image from icanread
One of my biggest “crazy ideas” I knew I wanted to try when I switched from the elementary classroom to the middle school was to continue blogging with students. Nowhere else had I seen the same impact of just what empowering my students to find a voice to the world could do for them than student blogging. At first, I didn’t think it would be a crazy idea, just a natural extension of my classroom as always, but then I thought about it a little bit more.
You would think that blogging with students would look the same no matter the age. In fact, I used to think that it probably wouldn’t look that much different between 4th grade and 7th grade. That is until I woke up in the night, realizing just what my constraints would be with my new position and wondering if it was even worth trying. After all, I was already wondering how in the world I would get through the curriculum let alone add on anything else. Thankfully, I realized that blogging with students and giving them a voice to the world is one thing that I cannot cut from my curriculum, and neither should you. Yes, just because it looks different than what I had tried with elementary students, does not mean it is not worth your time, or not worth exploring. In this case, different simply means different, not wrong, bad, or worthless.
So while blogging in elementary classrooms can be cross curricular and deeply embedded within the classroom culture, blogging in the middle school has to look different solely based on the time constraint. It also has to look different based on how most middle schools are set up, with one teacher teaching one or a few subjects, and often being the steward of more than 100 students. After 3 months of blogging with my 113 students, this is what I discovered.
Before: We blogged every week, with blogging challenges assigned Friday and due the following Friday. Everyone got them done, few problems.
Now: We blog every other week on a set schedule. The students know and look forward to it and few ask for the blogging challenge until that day.
Before: We used our 8 computers to blog in the classroom and students would rotate throughout the week thus ensuring everyone got it done.
Now: We go to the lab every class period in one day so that each child gets it done. If they do not finish it within 45 minutes, it becomes homework and they have 2 weeks to finish it. I have to remind them a lot that it needs to get done.
Before: I would approve posts whenever they would pop up, checking every night.
Now: I approve posts the day they blog, thus getting most read and posted the day of, and then check in every 3 or 4 days when I know more have blogged. This allows me to save my check-in energy and focus to a few days a week.
Before: I would try to leave comments on every post or every other at the least.
Now: I gave up. There are too many posts but I do try to make sure that every single post gets a comment from either me or someone else from our school. I didn’t want to just leave short comments, and leave many of them so now my students know that if they get a comment from me, I really thought about it.
Before: All blogs were public, except for very rare circumstances.
Now: Almost all blogs are public but some are private between the student and I. I ask at the beginning of the year and set up their privacy settings as needed. Why the change? 7th graders are more aware of their place in the world and thus experience blogging on a perhaps more emotional level than my younger students. They really want to be viewed positively by the world and not have more things that they feel can be used to judge them.
Before: We talked how to stay safe on the internet and how we needed to represent ourselves once or twice a trimester.
Now: We not only discuss safety every single time we blog, but also how we present ourselves to the world. In 7th grade the students are much more fearless when it comes to putting themselves out there, which can be a double edged sword. It is a wonder to see them embrace the mode of communication so readily, but also terrifying when they don’t always think things through before they post.
Before: Their blog posts were meant to start a global conversation so they were never graded,
Now: This remains true. I will not grade my students blogs ever. It flies in the face of what I am asking them to do; start a global conversation baring their deep thoughts. If I ever wanted to squelch their voice all I have to do is slap a grade on it.
While there are many other small things that have remained the same, these are a few of the big differences. In the end, blogging with middle school students is definitely a must do, one just has to find the time.
cross-posted at pernillesripp.com.
Pernille Ripp is the the author of Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classroom Back to Our Students, creator of Global Read Aloud Project, and co-founder of EdCamp MadWI. She teaches fifth grade in Verona, Wisconsin, and blogs at http://pernillesripp.com.