Take Writing To A New Level

So here we are in January! The year is flying by, but don’t fret, it’s not too late to relish new possibilities and embark on something that’s been nagging you!

If that one little thing is blogging, then you’re in the right place.

As a first grade teacher, I blogged with my students, and in my current role (technology integration coach) I collaborate with teachers, students, and even other coaches on their blogging journies. I have seen blogging become a natural part of the writing day and I have seen blogging fade out and become non-existent.

In this post, I am going to share with you how to make blogging a natural part of your writing workshop where writers can become regular bloggers!

Immersion & Wonder

Just as we would with any genre study, begin by surrounding yourself and your writers with the writing the students will be doing, in this case, blogs! If you’re not a blog reader, reach out and find a few blogs that match your personal interest and spend some time familiarizing yourself with the genre of blogging from an adult perspective. As the students explore, encourage them to discuss the standard features, they notice in the blogs, ideas they would like to include in their blogs, and questions they’re wondering about.

Having a familiarity with the benefits of reading blogs will motivate you and your writers to be bloggers.

Set Your Purpose

Why do you want your class to blog?

  • To encourage a love of writing?
  • To encourage creativity?
  • To find a writing voice?
  • To set an online presence?
  • To discover writing is fun?
  • Or, to complete an assignment given by the teacher?

Many teachers who welcome blogging into the workshop find it brings love and creativity to writing. In classrooms where students are given carte blanche over topics, genre, and digital tools and media for posting (while maintaining a positive digital presence, of course, remember we are teaching the responsibility of digital citizenship), teachers find blogging breathes a new life into the workshop and blogging sticks. Students look forward to sharing their ideas and creativity.

This ownership in blogging provides writers with an intrinsic motivation for writing. They begin to develop a “writerly” voice and find an audience as they connect with writers who have similar interests. Connections can be as close as the classroom next door, the school across town, or a school in another country. Once a writer has ownership over their writing, and they know they have readers, they’ve found a reason to write, this knowledge fuels writers, unlike any assignment we could ever create for them.   

Teacher Beware

Beware of the difference between a skilled app user and those who have a flexible and fluid understanding of digital tools. It can be easy to assume our students know more about technology than we do, regardless of the student’s age. However, students tend to be experts on particular apps and lack the skills they need to work efficiently as digital producers. Students will need explicit teaching and guidance as they learn to navigate familiar tools in new and intentional ways. We can support our students in becoming digital writers and citizens within the framework of our writing workshop. New skills are introduced in minilessons, practiced in independent writing, guided through our conferring, and shared in closing share circles.

Honoring blog writing and teaching within the folds of the writing workshop show your writers you value blogging and allows your writers to choose to blog.

Honoring a Writers Development

Keyboarding

Locating letters on the keyboard can slow some writers down. Take a small amount of time to “work the keyboard.” Younger students like scavenger hunt type games. For example, “Find G and K. What row are they in?” “What letter is beside Q?” These games, in addition to lessons on how to make end marks (. , ?) or an uppercase letter, will help students feel more comfortable and move more fluidly. The occupational therapists I have worked with have recommended teaching traditional keyboarding skills later because they aren’t shown until third grade or later due to hand size. But, students don’t need to wait to begin writing digitally. Many students become very adept on tablets with little practice.

Spelling

How do we balance the development of a writer with the assistive tools available on digital devices?  Where is the cohesion of predictive word assistance with the students need for developmental spelling? How does the student’s freedom to record the sounds they hear and keep going compete with the red lines under words? These well-intentioned features provide feedback to writers that traditional tools do not. How can we balance the developmental needs of writers and these features?  

Predictive spelling is an optional feature on iPads. As the teacher, we will need to decide if we want to leave this feature on or off. If we choose to leave this feature on, how do we want the writers to use it?  As students type a word, the assistive technology will find words similar to what is being typed and offer suggestions. The first suggestion is just as the user has typed the word, the second suggestion in the closest match, and the third is another close but different option. Do we want to teach the students to look closely at the three proposals and think about why each one is or isn’t a good suggestion, changing our spelling attempts to get closer to the conventional spelling? Or, do we want them to simply pick the middle option, assuming it is typically the best choice? What about words the assistant doesn’t know how to spell?  How do we want the students to handle the red line under words? These are decisions we will need to make, and we will need to prepare to teach our writers.

Volume

When students produce work digitally, it is compact. The five sentences that may have gone across three pages in a handwritten booklet now fit neatly on one screen. The compact size of print can misrepresent the intensity behind the work. It’s important to keep in mind the writer is not only doing the work of a writer in determining a topic, and all that goes into creating a written narrative but also, they’re navigating a tool in a new way. They are also, possibly for the first time, considering an audience. The intensity of writing is now paired with the complexity of a new, albeit well-intentioned, tool. We can’t underestimate the thought and planning this requires from our writers.

Crafting Digitally

Maybe your workshop is open to the choice of pens, markers and other various writing tools and you’ve likely taught your writers the purpose of choosing different tools to compose. If that’s the case then the accessibility of fonts, font styles, and colors will be nothing new to your writers. But, if your writers are more accustomed to pencils in writing workshop, you’ll want to decide how you want to introduce these options in digital writing. Start with remembering your purpose, then design your lessons. I link these lessons to my writing craft lessons. Font styles and colors convey various moods. I teach my writers to match the style of the font to the mood and message of the story. I also teach digital writers to consider the readability of the font style and colors. As I am sure you’re imagining now, writers can get carried away here! I find having a digital notebook/playground, a place where writers can collect, practice, and explore these tools and ideas very helpful. This might be in a blog post students never publish, the Notes app (if you’re on an iPad), Google Docs, or any app where you can upload files, links, photos, and type. Embrace this exploration as work writers do and allow your writers time in your workshop to learn about the craft moves they can make with fonts and colors. Writers who explore and learn about these tools and their purpose become intentional writers.  

 

If that one little thing that was nagging at you was blogging, I hope you’ve found reassurance and motivation to make blogging a natural part of the writing day in your classroom.

In my next post, I am going to share with you how to make blogging connections and ensure your students are upstanding digital citizens.