Wikis, blogs, and social networking sites allow us to be creators and consumers of content — two roles that even younger students are ready to begin understanding using the Internet. I had an itch to explore more Web 2.0 tools in my classroom, wondered what it would look like to merge the use of a tool within the framework of writing workshop. I began by asking myself:
What tool do I feel most confident using and introducing to young writers?
How will it work for second graders?
What mentor pieces would I use to guide my instruction?
How will it fit with workshop?
How will I balance time for students to explore with time for purposeful use of the tool?
From these questions, a new technology-based writing unit was born.
I realized it was important to introduce my students to a tool I had played with and had some experience with on my own. I am a blogger (http://www.creativeliteracy.blogspot.com/) and an avid blog reader. I have been blogging for over three years, and loved the idea of sharing this passion with my students. Bloggers write about their interests; children also love to write about their interests. I knew I could guide my students in finding something they were interested in thinking or learning more about through blogging.
To help my students understand the idea of blogging, I showed them many blogs written by kids. I found a number of student bloggers who are home-schooled, students blogging at school, and kid bloggers who write for a website (National Geographic Kids at http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/). As we explored posts, we talked about how much we were learning about different ways kids write on blogs, as well as how blogs can help us learn about children living throughout the world (http://kidsblogs.nationalgeographic.com/you-are-here/australia/about-this-blog.html). Blogs can even teach us about specific skills like how to attract a toad to your garden (http://www.sciencemouse.com/2009/06/how-to-attract-toads-to-your-garden/)!
Getting Started and Organized
We added a blogger’s notebook to our writing workshop basket this trimester. Inside this notebook, the kids have chosen a topic to start thinking and blogging about, and we are exploring different ways to write about topics. I showed them how to tab their notebook with post-its to keep track of different posts they might add to the blog. I also spent a few days teaching the importance of rereading and editing posts as real bloggers do. I created a partner posting checklist that one of my students modeled using on his first post.
It was important to practice composing a first post as bloggers do when they begin. We used the first post (http://www.sciencemouse.com/2009/02/welcome-to-the-science-mouse/) of a student blogger known as the Science Mouse (http://www.sciencemouse.com/) as a mentor text. My students and I read the blog post, and then I asked everyone to think about what the blogger did to introduced herself to her audience. The kids noticed four parts in her first post. The blogger welcomed readers, wrote about herself and interests, shared what she would be writing about, and ended the post. This post was a concrete, helpful guide for getting started.
My students were ready to see how a writer could write about an idea in many ways. I searched for posts and books that we could use as mentors. We used posts like Super Sarah’s acrostic poem about Father’s Day (http://supersarahr.blogspot.com/2009/06/happy-fathers-day-f-antastic-lways.html), Luigi’s post about humans (http://my-humans.blogspot.com/2008/10/human-phots.html), and book reviews by children (http://kidsblogs.nationalgeographic.com/dogeared/2009/09/lunch-lady-and-the-cyborg-substitute.html). I chose these posts because I knew my students would be able to look at them with writers’ eyes. For example, Luigi’s post was written from a dog’s perspective, and the writer used parenthesis in his writing. The kids noticed both these characteristics in the blog post immediately, and experimented with adding these craft elements to their own posts.
With each new post, they were eager to learn more. Many of the students asked how to put a picture with their post. I searched and found a link at Geeky Mom’s Blog (http://macmomma.blogspot.com/2010/03/ten-things-your-students-can-blog-about.html) to a screencast (http://www.screencast.com/users/Jazzymiles/folders/Jing/media/ef0eb5d7-1fdb-4732-b2f3-b02159de80fb) by teacher John Howell (http://www.jdhowell.org/) about the etiquette of searching for and including pictures on a blog.
Connecting Blogging to Writer’s Workshop
Though the laptops and desktops are a different tool for recording writing, the daily routine of writing workshop has stayed the same during this unit of study. While in traditional workshops we teach kids initially how to care for supplies (i.e., markers, crayons, pencils), in the blogging workshop I found the need for lessons like how to care for and carry the laptop; what to do when your laptop won’t cooperate (trouble loading most often); and what to do when you are stuck (instead of rushing to Mrs. DiCesare). These lessons naturally came about as a result of the newness of the writing tool. Just as I would in writing workshop, I observed and addressed what children needed through minilessons, including student suggestions of solutions to problems that emerged.
When using mentor texts, minilessons have opened up to include mentor blog posts. Sometimes I am wheeling in the projector and laptop to show a blog post on the pull-down screen in my classroom. I find myself pulling the chart-stand across the room to jot down our thinking as we read the mentor post. The process of noticing, discussing, and thinking about writing is still very much the same as how we approach any mentor text in writer’s workshop.
Independent writing time has been a balance of kids working on ideas in their blogger’s notebook, rereading and editing with a partner, or grabbing a laptop to publish a piece to the blog. Kids are excited to write, and share their writing easily with everyone in our class as well as their families who have access to our blog. My role during independent blogging time has been to confer. Whether meeting with a student to guide her with generating ideas for a post or supporting a group of students who need support with rereading and editing their posts, I am always busy meeting with students and guiding them.
Sharing is still an opportunity for students to talk about the power of learning, and think about what went well or not so well. I sometimes project our blog on the screen, and this allows us all to read the writer’s piece. It ups the ante for engagement. The visual component has helped hook and support even more writers in my classroom.
Blogging with second graders has created a renewed excitement for writing in our working. If you want to give blogging a try with your students, here are some resources you might find helpful:
This is a very practical and packed post about the benefits of blogging for children, types of blogs, and resources for getting started.
GeekyMomma’s blog post “Ten Things Your Students Can Blog about Today” shows examples of a class blog, as well as individual student blogs. She also has excellent ideas for communicating with parents about blogs.