How an Audience Has Improved My Students’ Writing

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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.

About the Author
Erin Cramer is a fourth grade teacher at Russell Elementary School in Hazelwood, Missouri. She is a National Board Certified teacher, and she is active in her local NEA affiliate. She is the mother of twin high school boys, and in her free time she loves to read, crochet, and cook.

4 comments

  1. Brian Norris

    Thanks for the great ideas. I am trying to find a safe way to have my 4th graders respond to 4th grade students in other schools. Brian.

  2. debby

    Thanks for the article! I just started using kidblog this year with my 6th grade PreAP students and have worked out most of the bugs. They have done several “free blogs” about whatever, 2 “book share blogs” and 3 “responding to literature” blogs when we were doing our novel, Roll of Thunder. There was SO much traffic and enthusiasm between the 3 classes and wow, we were all so excited! But I feel like we have hit a “wall” of sorts, less blogs, less commetns, less visiting the kidblog site, etc and Im not sure how to get the ball rolling again. I have been checking into posting to outside users but dont know how to do that! Any suggestions? What are some assignments you give? Do you ever assign “x number of comments” requirement? If so, how do you check it? I was doing a checklist thing and it was very cumbersome.

  3. Erin Cramer

    We also hit that wall multiple times a year. I think it is inevitable. The best way to keep interest in the blog is to make the posts public and then connect with other classes outside of your school. I make those connections on Twitter using #commentsforkids and @kidblogdotorg. If you are not a Twitter user, a quick Google search will lead you to many tutorials. It is super easy.

    I also do have them do a required number of comments. And yes, it is cumbersome, but no more so than grading worksheets. If they are commenting on one of my blogs, I can check them later because I monitor all comments coming in since our blog is public. If they are commenting on blogs outside of our classsroom, I make them show it to me before they submit it. That way I can quickly read and check it (and record a grade if applicable), and I can give a quick grammar lesson for one of the errors I see. I don’t correct all of the errors, but I try to have them correct all simple errors like capital letters and punctuation, and, if time, I may give them one more tip on something else they didn’t do correctly. It is a busy time, but the kids love commenting outside our room almost as much as they like receiving outside comments.

    • Erin Cramer

      I just realize that I should have sent this as a reply. Sorry!

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