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?
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27 thoughts on “Blogging is Elementary!”
Kim- this post is epic. Seriously.
Now I have less to say here, and more to do after commenting… I have a new and amazing resource to share with my elementary instructional coaches.
Thank you for doing this.
Hey Kim, thanks for the clear outline of your process, well done! I have all my 3, 4 and 5th graders keep blogs. When talking about commenting, I actually give them sentence starters:
I have a question
I have a connection
I have something to add
Then we come up with a whole long list of comments (using each starter) that we could add to a specific entry. This gets into thinking about the structure of conversation and how to propel it forward.
Thanks again for the entry.
Awesome to compact this as a single unit of work with the resources together. Obviously its a tutorial and I will be referring New Zealand teachers to it so they can check it out! Fantastic!
Thanks Kim. A very clear and defined process to get students blogging responsibly, safely and effectively!
Thanks! It was a long time coming and a long time writing :) So glad it will be helpful for you!
Thanks! I love the idea of giving students sentence starters, I’ll have to start working that into the rotation too!
Thank you! So glad the post is helpful – it was about time I put all of the blogging resources into one blog post :)
Thanks! Hope it helps :)
Your trail blazing work is evident in this post.
It could not have come at a better time though. There is little information and experience with blogging at the elementary school level out there. As we are moving forward to expose, introduce and allow the “little ones” to take part in this web 2.0 world, we need to prepare them adequately. Hard to do, when their teachers not ready themselves.
At my school, we are in the second year of EVERY classroom teacher authoring a blog. We are learning that having a classroom blog does NOT equal to fostering a learning community in one’s class. It does not mean that teachers instinctively will go beyond using it as a basic communication tool.
Teachers need to see examples of blogging with this age group in an academic setting in order to envision how they can connect their curriculum and the skills that they are teaching.
I have written my thoughts on <a href=”http://langwitches.org/blog/2008/09/12/creating-a-learning-community-with-your-elementary-school-blog/” Creating a Learning Community with your Elementary School Blog a couple of months ago.
I feel it is important to encourage our teachers to keep moving forward with their blog. The work you are doing AND blogging about your experience is SO important. You are spelling it out for the rest of us, that we can’t sit on simply “having” a blog, but that the focus needs to be on student learning: participatory learning, creative learning, connected learning…
We don’t know the extend that blogs in the classrooms will bring until will go through the process We need to continue experimenting, sharing & comparing with others.
Thank you so much for your thoughtful feedback! I really admire what you have been able to do with your entire school – the examples I share here are isolated in our school community.
One thing I have noticed, which parallels with your experience, is that if the teacher starts a “teacher blog” it usually ends up being one-way communication, a replacement for the weekly newsletter, that kids really aren’t engaged in at any level. But, because it involves technology (and a new flashy word) they often think they are doing something spectacular. It’s hard to then point out, that using a blog in that format is merely a replacement for something else, not something new, and definitely not what we mean when we say “blogging.”
Starting these classroom blogs, where all the students are the authors, has really helped demonstrate the true power of blogging: the connecting, the reflection, the conversation.
I guess the bottom line is that we need a little discomfort to help us move to the next level. Always staying in the safe zone by using new tools to do things old ways isn’t really what we’re looking for….
Hi Kim, haven’t been here for ages with the rush of the end of the year and reports but am interested to see where you are at with the blogging and pleased to read this. I think what is written about the blog not just becoming a teacher directed thing and in control is interesting. I started my kids this week with a really easy place to start, ‘jottit’. It was a good place to start to teach the basics about what we do and how and why. As in, what is a blog for, how do we access it, what are we going to do and say on it, and what is our expectation as a class etc. It’s a great place to start because it’s just so easy to use and now I have just had a notice that one of the kids have set up their own. We are really into reading and writing so have set up pages for that and a chat page where we can just go and say anything. The kids have only been at the site for a few days but are loving it. We will check in every couple of days as a class to see what people are saying. I think because it is so simple it’s going to give the kids are real chance to be engaged and to direct the communication. S
It sounds like you’re off to a great start! I love starting simple and seeing how things grow – it’s the best way to build both student and parental (and teacher!) comfort level. Looking forward to hearing how your project works out!
Kim, thanks so much for the fabulous post. It really outlines the discussion to have with kids around blogging, beyond the technical stuff. Nice work!
Thanks! So glad the post is helpful for you!
I just used the first lesson plans with my grade 9 students in tech class. It helped me a lot to guide our discussion about blogging and things we have to think before posting anything online.
So glad the post was helpful for you! I hope it wasn’t too basic for grade 9 (I usually use it with upper elementary and middle school students).
I think blogging is a wonderful idea for elementary students and can tap into so many learning objectives and build community. Great posts on how to get up and running.