Audience As Motivation
When I signed up for Kidblog just over a year ago, I asked myself a seemingly simple question. “Which topics would motivate a fourth grader to write for fun?” I came up with the usual things: Minecraft, sports, TV shows, movies. And yes, these topics did motivate some students to start blogging regularly, but I found that these were mainly the students who already enjoyed writing. Reaching the others took a little more time.
I soon realized that the topic didn’t matter as much as the audience they were writing for. Kidblog motivates young writers because they are no longer writing for just me; they are writing for each other, they are writing for students around the world, and they are writing (and reading!) to connect with other students who have similar interests.
The Power of Comments
This led me to another realization. I had to harness the power of the comments section. Through comments, students motivate each other to write. If they are reluctant to write a whole post, then encouraging them to make a few constructive comments on other students’ posts can go a long way toward inspiring them to write about the topic themselves. And it’s OK if their first blog posts are only motivated by receiving comments on their work, because you’ve still got them hooked. Today when I assign students a blog post on a certain topic, I usually make it a requirement that they also comment on at least three other posts. This has many positive effects: it exposes them to different styles of writing, it makes them think critically about what they are reading, and it builds relationships between students who otherwise might not interact with each other very often.
One of the more meaningful experiences our class has had with Kidblog was last year when a student of mine had to cut short the school year to undergo surgery on a brain tumor that had been growing since her last operation. Her classmates were worried about her and missed her, and in previous years she would have been cut off from them as she lay recovering in her hospital bed. With Kidblog it was different: When she woke up from her surgery she blogged from her hospital bed and shared her writing with the rest of the class. She shared her experiences of the hospital, her recovery, and what she’d been up to since the surgery. Within 5 minutes of the class discovering her blog post she had over twenty supportive, loving comments from her classmates saying things like; “Hang in there, we all love you,” “keep smiling, we miss you,” “come see us soon, we are thinking about you every day.” These comments, and the email I received from the student’s mother later telling me how wide her smile was when reading the comments validated and emphasized the power of Kidblog.