I have found over the past two years that many educators start having their students write in blogs. As they see the quality of the work and the interest their students demonstrate in their writing for a world-wide audience they get really excited. A few months later, their students are rarely using their blogs if at all.
Why does this phenomena occur? Educators are seeing gains in student writing, students are excited about their writing, and students are providing each other great feedback on their work. What is missing here? If I were to have a booth at the annual NCTE conference and was selling a product that offered these results, I would have a very busy booth.
Jeff Utecht's K12 Online Conference presentation, "Sustained Blogging in the Classroom", sheds some light on this problem. I feel that many teachers who take on blogging with their students view it as an additional thing that has to be added to their day. It is important that teachers look at how they structure their day to use blogging as a tool for student conversation - not merely online journals. Teachers who have sustained blogging with their students in my building have followed many of Jeff's tactics. The most important piece I have seen is the stressing of good comments. Years ago I attended a conference on differentiated instruction and one of the presenters said something tremendously simple but extremely powerful, "If you expect it, teach it." How often do we expect our students to know how to write a good comment that continues the conversation without teaching this skill?
I like the work that Mark Ahlness is doing with the restructuring of his SSR (Sustained Silent Reading) to allow blog reading and other reading of interest to his students. So many teachers feel that students must have a paper book in their hands for SSR time to be valuable. How are we developing a love of reading in children when we do not allow them to choose the subject and media they prefer?
Tips for sustaining blogging with your students (from this presentation and my own thoughts):
- Model what good blogging looks like. Have your own blog and let your students read it.
- Teach your students how to submit comments that extend the conversation started by a blog post.
- Make blogging part of how you teach - not an extra thing. Embed blogging in all of your students work.
- Help your students create their network of bloggers (and other RSS feeds) that they follow.
- Teach your students that blogging is about reading as much as it is about writing.
- Create a rubric of how they will be assessed on their blog. Preferably this rubric would be created with your students.
- Provide students with options of what they write about.
- Make commenting part of classwork/homework. Students need to know the importance of reading and providing feedback to their classmates and the blogging community.