We’re thinking and talking about student blogging at my school. There was a lot more of that this year, and as students blogged more, teachers wondered how to support writers as they delved into this genre.
Let me back up and explain the significant increase in student blogging. Last August we launched “Fab Fridays,” in grades K-4. This year we set aside almost four hours each Friday for student initiated learning. It was a grand adventure. I wrote about it here.
We wanted students to document and reflect on their Fab Friday learning, as well as to connect with a wide audience about their interests and projects. Blogging was a way to do that. And so they began blogging regularly.
But, to be honest, students’ initial posts were disappointing. They lacked detail, were too full of emojis and exclamation points, and fell far short of what we hoped for in terms of capturing the rich learning that was happening in classrooms each Friday.
We teachers realized we needed to back up.
- We realized that blogging, like personal narrative or essay writing, is a genre. This sounds so obvious. It is almost embarrassing to admit we hadn’t considered it with that lens from the start. We hadn’t thought much about supporting writers in an unfamiliar platform.
- We realized that blog writers needed to know more about the genre- what compelling posts look and sound like. What makes posts interesting or dull, easy or hard to read. Blog writers, just like fiction and essay writers, need a vision.
- We realized bloggers need an audience to read and respond to their posts.
- We realized we could teach blog writers certain craft moves.
Students realized some things too.
- Students realized that some posts got more comments than others. Did that mean that more people read those posts? If so, why? How, they wondered, do we get more readers and commenters? They already knew that responses to writing are motivating.
- Students in the third grade classroom where I was teaching on Fridays, wondered how to make paragraphs in a blog post. In Writing Workshop they had studied informational writing, and drafted animal reports, and they had learned why paragraphing makes writing more effective.
- Students in third grade recognized that blog posts sounded and looked different from other kinds of writing, and they wondered what made them different.
- They wondered if they could use emojis.
- They wondered how to convey strong feelings like excitement or surprise.
- They wondered about spelling unfamiliar words.
And so, from student wonderings and teacher noticing, grew blogging mini-lessons in third grade. On Fridays, towards the end of project/work time and before reflection/blogging time, my co-teacher and I presented brief, targeted mini-lessons to help student bloggers craft stronger posts. We started this work later in the year than we would have liked. Next year we’ll begin blogging mini-lessons as soon as new writers begin blogging.
Here are a few mini- lessons we taught, or realized we should teach. We’re still adding to the list. Other things will come up, as we see what next year’s blog writers know and can do, and what they need to lift the level of their posts.
- Catchy titles (Next year we are going to keep a list of ones we especially like and encourage blog writers to use them like mentor texts)
- How to make a post visually appealing:
- Using bold and italics feature
- Using bullets
- Adding photos, videos and links
- Using emojis in moderation
- Making a post readable and enjoyable for the reader:
- Relaxed, conversational style vs. language that is too casual
- Spell check
- Buddy editing
- Encouraging reader responses:
- Developing voice in blog posts- using bold, italics, upper case letters and punctuation
- Including targeted questions
- Requesting feedback
- Including honest sharing about what’s going well and what is frustrating with Friday learning.
- Writing posts that are understandable for a reader who is unfamiliar with what you’re writing about.
- Including an introduction
- Briefly explaining your work
My co-teacher created anchor charts to help our third grade bloggers recall mini lessons and develop independence. Next year we will create more effective charts.
A word about editing:
We spent time debating how much student work should be edited before it goes out to the world. Should teachers correct spelling? Add punctuation? For now we’ve decided to take a fairly hands-off approach. While we teach and encourage editing, we don’t correct spelling or expect perfection, opting to give the writer more control and ownership of his/her post.
And a word about parents:
It is important to educate and inform parents about student blogging. Many will be unfamiliar with blogging, and its more casual nature. We explain that we are teaching blog writing skills just as we teach skills for other kinds of writing. We encourage parents to comment on their child’s post, focusing on content, not spelling and grammar.
Check out the third grade blog posts.
Perhaps one of the most exciting blogging moments came when one boy who was investigating safety features of military planes got a response to this post from a teacher who never would have known what he was working on had he not blogged about it. Turns out she knew a C130 pilot, and the very next Friday that child spent thirty minutes conducting a Face Time interview with that pilot. Victory!
What challenges do your student bloggers face? How are you supporting their growth as blog writers?
Lisa Keeler reads, writes, learns and teaches in Charlottesville, Virginia. She is the writing workshop coordinator and teaches third and fourth grade reading and language arts at an independent school there. In her spare time, Lisa loves to cook, exercise, and spend time with her busy teenage daughters.