As the new school year starts, many of us teachers are planning and thinking of what we are going to do. What do we need to change from last year? What do we need to do new? How can we improve what we have always done? And many other questions that have been rattling around in our brains all summer.
Sometimes it is scary to start something new. I know when I first started with Kidblog it was scary. It was my first time with 7th graders in a new school. I didn’t know what to expect or what level they were going to have in English, as it was a dual language program. I knew though that I had to go for it. I had to just start.
That was the easy part. I set up the class blog first. I used the class list number before the students’ names in order to make checking the blog easier. I also used the class code for the students to log in. Getting my class ready to use the blog was something I was unsure of at first. For many, it is new technology; most of my students had never used a blog before. They were familiar with Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc., but nothing with longer articles.
So in order to cross that bridge, I went back to the tried and true writing on paper. I had the students write out a paragraph on paper; as it is the beginning of the year and still getting to know each other, my topics generally are get to know each other topics for this. “What did you do this summer?” is a topic that generally went over well. And for those students who stayed at home and watched Netflix all summer, I had them describe in detail what they watched and what happened.
The second step was to post the paragraphs around the room. I had all of the students get up and go and read a few of their classmates’ ideas. While they were doing this, I was listening to the comments that they were saying to each other. When they were back in their seats, I asked them to repeat some of the comments they were saying. At this point, we talked about constructive feedback and non-constructive feedback as well as hurtful comments versus encouraging comments. I then gave each student 2 post-it notes and asked them to write a comment down on the post-it note. They then went around the room and placed the comments on the paragraph they wanted to comment on. They were familiar with giving oral feedback, but the written comment took more practice.
It is at this point I was able to introduce my students to the platform of Kidblog and allow them to play with it. We voted as a class what the background was going to be; they changed their avatars and personalized their account. I didn’t have many parents, but I loved that the parents could log in and see what their kids were doing. My students wanted to use the technology. They wanted to write. They wanted to read what others had written. It was exciting.
I didn’t want to waste this excitement with my telling the students what they had to write about, but I didn’t want to lose the students who have trouble coming up with a topic to write about. It was my catch twenty-two. What worked for me most of the time was to allow the students to choose their own topic, but they had to write a minimum of 200 words at the beginning of the year on that topic. They could write about whatever they wanted. I tried to guide them to personal matters as it is harder for them to copy and paste from somewhere on a personal matter. I also provided them a list of ideas that they could write about if they didn’t have their own idea. Many times I got writing about how their weekend was, or what they did in soccer practice, but they were writing.
Growth is a process and writing, just like everything else, improves with practice. I enjoy watching my students grow through the year as they improve upon the skills they are acquiring through writing. As we start this year, I am thankful that I have Kidblog to help my students grow as writers, readers and thinkers. As Dr. Seuss puts it, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”