Fostering Thinking, Creativity, and Digital Citizenship Through Blogging

i_love_blogging-787805

I have been blogging with my students for the past three years.  It has grown and changed in purpose since I started.  I use a secure blogging site for classroms called 21classes, which ensures the privacy that I wanted for my 7th and 8th graders.  Originally, the blog was used as an online notebook for logging reading, creating journals, and posting assignments with an occasional discussion or two about a novel.  I quickly saw the power of using the blog to pre-discuss questions before class.  When my students were allowed the time and structure to pre-think what they were going to say online, I found they were more prepared, engaged, and willing to participate in a discussion during class.

What my blog was lacking was the interactivity created between a blogger and an authentic audience.  Since my blog is secure, I needed to be able to have students be that audience.  But what would they comment on?  I had tried creative writing and journaling in the past on the blog, but it never seemed to be something that sparked a conversation.  Once I read Jim Burke’s What’s the Big Idea? this summer and had a conversation with a colleague, I knew what I was going to do.   If I used Jim’s Big Questions in the back of the book as blog post ideas, I would be putting students in a position to answer a question by creating a conversation.  Each week, I require students to pick one of Jim’s Big Questions and write a 2 paragraph post about it.  They can respond by simply answering the question, creating a narrative story about the question, connecting the question to current events, or using a real life example to make a connection.  Some examples of the questions are:

  • When do you feel most free?
  • Why do we sing?
  • When is it better not to know?
  • Who is the real you?

Once I established the blogging assignment, I needed to focus on the digital citizenship aspect of commenting.  Believe it or not, there is not much out there about teaching commenting skills.  I came across this guest post by Kathleen McGeady on the edublogger about teaching commenting skills and etiquette.  This was exactly what I was looking for!  I adapted her guidelines for my classes and created “How to Comment on a Blog Post”:

How to Comment on a Blog Post

The purpose of commenting on a blog is to start a conversation based on a blog post.  It is a relationship that is created between the poster and the commenter.  Posting on a fellow classmate’s blog is like having a conversation with them in person.  When commenting on a blog post, you should ask yourself if you would say what you wrote on their blog to them face to face…if the answer to that question is no, you should rethink your comment.
  1. Write your comment like a letter by including a greeting, content and a closing.
  2. Always use correct spelling, punctuation, grammar and spacing.
  3. Compliment the writer in a specific way, ask a question or add new information.
  4. Write a relevant comment that is related to the post.
  5. Do not leave a comment like, “Cool post” or “I like ur blog”.  These comments are not conversation catalysts.
  6. If you have a differing opinion than those of the poster, be positive in your delivery of your comment.  You can say things like, “I appreciate your post, and you made some good points, but I think….” or “I enjoyed reading your post about school uniforms.  I can see why many parents and students would like uniforms, but I like to express myself through my clothing….”
  7. Always read over the comment and edit before submitting.
  8. All of your comments will be submitted to me before posting.  Any comment that does not follow these instructions, or is negative or mean spirited will not be posted.  These types of comments can result in being blocked from the blog, which will make completing homework a difficult task.
Example (commenting on a post: What does your name really mean?)

Dear Susie,
I really enjoyed your post about what your name means to you.  Do you think that your parents named you for those reasons as well?  To me, my name is my identity.  It doesn’t matter if it came from my Aunt Sally.  Sally, to me, is a soccer player, a sister, a good friend, and a person who loves her friends and her family.  It isn’t just a name…it is me.  Thank you for making me think about what my name means to me.
From,
Sally

Once I taught students how to comment on a blog post by modeling and practicing as a group, they were ready to start commenting. I keep Popsicle sticks in my room with student names on them to create groups and partners. I decided to use them to partner up students for commenting instead of letting them pick their own. Once I establish good commenting skills, I will give them more freedom, but I wanted to ensure that each student wrote a comment and received a comment without it being a popularity contest. My students are living in the facebook/im/texting world, so their instincts are to act the way they do in those arenas in the world of education. My hope is that by teaching them how to be good digital citizens within our classroom cloud, they will apply those lessons elsewhere.

At this point, they have written and commented on 3 posts, and I am amazed at their enthusiasm for the assignment. My students are looking forward to seeing their comments and are responding back to the person who posted. If a blog comment does not a conversation catalyst, or does not follow the commenting procedure, the student is asked to edit it and resubmit. Since I’m doing this during class time, I have the ability to quickly catch a problem and redirect it. The surprising part is that I have not had to make any suggestions except ask an occasional kid or two to read their post to make sure they are sparking a conversation. They are having deep conversations about Big Questions with students they might not normally speak to. In a few weeks, I will be allowing them to comment within the other grade in the class, and then open it up between the 7th and 8th grade. I believe by taking time to teach good blogging and commenting skills, the students are learning valuable lessons about thinking, creativity, and digital citizenship.

Here is an example from one of my 7th grade classes:

Blog Entry #3: Why should we keep trying?

Why should we keep trying? I think that this is a very important question to ask ourselves . I think that we should keep trying during tough situations and when we are trying to reach a certain goal. Trying is very important. If you try hard and never give up, you can achieve almost anything you set your mind to. Trying almost never fails you to reach your goals and get you out of situations. If you try hard in all that you do, you will probably succeed. If you fail your test, try to learn your mistakes. Try to understand it better and see what you can fix in the future. If you try hard, most likely you will succeed.
Trying hard is very important in life. For me, I try hard to earn good grades to go onto my high school application. If I try hard and get good grades this year, my high school application will look nice. It’s the same with any new sport or instrument you play. If you try hard, you will get better at it whatever sport or instrument you are playing. I’ve been playing piano for 8 years now and I try hard to play more advanced pieces. I’ve played softball for 2 years. I’m not the best pitcher, but I know that if I just keep trying, then I will be able to pitch more accurately.
Whatever you do, keep trying. You have to push yourself to never give up until you reach your goal. Keep trying when you are in difficult times. You know if you try hard, then you will be able to stick it out to the end. So try, try, try!

Dear Student X,
I thoroughly enjoyed your piece on why we should try. I think you bring up some valuable points. What is the most advanced piece you can play on the piano? I have also been playing an instrument for a large span of time, and I know that trying is important in music. I also try to get good grades for high school. Keep it up!
Your Friend,
Student Y

4 thoughts on “Fostering Thinking, Creativity, and Digital Citizenship Through Blogging

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Fostering Thinking, Creativity, and Digital Citizenship Through Blogging | middle school 101 -- Topsy.com

  2. Justin Greene

    This is a great post on blogging with students. I will have to look at that 21 Classes site. I started an Edmodo.com page with my classes. But I think your ideas incorporate more writing…which is great!

    1. mrspal1 Post author

      Thanks Justin.
      It is a great site. You do have to pay a monthly fee, but it is definitely worth it if you are looking to have a “closed” environment. 21 classes allows each student to have their own blog connected to the teacher blog. They have the ability to create categories within their blogs, decorate it, etc. It is the closest thing I’ve found to real blogging capabilities with the security settings I wanted. I also highly recommend Jim Burke’s book, What’s the Big Idea? that I mentioned in the blog post. Have a great rest of your weekend! :) Megan

      1. Justin Greene

        I do own Burke’s book, as well as, read his ning frequently. Once things slow down a bit in my classroom I should have a chance to look in to a more effective blog experience. Thanks for sharing.

Leave a Reply