Several years ago I discovered blogging as a way to build our first-grade learning community. Blogging changed our community as it opened the conversations between students, gave quieter students a place among their peers, and demonstrated the expertise that could be found within our classroom. It gave us a chance to write about common topics and discuss new learning. I discovered a lot about students as they shared their favorite books, personal stories, and interests. This information proved invaluable in supporting students during writer’s workshop, finding new books for readers, and just learning about my students’ lives beyond our classroom. Blogging provides a window into what students care deeply about and what connects them to one another.
Using individual student blogs as a platform for sharing our thinking with others works seamlessly across our day. Once students gain an understanding of blogging, it isn’t long until they are choosing to blog about books during reader’s workshop, publishing their writing in their virtual spaces, or sharing new thinking with their friends during content studies. Blogging allows students to share information with others in the learning community and converse through commenting. Blogging weaves the threads of our community together, but getting to a place where blogging is a natural process for students isn’t easy.
Why Shared Blogging?
When I first introduced blogging and other digital tools, I dove right in with students. It was messy work, but we usually got through it. However, I realized that some students needed more support and struggled with the purpose of these tools. Some students didn’t understand the significance of the title space in a blog. Some seemed confused by the goal of the blog and hadn’t developed an understanding of audience. Some children just had difficulty logging in during the time allotted. I was often left racing from one side of the room to the other, putting out virtual fires. It became obvious that there was a need to slow down, take deliberate steps, and thoughtfully support students.
Using the same supports I use in other parts of literacy learning to guide and support students seemed to be the answer. Instead of diving into this new type of writing, I began to create opportunities for shared reading and shared writing using digital tools. This worked well with blogging. We not only read blogs together as a group, but also took time to write posts together to share on our class site. Our community uses a class blog to share our learning with parents and other classrooms. Our class site is hosted on Weebly because it is perfect for shared blogging opportunities, and works well as a hub for students and parents. Weebly also opens our learning to a more global community. Weebly Pro allows me to have pages that are public and private. Our class page and our blog are open to the public for collaboration, whereas other pages remain private for families.
First Steps: Shared Blog Reading
Before students begin to blog individually, we explore how blogging works and its purpose. Shared reading of blogs can support students in these early days of gaining understanding. We take time to visit blogs written by kids and blogs that help us to understand topics of study, as well as blogs written by other classrooms. Here are a few examples I might share with students:
Many bloggers write about hobbies and interests. This blog is an example of this type of writing. The author enjoys stamp collecting and shares how he got started.
There are always doll fans in the classroom, and this blog explains how to make a doll paper towel roll. I found a little humor in that myself, but it works as a simple mentor text for “how-to” writing. Many bloggers write to share how to do something for readers. This post also uses pictures to help readers understand what to do, which can help young bloggers think about thoughtfully adding images to posts.
Blogs also give us information. National Geographic has a few different blogging sites for kids. This blog is an example not only of how bloggers share stories, but of ways we can get information.
I fell in love with this site after one of the gorillas at our local zoo in Columbus, Ohio, had a baby. I was able to go to the site to find more information about his birth. This post tells how they named Kamoli and shares interesting information about his care. You can search by favorite animals on this site or by local zoos. This site is an example of a blog with a particular purpose, but also one students will enjoy reading.
Katie DiCesare’s first-grade class blogs in this space. They have a variety of types of shared posts. There are examples of informational posts, video posts, student work, shared learning, and much more.
Here you can find shared posts from Deb Frazier’s class. Mrs. Frazier’s class is just across the hall from us, but still we learn a lot about their learning here on their blog. Since we are often in similar places in our learning, it is interesting to read a different perspective on topics we are studying.
We learn in these early days that blogs can give us information, provide new points of view, connect us to other learning communities, and help us to collaborate with a variety of different people. Shared reading of blogs allows students to notice the variety of topics posted, general nuances of a blog, what makes a post interesting, and ways to develop a strong message.
Next Steps: Shared Blog Writing
After our community has had opportunities to have beginning conversations about the blogs we have read, we are ready to start shared writing on our class blog. We try to pay attention to important things happening in our learning community that we would want to share with others. We then set aside time to blog collaboratively about these events. Our goal has been to post at least one time each week to keep our families informed and maintain an audience. Together we choose topics, decide upon information to include in posts, choose images to help tell our story, and collaboratively revise our posts. Shared blogging provides opportunities for students to do several things:
- envision a variety of possibilities for posting
- understand the purpose of a blog
- be thoughtful about audience
- develop strategies for composing and revising
- discuss word selection
- learn to insert photographs, audio clips, video clips, and documents
- use blogging features such as effective titling, linking, adding images, tagging
- learn about digital safety
- understand copyright responsibilities
Once students have a foundational understanding of the purpose of blogging, it is time to give them their own space for writing. Though there are many possible sites for hosting individual blogs, I have found Kidblog to be manageable for young learners. Students are always excited to have their own space to blog, and it isn’t long until they are discovering new tricks to share with their friends. Though students have their own space, shared conversations continue to weave across the school year to help writers with their next steps in blogging. Opportunities for shared reading and writing of blogs can help students develop independence in new strategies to strengthen their message. Careful observation, time spent reading posts, and reflecting on conversations can help determine what the next steps for students may be. These experiences support students as they begin to use blogging to explore their thinking and learn from others.