not be the appropriate “first step” into the world of web 2.0 – especially at the elementary level.
So, over the course of last year I started to figure out an easier, more approachable, entry into participatory writing and reading online. I started with a grade 3 class, whose teacher, Betsy, was so flexible and ready to learn with me that we had so much fun getting this started with her students.
One of the major features of this smoother entry into blogging was having just one class blog that all students can contribute to. Instead of setting up each student with their own blog, they can all have their own username and password (which they love) to author individual posts on one class blog. Being able to leverage one free G-mail account to create individual accounts for each student was a huge step forward for us as well – taking away the need for student e-mail is definitely a huge stress-reliever (for both the teacher and the parents). Finally, adding a global component and pre-organized authentic audience really helped make our student writing purposeful.
After that much more successful, and far less stressful, experience with Betsy’s class, I knew it wouldn’t be long before another teacher wanted to try something similar. And, just as I expected, my amazingly collaborative colleague, Sonja, approached me at the very beginning of this year to start a reading and writing project with her grade 4 students.
We started off much the same as last year’s grade 3 class, with one important difference: we focused on the importance of quality commenting before we gave the students their usernames and passwords for the class blog. We spent several lessons exploring our blogging buddies blogs, learning how to write an appropriate and fair comment, and building our understanding of blogging as conversation.
Interestingly, as soon as this class got started with their collaborative blog, more and more teachers have been asking me to help them set up a blog with their class. Just this week, I helped another fourth grade teacher, Kristen, set up her class blog and was amazed at how quickly her students were able to pick up the basics. At this point, I’ve got the introduction to blogging organized into five lessons (slightly revamped from last year’s version):
For our first lesson we spent some time examining other quality blogs, looking mostly at Anne Davis’ excellent Blogging: It’s Elementary WebQuest (just for the blog links, mostly). Each table group had a chance to look at one of the blogs listed on the process page and followed a Visible Thinking routine called: See, Think, Wonder. Each time we had a focused discussion at the table groups (starting with the question: What do you see?) we came back to the full-class and shared our observations, thoughts and wonderings. This was a great way to help students understand the basics of a blog and the concept of blogging as writing.
At the end of this first lesson we developed a list of things we know about blogs:
- Blogging is free
- People can leave comments on a blog post
- People can see other people’s comments on a blog post
- If you are the author of a blog, you can edit or delete anything on the blog as long as you have the correct username and password
- A lot of blogs have things in common: pictures, comments, links, dates, archives, calendar, videos, opinions, recent posts, author’s name, conversations
- A blog is like a website EXCEPT that blogs invite conversation, opinions and ideas while websites usually just tell their ideas without any feedback
- Even though many blogs have the same features, they have different information
- Authors put links on their blog because they think their readers will like them
- Blogging is like a conversation with other people – some people you might know, some people you might not know
- Bloggers want their reader’s opinions
- Everyone in the world can see our blog
- Blogging is reading and writing
For our second and third lessons, we watched two public service announcements from the US. We start with a PSA called the Bulletin Board to focus on online safety:
We watch the video all the way through once, then have a “turn and talk” moment to see what we understand about the video after the first viewing. Next we watch the video very slowly, stopping at every event to check for understanding. Again we have a “turn and talk” moment for students to share their revised understanding. Finally, we watch the video all the way through and share what we’ve learned. We start creating a class list of questions we can ask ourselves before we post and things to remember about staying safe online, which will be finished after watching the second video during lesson 3.
This lesson focuses on responsible behavior and discussion is prompted by the PSA called The Talent Show:
We follow the same procedure as the second lesson, watching once all the way through, then stopping to ensure understanding and finishing with a full run through. At the end of this lesson, we complete our class list of questions to ask ourselves before we post anything online. Here is what grade 4 developed:
- How will this affect my reputation (what people think of me)?
- What will my friends or family think about me after they read (or see) this post?
- Could someone find me (in real life) based on this information?
- Who is going to look at this, and how are they going to interpret my words?
- Is this inappropriate, immature or bullying?
- Could I hurt someone else’s feelings with this post?
- Would I say this to the person’s face?
- What could be the consequences of this post?
- What will I cause by writing this post? Be culturally sensitive.
- Would I want someone to say this to me?
- Do I have a good reason/purpose to do this?
- Is this something I want everyone to see?
We also make a quick list of safety and responsibility tips to help us remember to follow the blogging guidelines outlined in our permission slip. Here is what grade 4 came up with:
- Only post things that you would want everyone (in school, at home, in other countries) to know
- Think about the future – what will people think a few days, weeks, months from now, if they read your post;
- Don’t share personal information like: last name, mom’s maiden name, address, telephone number, password, birthdate, username, passport information, license plate number, picture of your face, full name of yourself or your friends
- Choose a complicated password for others, but easy for you to remember
- Think before you post
- Use only your first or an avatar (made up name that represents you)
- Don’t talk to strangers. Get a parent or an older brother or sister to help you.
- Only say nice things about other people.
- Treat other people the way you want to be treated.
- If you think you will regret it, don’t post it
- If you wouldn’t say it to a person’s face, do not post it online
- Use appropriate language and good grammar and spelling
- Think about your readers feelings (embarrassing) when you post online
- Be culturally sensitive
- Only post things that you can verify are true (no gossiping)
We usually model the process of writing a good comment, and then create a comment as a piece of shared writing with the class. After this process we develop our own list of quality comment characteristics. Here is what one grade 4 class came up with:
- Constructive, but not hurtful
- Think about the author and their purpose for their post before leaving a comment
- Comments are always related to the content of the post
- Personal connections to what the author wrote
- Answer a question, or add meaningful information to the content topic
- Follows the writing process – it’s like a mini piece of writing.
- Use a comment sandwich: start with a positive, add constructive feedback, then finish with a positive.
- Make your comment sandwich thick and tasty! Lots of meaningful, meaty thoughts that relate directly the content of the post to keep the blogger satisfied!
I love the idea of creating a comment sandwich – having the visual for the students has been extremely powerful, and focusing on commenting as part of the writing process has improved their commenting considerably (not as many “good job” posts as we had last year).
Once students are comfortable with the process of leaving meaningful comments, and have returned their parental permission slip, we introduce them to the actual process of writing blog posts. The basics of logging in, creating a new post, putting your post in the category for your name, and submitting for review. Usually we have the first post be a short introduction to the student.
I love the fact that having a category for each student makes it appear as if each student has their own blog (by listing the name categories in the sidebar) and that no posts will be published until the teacher can approve them after moderation. Such an easy and safe way to begin blogging!
That’s it! That’s how we’re starting to set up class blogs in grades 4 and 5 at ISB. So far we have 6 different classes set up:
- Merrellzone, grade 4
- 220 Thinkers, grade 4
- Room 202’s Blog, grade 5
- Room 227’s Blog, grade 5
- Room 229’s Blog, grade 5
- Denby Espanol, grade 5 Spanish
I’m sure this is just the beginning! Most of these classes have already decided that if and when students are ready, they will be given the option to have their own individual blog.
Our next steps:
One thing that we still need to work out is how to embed the practice of blogging into the daily routine. We work with laptop carts – four per grade level, 12 laptops per cart – so teachers do not have 1:1 access and often have to schedule specific time with the carts. The organization and pre-planning necessary to naturally and easily use the tools can be cumbersome and frustrating for some teachers. Right now we’re thinking about using a rotational strategy – allowing small groups to use the laptops each day for regular reading and writing online.
Anyone have any thoughts on how to introduce blogging to elementary students? Or how to make rotational blogging and commenting practical and realistic for our teachers?