Blogs & Microblogs in the Classroom

“The act of telling your story and sharing part of your life with somebody is alive and well—even more so than at the dawn of blogging.”

–Lee Rainie, director of the Internet and American Life Project

This is my final post about the Saturday Reunion I attended back in March at TC.  I’m slightly ashamed it’s taken me this long to share my notes and thoughts from Maggie Beattie’s session “Setting Up Blogs and Microblogs — And Making Sure We’re Still Writing.”  Maggie is a former classmate of mine from my days as a graduate student at Teachers College.  She’s now a staff developer for the Reading and Writing Project.  In fact, I’m hoping to get placed in her section at this summer’s reading institute because she is up-to-date on the latest research and thinking about literacy instruction.

Maggie started the session on blogging and microblogging by saying “It’s in our bones to bear witness to our own lives.  It’s in our bones to share our stories with others.”  This is so true!  When something incredible or outlandish happens to me, I want to share it with my family or close friends.  When my daughter does something monumental, cute, or downright toddlerish, I go straight to her (private, family-only) blog to capture what happened so it’s preserved for later.

BLOGS:  According to Maggie, there are three different types of blogs: filter blogs, personal journals, and notebook blogs.  I’ll include some information about what they are below and then will share the ways she suggested they can be used in workshop:

  • Filter blogs:This is where an author posts content they’ve gathered from other places.  It’s very helpful and popular.  Essentially a bunch of current information is amassed in this type of blog.  (And to that end, there’s very little original content.)
    • Example:  Pinterest as an example of this kind of blog.
    • Ways to use with kids:  collect quotes from favorite books or authors; mentor sentence collection; research links to articles, images, interviews, or books that prepare a writer for an upcoming writing project.
  • Personal Journal: An author logs thoughts and reflections in a personal journal.  This kind of blog has a diary-like feel.
    • Example:  Maggie referenced Chartchums as a type of personal journal.  In case you missed my post about Chartchums last summer, you can click here to read it now.  It’s an awesome blog for anyone who wants to rethink or improve the way they use charts as teaching tools.
    • Ways to use with kids:  collect or develop a writing genre (a digital version of a writer’s notebook); create an independent writing project.
  • Notebook Blog:  This type of blog features internal and external content.  The posts are essay-like and are driven by ideas or theories.
    • Example:  I was humbled when Maggie referenced Two Writing Teachers as an example of this kind of blog.  (I think my face turned seven shades of pink when she pointed out I was sitting in the room too!)
    • Ways to use with kids: writing in argument or information writing genre (gather and respond to evidence); persuasive essay or research reports; writing a literary analysis essay.

There are also strategies for writing blogs that Maggie shared.  Essentially they’re the work we want to teach kids to do with blogs in writing workshop.

  • Writers develop ways to increase readership of their blog (e.g., partnerships with other bloggers to build a network).
  • Writers use their blog to explore thinking around an idea or concept (e.g., analyze a quote from another site).
  • Writers strive for an interactive experience (e.g., writers encourage comments or feedback; might address a controversial issue; write about a timely issue).
  • Writers develop a collection of work (e.g., how entries develop cohesion; thinking about an angle).
  • Writers learn how to revise quickly when blogging (e.g., using a writing partner, printing off the draft and editing on paper — then hitting publish).

MICROBLOGS:  Microblogs display smaller amounts of content.  They’re logged in real time.  Maggie asserted that microblogs have stolen a bit of blogs’ thunder since they allow users to exchange small elements of content, images, links and videos.  (If you’ve used Twitter, for instance, then you know that you have to say what you want to say in 140 characters or less.)  This genre reflects a person’s latest thinking.

I was a little skeptical about how microblogs could really be used in the classroom.  Maggie shared a variety of ways to use them in writing workshop.  And I have to say, the ideas are genius!  She suggested using microblogs for:

  • Character development
    • One can assume a character’s point of view (a series of actions, thoughts or questions to explain what’s going on in life).  This series of actions or updates lets one know what a character is like or doing.
  • Gathering evidence for an idea
    • Links to relevant links or videos.
    • An electronic bibliography.
  • Debating an idea
    • Being concise and specific.
    • Argue and follow-up with links and evidence.
  • Giving feedback to other writers
    • Providing critiques, comments, and compliments.

Some of the lessons Maggie said writers can be taught about microblogging are:

  • Writers think about the larger category or idea each microblog can fit under.  Then writers develop a hashtag (#) for this post.  (Teachers can help kids realize that hashtags are the main idea and that there are details that fit under that main idea.  Essentially this is a lesson on main idea and supporting details.)
  • Writers pay close attention to accuracy, specificity, and word count when microblogging.
  • Writers are concise when microblogging (i.e., say more with less).
  • Writers use strong, surprising language when microblogging.
    • This helps one stand out.
  • Writers use what they know about writing titles (or articles) when microblogging.
    • You want to stop a reader in their tracks so they’ll stop and notice your microblog.

TIPS FOR TEACHERS:  Maggie provided teachers a few tips to help get one more comfortable with one or both of the genres.

  1. Start a blog or microblog.
  2. Do you research and find out what you like.
  3. Find a friend.
  4. Write mentor blog posts/microblogs.
  5. Start small.

These tips are great because it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with either genre.  While I feel comfortable with blogging because I’ve been doing it for over five years, microblogging is still new and kind of uncomfortable for me.  I set up a Twitter account several months ago and still Twitter overwhelming.  I’ve discussed this with a savvy microblogger, Cindy Minnich (#3 under Maggie’s tips for teachers.), who has offered me advice.  One of her best tips, when I felt as though reading through scores of Tweets was interesting but too time consuming, was to subscribe to Paper.li. This is a service I never would’ve known about had it not been for someone more experienced with the genre.  Even though I’ve been on Twitter for awhile, I had to consult Ruth a couple of weeks ago to find out what an abbreviation (I couldn’t find in the Twittonary.) meant.  Therefore, #5, starting small, resonates with me since this is helping me learn how to navigate this world.  Hopefully, I will become more comfortable with the microblogging technology and will be able to help others just like Cindy and Ruth have helped me.

How do you use blogging or microblogging in your writing workshop?  Please share your ideas by leaving a comment.