1. If you're gonna walk the walk, you'd better be willing to blog the blog
I have always asked my students to do writing assignments, but I never actually did them myself. I decided that if I am going to ask my students to blog, then I should do it myself. I have found that this is helpful in two ways:
- Providing a "model" for the students to see before they begin writing.
- It shows the students that we are all in this together, and that I am not going to assign something that I am not willing to complete myself.
I currently maintain three blogs: this one for my professional writing, an English IV blog for my seniors and an English II blog for my sophomores. I use Edmodo to communicate with my students, so I set up my blog to automatically show up on Edmodo as a news feed. Students only have to log-in to Edmodo to see each time I post, so they don't have to know to check out my blog.
2. Use Google Reader to organize your classes.
I can also quickly run through the folder at the start of the hour to tell my students which blogs I have updates for.
If you have an iPad, you can add a section for each folder in Flipboard for your Google Reader account. This makes it very easy to read your students' blogs on your iPad. I highly recommend it.
3. Create a weekly award.
I created the Raven Blogger Award for the top blog posts each week.
Each week, I select 1-2 winners of the award from each hour. I create a post with my overall thoughts about what I saw in the blog posts. Then I name the weekly winners, with a short explanation about why they won the award.
This also is a way for my students to see a great example of each writing assignment. I am seeing them stepping up their games to win the award. Several students have asked if I have selected the winners yet, so I know it is important to them.
During parent teacher conferences, I had several parents tell me how excited their students were to win this award. One father told me that his daughter came running down the stairs screaming because she was so excited. It is a small thing, but it shows you how powerful it can be to feature your students' work and give them praise for excellence.
4. Get them writing about SOMETHING.
I have not done much writing since high school when I wrote for the high school newspaper. I wrote papers in college, but they were purely academic. Blogging, however, has rejuvenated my passion for writing. I have always enjoyed writing, but I had not written about something I was really interested in for a long time.
I am trying to alternate between academic writing (persuasive essays, novel discussion) and writing just for the enjoyment of writing. I borrowed some ideas from Kelly Gallagher's book Teaching Adolescent Writing where he has some prompts that are meaningful for the students.
One prompt from the book that we did was about a snapshot that is meaningful to them. I asked them to post a picture of the photo, and explain what it meaningful about it. From this prompt, I saw some amazing writing because it was MEANINGFUL to them. I believe blogging is a powerful medium that can encourage our students to write in order to explore new ideas, try new writing techniques, take chances, simply have fun with writing.
I am still working out the logistics of how to give the best feedback. Every method I have tried has positives and negatives.
I have left comments on their posts. This is good for posts where I don't have to necessarily critique their writing. The downside to this is that I don't know when or if they respond to my comment unless I go back through each blog and look for it.
I have sent messages through Edmodo with suggestions and feedback. This method is good, but the comments are not "attached" to the writing as they are when they are at the end of a blog post. If a student asks me about the comments, I have to go back and look at what I wrote on Edmodo, which can become cumbersome.
Turnitin.com is an excellent way to provide feedback to students about their writing. You can use highlighters and "write" directly on their paper. I am considering having them submit to turnitin.com so I can give them feedback before they post to the blog. I think this will be effective, although it will involve them "posting" their paper to turnitin.com and then posting to their blog.
I am really enjoying reading what my students are writing in their blogs. I believe this is a real-world experience where they have a much larger audience for their writing. What are some other tips you have for blogging with students?