“To begin, begin.” – William Wordsworth
When you’re new to a grade level, and you have more questions than answers, it can be hard to know where to begin. This year, I became a third grade teacher after ten years of teaching kindergarten. It was a move I asked for and, frankly, needed for a variety of reasons. There was (and is!) a lot for me to learn about how third graders think, problem solve, read and write. Robert John Meehan said, “Your life as a teacher begins the day you realize that you are always a learner.” I remember my first year of teaching in 2001 and how I felt lost and overwhelmed. I foolishly believed that I was supposed to already know everything about teaching and didn’t want to let on that I had many, many questions. As I began this new adventure in third grade, it felt like the first year of teaching again, with two important exceptions: 1) Now I know that it’s okay to ask for help and not have all the answers, and 2) I have guiding beliefs, based on research and experience, about how students develop as literate human beings. Deep in my soul, I believe students need choices and time to practice whatever they are learning. They need authentic reasons to read and write, real opportunities to discuss their ideas and send them out into the world. Making the transition to third grade, these beliefs grounded me. With my beliefs in mind, I read on Chris Lehman’s Educator Collaborative Community about teachers using Kidblogs with their students. At the time, I didn’t have my own blog, but I saw that it would be a chance for students to self-select topics and publish to a wider audience. I dived in and created a class profile on the user-friendly Kidblog site. In the Twitter #satchat on May 2nd, Simon Johnson tweeted, “Risk taking coupled with reflection can be powerful tools in a teacher’s toolkit.” As the year winds down, I am reflecting on our classroom blogging experience and what I’ve learned.
Teaching Consideration: What is a blog?
- In September, I used the Kidblog teacher page to write my blog posts. I introduced students to blogging with my own welcome post.
- Continue the blog I began this winter and share relevant posts with the students. Be reflective on my own writing process.
- Utilize student mentor posts from my class. Share other student samples from classes in different schools.
Teaching Consideration: Topics for blogs
- My students and I discussed and charted ideas for blog posts in September.
- Teach minilessons throughout the year on ways to get ideas for your blog.
Teaching Consideration: How often should students blog?
- No required blog posts.
- A few students blogged on their own after school, on the weekends, during school breaks, after field trips, and even while away from school on a vacation.
- Emphasize that you need to blog regularly to grow as a writer.
- Use September to teach about blogs, launch our blogs, gather ideas and then create the expectation that students will post to their blog once a week, beginning in October.
Teaching Consideration: Audience
- Some students wanted to post strings of letters or exclamation marks, without regard to the purpose of their post.
- Comments on blogs were exciting for the students, especially when our principal, another teacher, or a family member posted.
- Teach students the difference between writing in your notebook and blogging.
- Use the idea of “audience” to springboard conversations about conventions, speling, and writing purpose.
- Plan more explicit lessons on how to comment on other students’ blogs.
- Involve families and school staff in reading blogs and posting more comments.
Teaching Consideration: Blogging Challenge
- I took part in the Slice of Life Story Challenge in March, and it changed me. Like any passionate convert, I wanted my students to experience the joy of blogging each day.
- I issued a challenge to my class and bought prizes as rewards for participating.
- One student faithfully blogged each day of the spring break and completed the challenge weeks early. In this post, her writing shows she identifies herself as a blogger and sees writing in her future.
- Connect my class to the Classroom Slice of Life Challenge in March. Knowing other kids are participating and connecting with other classes will provide a wider audience and motivation to write.
- Seek out other classroom teachers who participate prior to the challenge to share ideas and strategies on how to make the challenge as successful and enriching as possible.
Reflecting on this year, I’m celebrating how my students and I have evolved as writers. When I set out to have students become bloggers, I didn’t realize the power that would come from my own blogging. I’ve come to see that blogging helps you think through questions, allows you to make sense of your world and catch moments of insight and brilliance that might otherwise float away. It connects you to readers and makes you part of a community of writers. Blogging is purpose-driven, authentic writing. Going back to my core beliefs that I carried with me to third grade, blogging allows choice, practice, and authenticity for student writers. As teachers, we are always encouraging our students to take risks and try new things. This year of jumping in has given me a place to start. Reflecting has helped me see new possibilities for next year. If you’ve been standing on the shore, considering blogging, or maybe just dipped a teeny, tiny toe in, I invite you to take the risk, take a running leap, and dive in, too! Kathleen Sokolowski began her career in 6th grade and spent ten years as a kindergarten teacher. Currently a third grade teacher in Farmingdale, NY, Kathleen is also a proud member of the Long Island Writing Project. She loves learning alongside other passionate teachers and believes in the power of literacy to transform lives. A wife and mom of two, Kathleen spends more time watching “Peppa Pig” than she cares to admit.