Friday, October 21, 2016
A Blog About Blogging
I have been blogging about my teaching irregularly for over a year now. I never know what I'm going to blog about until I want to blog about it, hence the very irregular posts. So, I was hesitant when I sat in a GAFE session lead by Chris Moore. He shared his classroom blogs with us and discussed the global audience that blogs opened for students. I still felt unsure. How would I connect it to content? What about grading? How would I monitor it? These questions all ran through my mind. I was curious though and started to read more about student blogs. I read a couple articles from Ditch That Textbook. These two really stuck, "My Plea for Public Student Blogging" and "20 Ideas for Solid Student Blogging." Of course, it also really helped that my teaching partner, LaDonna, was on fire! She always is! She had a plan in place to set our students up with blogs and get each of them going! Without her I wouldn't have been able to make the leap to having student blogs! Thank you! Thank you, Mrs. Welch!
So, the students had blogs, now what? What were they going to blog about? I needed something to get us going. My previous school used Lucy Calkins Writer's Workshop, and Companion Books is part of the informative writing unit. For the past two years I have had students create companion novels related to choice reading. Here are some examples that I show the students: The Girl Who Was on Fire, Frozen: The Essential Guide, Ender's World: Fresh Perspectives on the SF Classic Ender's Game. This year I wanted to start with something similar and still give students choices, but I also wanted to encourage them to read, read, read! I created Lit-opoly and had students choose a genre to start, then as they read books they moved around the board and completed chance cards. Reading mulitple books or harder books was not the grade, I did not want to punish slower readers or lower level readers. The grade was their blog. Like the companion novel they were supposed to choose a focus for a post such as character development, conflict, setting, theme, etc. We blogged every two weeks. Brennan and Autumn really nailed our focus with their first blogs about conflicts and character development!
I had planned on having students blog three times during the six week unit. However, my plan changed when I taught a mini unit focusing on setting, character development, foreshadowing and mood. This is my Three Day Horror Story Unit. This is a mini unit that I created and left for a sub a few years back. The students read Duffy's Jacket by Bruce Coville and Three Skeleton Key by George G. Toudouze, then they write their own scary stories using these texts as mentor texts. We were wrapping up our semester, and the students were supposed to post their third Lit-opoly blog post, but my classes kept asking if they could have time to expand their stories and post those. MY STUDENTS WANTED WRITING TIME! I couldn't say no to that. So, they wrote their own scary stories. They focused on developing characters and settings, they focused on foreshadowing and setting an eerie mood in their writing.
The next thing I've learned about my students blogging is that they wanted time to read each other's blogs and other students. I found this out by having my students read an article by Kayla Delzer, "Three Reasons Students Should Own Your Classroom's Twitter and Instagram Accounts." I posted this article into my Activelylearn and asked my students what they thought about blogging, and if they wanted to have a class Twitter account. For my first question, "How can we improve our blogs so they are communicating what you feel is important? What would you change or do differently?" Stephen J. said, "I would make it so that we could have a day when we read the blogs of other classrooms and schools. This is important because we might get new ideas and vocabulary as well as reading other blogs and getting our blogs read by other people." Baylea L. was so honest that it made me laugh, "In my blog, I try to put it into a kid my age's perspective, and I try to keep it fun and not hard to read. Because that's what school is. Fun. Sure, work stinks majorly and grades are total butts, but school is supposed to be a fun place to learn and be with your friends. And I find that trying to make our classroom blogs fun (while also getting the point across) is important." Next I asked, "What is your opinion of having a class Twitter or Instagram account along with our blogs? Be detailed and specific. Thanks!" I got some great answers that really got me thinking. Audrey L. was honest in her hesitation to add something else, "I think it would be cool but it is just too much. I don't think it is really necessary. We already do blogs which are cool and I don't think we should do them (Twitter)." Alex E. looked at it as a skill building tool, "I think having a Twitter or Instagram account along with a blog is productive and helpful because kids get a chance to explain and interact with the material they are learning, and are going to be more prepared for the real world when they grow up because they will have experience with presenting and instructing others." Overall, I don't know if I'm ready to create a class Twitter account and hand over the reigns yet, but I'm optimistic for maybe building it in to second semester!
Because they asked for it, I gave my students a chance to read each other's blogs. A few of their favorites from the comments I heard in class were: Alex's "The Van"; Sean's "The Legend of Eneron's Soul"; and Gabriella's "The Vacation From Reality". I had two students try out new forms of writing for this project check out Daisy's "Ms. Mildred" written in journal form and Josh's "Home Alone, the Scary Story" written as a poem!
Two more amazing learning moments happened when the students were reading each other's blogs. One student explained to his classmates how to check their traffic. Suddenly I heard students exclaiming, "Someone in India read mine!" "I have people from France!" "Ten people read mine today!" The second experience was one of those moments that really gets your emotions going. In my 7th hr. we have two student who are non English proficient. One student speaks Mandarin, the other speaks Vietnamese. They can't even communicate with each other! These two often sit in the back with our wonderful paraprofessional translating text and using graphic organizers on their own. On our blog reading day I asked 7th hour to please check theirs out as well. The translation is often difficult and incorrect at times, each student is proficient in writing in her first language and uses Google Translate to switch the work to English. Here's an example of Ziren's. I asked the girls to go ahead and comment in their first language on the other students' blogs. The rest of the class could use translate for once. During blog reading time I had a student come up to me. He was really excited because he had gone into his blog and used Google Translate to translate his scary story in both Vietnamese and Chinese. Here is Jack's post. His original English version had errors in it, so the translation might have been even more difficult, but I encouraged him to let Ziren and Hoang know that they should check his out. He showed it to Ziren and her eyes lit up! She said, "OH!" and started reading from his iPad. Suddenly a few other students wanted to translate theirs and share also. This was the first time the students really started to understand how much more work their non-English speaking classmates put into our class just to understand our lessons on a daily basis! I loved it!
As we talk about our global community I also give the students time during warm-ups to check out other class blogs. Chris told us about #comments4kids at the GAFE summit and I have used that to find other classroom blogs to connect with. One that we connected with through Twitter is Mr Boylen's 7th and 8th grade classes. My students saw a lot of freedom in his student's blog posts. That's the next thing we discussed. I told them I didn't have to grade every blog post. We could definitely have free blog warm-ups where they could just post!
As we begin our second quarter I'm so excited to continue blogging in our classroom. Hopefully it will inspire me to blog more often! Then I won't have so much to say! Head to our iPad team website to see our student blogs.
Thanks for reading,
English Middle School Mania