This summer I am teaching a 4/5 combo, summer reading class. Since we have a limited amount of time together, and there is an expectation of progress in reading, I am emphasizing "time on text" with my students. I have them for only three hours a day. I have not only managed to keep them engaged with text for the full three hours, but at the end of our day, when I say that it's time to clean up I hear a collective "Awwww!" from my students. What?!?!
When I come home from school and I am going about my daily business, I hear "Ding! Ding!" I get a G mail alert that a student has posted a new blog post(the first of several that day) about a book they are reading...at home! Wait a second...I don't give homework assignments, especially not in the summer. These kids are reading, at home, and I didn't tell them they had to? Mind officially blown! I need to figure out what the cause of this phenomenon is so I can repeat it.
The only answer I can come up with is that students love to blog. They like the voice that blogging gives them and they like interacting with each other. Blogging is different from those marble composition books that they write in. The ones that may or may not be read by a teacher every day. Blogging allows students to instantly share their writing and thinking with the entire class, and get responses from not only the teacher, but their peers as well. They equally enjoy reading other students' posts, and giving feedback as well. I enjoy not having to haul thirty notebooks home to read. With blogging, I get instant notifications that a student has written a post or commented on a post, and I can respond right then. If you would like to see this class blog, you can view it here. We are reading "The One and Only Ivan" and I use the blog to give them thinking prompts from the text, as well as links to videos and other resources that supplement the text.
Kids are very visual and I think having pictures and embedded links to additional information helps to make this a very interesting tool. We were reading "The Lightning Thief" in English, and learning about Ancient Greece in History when my middle school class was blogging. They enjoyed links to interactive maps, authors' websites, mythology pages, and quizzes to find out which Greek god was their parent. Again, I think that the teacher curating high interest and informative content within their blog posts affect how interested the students will be in the blogging. I also think it is important for the teacher to comment regularly, modeling scholarly talk and questioning. If you look at my class blog, the post titled "Blogging for Beginners: Growing the conversation with follow-up questions" and "Welcome to Kidblog" talk about blogging etiquette, but most of that teaching happens in class through mini lessons before writing, or through comments made by me on their posts, when I see a "teachable moment". I don't think kids would be that interested in reading a post about rules for blogging, unless maybe I could find a cool infographic, or an animated video on the topic. I'm still looking. Edutopia has a nice list of digital citizenship resources.
In addition to responding to my prompts, they have taken to writing their own posts about books that they read, which I am loving. Blogging does NOT just have to be about writing though. I look at blogging as sharing content and ideas. Content can be shared through images, word clouds, videos, infographics(one of my favorites), thinglinks, and so much more, don't limit your students to just writing. Keep it simple if you're introducing students to blogging for the first time. Yesterday I showed a few students how to link text in their blog to a video and they were so excited. Once you're feeling comfortable with it, which won't take long because it's really easy, introduce your students to different content that they can create to communicate their message. Since my current students are brand new to blogging and only 9-10 years old, I am keeping it fairly simple for now. I will introduce them to more when they become my students in the fall. For now, it is 7 P.M. on a Friday of a 3 day weekend and I have gotten eight G mail notifications while writing this post because my students are at home talking to each other about books. Thank you, technology!