At the beginning of the year, I tell students that we are breaking down the walls of our classroom in order to connect with other writers within our school and beyond. Although the stereotype of the isolated writer composing novels in a log cabin in the woods exists, we know that writers typically do not write in isolation. They often inspire one another and have many readers and critiques before their work hits the bookstore. For the past four years, we’ve been using Kidblog in 11th grade English in order to make those connections and to create an audience for our student writers. They get excited and inspired when they get comments from their writing buddy, parents, peers, and students from other high schools. I’ve witnessed a remarkable improvement in the quality of the writing that students publish on Kidblog, as opposed to when they used to turn it in to me, lone teacher, audience of one. One of my students, Sam, shares that publishing inspires her to do her best work:
“I enjoy the feedback on the comments, and as a writer, it’s nice to know what people (other than the teacher) think about my writing. I think this will help me because now other people can read my posts, and because of that, I feel like the posts need to be the best they can be.”
As a teacher, I love to witness their excitement as they get responses to their writing; they begin to see that their voice, their ideas, their words truly matter to those they know and care about, as well as, people they have never met. Through our connections with Kidblog, they have been excited for the opportunity to be mentors to elementary students. They have provided their buddies with positive feedback while giving them some ideas for revision and writing strategies. Students have also shared that they gain new ideas from their peers. One student, Chloe, states:
“I like blogging because I can see how other people write, and [I can] read writing from other classes. It has helped me as a writer because I can pick up techniques from other people.”
Kidblog creates a writing community where we have 150 juniors connected to one another—when we add other classes, writing buddies, and parents, relatives, and friends, it is quite a large audience. Because we have so many people that are able to provide feedback, comments, and inspiration, it’s a wonderful support to our student writers.
To generate awareness of our writing blogs and get comments, we have blog comment contests between all the classes. I send out the blog addresses to all the parents, and students can tweet or share their blog address on social media, email, etc. The class that gets the most comments at the end of the week wins doughnuts/pizza/something delicious. The comment contests help to share our writing blogs with a wider audience. Students get ideas for revision and are able to see which pieces and writing strategies work the best (and which missed the mark). Upon reflection, they are able to understand their strengths and weaknesses as writers and continue to build on both.
Beyond writing, our Kidblog audience has helped to strengthen relationships between students and parents, as well as among students within the class and school. When students share their memoirs, poetry, and other personal writing, parents have said they’re able to have a window to see inside their adolescent student, who may not share as much as they used to when they were younger.
Parents have told me that they cried or laughed when they read a certain piece due to its power, beauty, or poignancy. Some have shared that they had no idea that their child felt a certain way until they read their writing. Relatives that live across the country have appreciated that they are able to read and get to know students on a deeper level than would have otherwise been possible. Students have expressed that they felt great relief when other students have shared their struggles and difficulties in their writing; they get support through the comments and gain a greater understanding of their peers. They are able to see that we all struggle with something at one time or another, and that they are not alone in their struggles. This message is affirming and hopeful during high school and beyond.
Creating an audience for students helps them to discover that writing is not just fulfilling a class assignment—it can be a tool for thinking, a means to connect with readers, and a way to understand ourselves and others.