Teaching writing has been a challenging part of my job. Very few kids enjoyed writing in my class, and many outright hated it. While I have a “no moaning” policy in my room, the time of day most likely to elicit quiet moans and eye rolls was writing.
When I learned about blogging with Kidblog, new life was breathed into writing time for me and for my students. I thought the kids would love it because they would get to use computers to publish their thoughts. I thought they would like having a new medium for sharing their writing. I thought the technology was the key.
I was wrong. Technology was the hook; it was the thing that got them excited about starting their blogs. But, the audience turned out to be the key to improving their writing. We start every year of blogging by learning to write quality comments on other people’s blogs. The students see what other people write, and they take note of their own impressions of that writing. They realize early on that they don’t like blogs with a lot of errors, that don’t make sense, or that don’t say much. Once they begin writing their own blogs, they remember their experiences with other blogs, and it makes them want to improve their own writing.
The addition of an audience outside the walls of our classroom makes the students more aware of what they are writing. They reread what they have written to make sure it makes sense—and they fix it if it doesn’t! They think about what they are trying to say, and they make sure they are saying it in their blog. They cannot depend on me alone to “figure out” what they mean, because I am no longer their only audience member.
I have also seen a big improvement in students’ writing conventions. Prior to blogging, improving students’ conventions was an uphill battle. However, when we blog, students want their writing to be correct. When they read blogs with poor conventions, they make assumptions about the writer. They don’t want others making assumptions about them, and they learn early on that conventions make a difference in the impression a blog makes. Now the biggest part of our grammar time is spent learning new things to incorporate into their writing instead of reviewing the same rules they’ve learned every year since they started school. They want to know how to use correct conventions because they know it matters to their audience.
Obviously, spelling is better when they blog because the blog underlines any obvious misspellings. Watching them work to rid their writing of red lines is like watching them play a video game: they are focused and relentless. They also use better capital letters and punctuation because they are actually rereading the writing to make sure it makes sense. They will often bring me their writing and ask me what the best way to punctuate it would be. I have a few fourth graders every year who master the use of a colon or a semi-colon. The impetus behind all of the additional effort is the knowledge that the people reading their writing are real people from out in the world.
If you are not able to publish their blogs publicly (either because of district policy or personal preference), having the audience of other students in class helps too. We publish our class blog publicly, but we keep our reading blog within the walls of the classroom so that comments can be posted immediately without being monitored. They also get more immediate feedback: “Hey, Jack! What are you trying to say here? I don’t understand your fourth sentence.” It is genuine and immediate learning.
Expand your audience by tweeting your blog using hashtags such as #commentsforkids. Keep track of who is reading your blog using the map on your blog page. Make a big deal of the audience they are writing for, and remind them that their writing is representing who they are. They want people to know how amazing and smart and interesting they are; they need to make sure their writing demonstrates that identity to the world.