By Siobhan Shonk
As teachers, we’ve all heard of really great ideas we’d like to incorporate into our lessons. Sometimes our excitement is met with success, while other times we try it and vow never to do it again. Using a blog with a classroom of kids has the potential to go either way. It’s all in the planning – and it’s worth it.
There’s a learning curve involved with blogging that we need to address so our students can be successful. It doesn’t always work when we unleash a class full of creative wonders and keep our fingers crossed that students will stay on task and be respectful. With my classes, I try to focus on feedback before we do anything else. It’s something they receive on a regular basis, but it’s not always something that they have practice giving. Being able to collaborate and discuss ideas is an essential skill. Before any authentic blogging occurs, we work on sharing ideas and giving each other feedback in a way that will further everyone’s learning. This is an important skill.
The Importance of Commenting
Students love blogging for the authenticity of audiences and format. They are willing to put themselves and their writing out there, and they don’t want to read a bunch of comments that are irrelevant or only serve as false flattery. They want to know what their audience really thinks, and even discuss their ideas with them. So the best thing you can do as a teacher is teach kids how to comment on peers’ work, in such a way as to improve the original piece, or further the understanding of the one who is commenting. Sounds easy right?
Involve the kids, and practice with writing that is low risk, or does not belong to them. Use examples which are not blog posts, but other formats; or have students create paper blogs (a practice I adopted from @pernilleripp). It calms students’ nerves, and allows for honesty in comments. Honesty is a great teaching tool because in encouraging honesty we ensure authentic feedback, but we need to teach them how to be honest in a productive and friendly fashion. So, practice and set some ground rules from the discussions you have with your class around their commenting. Discussing how a comment might make someone feel is important, as is a discussion around the purpose of posting a comment. Does it further anyone’s understanding? Does it enhance the discussion?
How to Leave Effective Comments
Have students take notice of interesting ideas in the post and make connections to what they already know, ask questions, and notice what’s going on in their heads while they’re reading – reading comprehension strategies at their best. When they’re ready to comment, encourage them to give an honest opinion – but not a critique of the writing. Focus on the content.
- Ask questions about difficult concepts
- Share what the writing made them think about
- Challenge the thinking of other people. Sometimes learning happens when people are forced to rethink their ideas.
- Always be polite. Rude people are rarely influential. In fact, their opinion is usually ignored.
- Encourage them to finish with a question which other bloggers and commenters can respond. This encourages conversations and purposeful comments.
Be polite, Be specific, and Be positive
In the end, our class motto ends up looking something like: Be polite, Be specific, and Be positive. However, we work really hard on separating a comment which disagrees with ideas made in a post, with a personal attack on the writer. If their thinking gets challenged, we don’t want them to be offended. Instead, encourage them to listen to their peers, consider their positions, and decide whether or not they agree. Give them the right to accept or reject ideas, and have them respond to the comment to let the audience know how their ideas have influenced them.
Ideally, working together to enhance our communication and solidify our ideas will serve us all well in the future. Starting a blog where kids can safely learn how to interact and provide kind, quality feedback to each other, will make them more aware of themselves as writers and thinkers.
Photo Credit: Alan Levine via flickr cc