Making a change
As a sixth grade language arts teacher, I am always pushing my kids to write, write, write. We write poems, analytical responses to literature, summaries, research papers, argumentative essays, and stories. I teach them how to prewrite, draft, revise, edit, and publish. They work hard and produce some pretty awesome writing.
Why, then, do some students hate to write? Aren’t they proud of producing a polished piece of writing? Although I give them many tools to help them write, it is still hard to generate a positive response to writing. I had a moment three years ago (as my fourth class of the day groaned over a writing assignment) when I realized I needed to change something in our writing routine.
My desire is that kids enjoy writing and recognize its value. They still need to learn what I am teaching them, but I needed to add an element of fun. I was at the National Council of Teachers of English in Boston when I ran across a Kidblog booth. This safe way to blog amongst my students really appealed to me. I loved how I could control the privacy of our blogs, as well as review comments before they post. In addition, I could create a fun and attractive home page for each of my classes. Anything to make them notice and get excited!
I began to implement “Kidblog Fridays.” Every Friday for the first 30 minutes of class (I am fortunate and have a 75 minute block each day with my students), students get to blog on Kidblog. They sign in with individual passwords, create their avatars, then write. The only “rules” I gave them were to write so your audience (peers) can understand, and the content must be appropriate for school. I encouraged them to write about something they care about!
Expecting great things in my first period class, I sat back and watched about half of my students stare at their screens for over 5 minutes. I began to walk around and talk to each child, asking questions that might give them a writing topic. This worked, but I felt like we were disturbing students around us during these conversations. Once I had everyone going, I sat down and blogged myself. I wrote a short blog about my dog, an adorable Dachshund Poodle mix with a big personality. I explained how she was like another child to me and how much joy and comfort she brings our family. I then published it to the class.
The secret ingredient
As the next class rolled in, I had them log in to Kidblog and read my post first. I told them I welcomed their feedback and comments. Many wanted to tell me their thoughts, but I made them write them instead using the comment section of the post. After they finished with mine, I gave them the remaining 20 minutes to write about anything they chose, following the same Kidblog rules I gave my first period students. I had to help very few students get started, although I did get a lot of pet stories!
I have since given students fun journal prompts on Fridays. They always have the option to write about whatever they want instead of my prompts. Many students ask to work on a previous blog they had saved as a draft. They can also spend up to 10 minutes of their time reading blogs from their classmates, commenting, and returning comments. Imagine my joy when the students groaned as I told them their blogging time was over!
I’ve learned that students can enjoy writing through blogging. This enjoyment has also carried over to the other types of writing we do, as we focus on what our purpose for writing is and who our audience will be. Our blogging experience also reinforced what I know to be good teaching practice: modeling is incredibly effective!