I have plans, big plans, for my third grader writers this year! Topping the list is helping them to become bloggers. Last year, new to third grade, I dove into blogging with my students, not yet a blogger myself. Through the course of the year, I thankfully discovered the Two Writing Teachers community, created my own blog and eventually joined the team as a co-author at the end of June. Being a blogger has changed my life (and I’m not even being dramatic! ). Blogging is one way to share your voice and ideas, to make your mark on the world.
International Dot Day, September 15th (ish) celebrates that very idea of making your mark on the world. Based on Peter H. Reynold’s book, The Dot, International Dot Day has become a time to celebrate creativity, individuality, encouraging others to take risks and believe in their own talents. As I was considering how I would launch blogging this year, I decided that International Dot Day would be a perfect time to present the idea that being a blogger is a way to make your mark on the world.
On September 16th, the students came to school wearing polka dots, but not quite sure why. With much enthusiasm, I read The Dot to my class and we discussed what we thought of the book. The big message was that sometimes you just have to try, have confidence in your abilities, and encourage others to be their best, too. We talked about Dot Day being a time to celebrate your gifts and abilities. But what if you don’t think you have abilities? What if years of doing poorly in math or reading or writing have made you believe, secretly, that perhaps you are not very smart at all?
Over the summer, I learned about Marble Theory of Intelligence in Paul Solarz’ brilliant book, Learn Like a Pirate: Empower Your Students to Collaborate, Lead, and Succeed. On pages 63-65, Paul details how he teaches his class about the Marble Theory of Intelligence. The theory goes that all of us are born with the same amount of intelligence, as represented by marbles. When we are born, the marbles are all in one big heap, but as we grow and develop skills, marbles are put into cups. The cups represent the skills you have. You can get more marbles by working hard, practicing, and learning new things. Schools typically recognize the intelligence of students who have a lot of marbles in their math and reading cups. The students with many marbles in other cups, like drawing, playing an instrument, dancing, athletic ability, and understanding emotions, do not always get recognized for having smarts in those areas. Marble Theory of Intelligence is a way to level the playing field and let your class know that we all have talents.
On Dot Day, we sat in a circle and I brought out a bag of marbles and small cups. They were curious and I had their attention! I labeled the cups with words and phrases like “playing the clarinet”, “cooking”, “reading fluently” and “writing”. Next, I set about describing The Marble Theory of Intelligence to them. With marbles and cups in front of me, I began placing marbles into the cups, explaining why I was putting more into some then others. My “clarinet” cup was empty because I never practiced much and stopped playing years ago. My “cooking” cup only had a few marbles in it because cooking well is currently not a skill I possess, although I explained with effort, lessons and hard work, I could get more marbles in that cup! I explained that my “reading fluently” cup had a lot of marbles because it was a skill I needed for teaching and I practiced it each day. By showing the students that there were areas where I was not particularly strong and practice made my skills stronger, I let them know that it is okay to not be good at everything right away. That teachers aren’t smart at everything all the time and have areas where we need to develop too!
Then, I asked the students to think of the cups they have. What are their skills and strengths? What cups are less full, the areas they might need to work on more? Students were excited to share what they were good at. Each student drew pictures of cups and made markings to show if the cup was full of marbles or not. They wrote what each cup represented above it. We added pictures of their cups to their SeeSaw digital portfolio so we could refer back to it throughout the year.
A Personal Story
Now that the students were feeling positive about all their strengths and thinking about what interests them most, I introduced the idea of blogging. We defined a blog as an online diary or journal that you share with a community. We said bloggers write about things they are knowledgeable or passionate about. I shared that I have a blog where I like to write about being a teacher and being a mom- two things I care deeply about. I explained that they would blog about the things that are important in their lives- the things they really enjoy.
Then I shared a personal story. I began by telling my class that last March, I wrote a blog post about my Pre-K teacher, Mrs.Skeggs. During the month of March, to put more positive teaching stories out in the universe,I blogged every Thursday about an educator who deserved my gratitude. Mrs. Skeggs was one of those teachers. Sadly, she passed away in 1996. It felt so good to remember her kindness and share that on my blog, but I had no idea that it would go any further than that.
In August, 5 months after my post, I received the loveliest email from Mrs. Skeggs’ husband. He said a family member found my post and shared it with him and his now grown children. He wrote how touched he was that I remembered his late wife and was so impacted by her. He filled me in on how their children were doing and what life had been like for them after Mrs. Skeggs passed away. I never imagined that Mrs. Skeggs’ family would be able to read my post dedicated to her. I’m so glad that my memories of her brought them happiness.
Students sometimes associate writing as something they do just for school. I hoped by sharing this story, they see that their writing can make an impact on others. Now they know their teacher is a blogger and finds joy and meaning in the experience. More than something they will be asked to do, it is something WE will all do as a community of writers.
I wanted to continue building excitement about blogging, even though we wouldn’t be able to get into the computer lab right away. We discussed how blogs usually have names. Students brainstormed names for their blogs, based on their interests. We came back to the circle and shared the titles they were considering. Their enthusiasm for starting a blog filled me with hope that we are going to have a fantastic year of writing, growing and sharing as a community.
International Dot Day was a joyful day to be a teacher. The greatest gift is to be able to help students understand their own abilities and strengths. To help them understand that they can make the world a better place with their talents.
When it comes to writing, I can refer back to Marble Theory of Intelligence throughout the year. If a student has wonderful, creative ideas, we can discuss how the cup of marbles for creativity is very full! The student will hopefully be more inclined and receptive to working on weaker areas- perhaps conventions or organization. Celebrating strengths makes it easier to work on areas of need.
Knowing their strengths and identifying their interests and passions will give students a starting point for blogging. And why should they blog anyway? Hopefully, after our International Dot Day celebration, students will understand that blogging is one way to have a voice in the world, connect with others, and share stories.
In her Closing at the Educator Collaborative Gathering on September 19th, Kristi Mraz said, “…We make better classrooms today to make a better world tomorrow.” For me, a better classroom is one where students are honored for their unique talents, feel safe to take risks, make connections to real world ideas, and have opportunities to share their stories. How do you encourage students to use writing as a way to make their mark on the world?