Students Must be Blogging

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In the Seth Godin video I embedded in my last post, at the 4:00 minute mark he asks the audience to raise their right hands as high as possible.  Then, he asks them to raise their hands even higher, and they do!  Why?  Because people always hold back a little when asked to do something.  Ask students to write an essay or paper for the teacher.  Chances are, the teacher will get something pretty good from the student.  But, are students holding back a little because they have an audience of one? Are students writing just well enough for a good grade, or to check boxes on a rubric?

What if students have an audience of 20, or 120, or 2020?  What if students were given a platform on which they could write for people other than their teacher?  Well, I would argue that they should be given such an opportunity through blogging, and it should be a large part of their school experience.  I am not talking about middle or high school students.  I believe students starting as young as kindergarten should start blogging.  

I will present three reasons why students should be blogging, and I will share what we are doing at our school to get started with student blogging.

Provide Students with an Authentic Audience

The first reason for students to blog is to provide them with an authentic audience to share their thoughts and to engage in online conversations about their thoughts.  Do not underestimate younger children.  Kids as young as 5 years old (and younger!) have opinions.  They may not care about immigration or health care, but ask a child who is the strongest superhero in the world or what the prettiest color is in the rainbow, and you will definitely get an opinion.  

Ask a 4th grader why we need to clean up the environment, and I guarantee you will get a strong opinion.  

So, instead of having kids tell their opinions to their teachers, have them write a blog post and share it with others in their class, in other classes, in other schools, in other states, and in other countries.  Establish a process for students to comment on other kids’ blog posts and engage in meaningful conversation.  When students know that other people in their world, or others far from their world will be reading their thoughts, and possibly commenting, they will “raise their hands” even higher and put forth their very best effort.

I would go as far as to say that many kids will get so jazzed up about writing for others that we will find many of them writing on their own time, outside of school, and not because they are doing homework.  Hey, I am sitting at my computer writing this blog post on a sunny Saturday afternoon because of the thrill that someone may read it and maybe even write a comment.  The same certainly would be true for lots of children.  Give kids a platform to share their opinions, and let them take off.  Expect to see kids choosing to write posts and comments on their own time, outside of school, once they get the “blogging bug.”

You may be asking yourself, “How can a kindergartener or a first grader write a blog post?  That is a fair question. But the answer is simple.  Give students an iPad or tablet, show them how to record their voice, and let them talk about their topic.  Then, show them how to add a picture, or how to take a picture of their artwork and upload it, and off they go with a blog post.  This is very doable for a young child growing up with a bevy of devices in 2015.

Digital Citizenship

This is a very important topic in schools today, regardless of whether the school has a 1:1 program or not.  As educators, we are responsible for teaching children how to behave appropriately on their devices, on the Internet, and on social media.  We should be teaching good digital citizenship to children starting as early as kindergarten.  So, let’s use blogging as one important vehicle for this.  

When students are blogging, they are putting themselves out there onto the Internet.  Because blogging provides students with the opportunity to do write for an authentic audience (maybe even Grandma!), they need to be careful to write using appropriate language (especially if Grandma is reading it!).  Blogging also provides an easy means to include photographs and graphics, so we can use this platform to teach students to be appropriate and to follow copyright laws.  Blogging allows students to accept and write comments which makes it a form of social media.  Teachers can use blogging to teach young children how to behave online, a skill they most definitely need as they move into junior and senior high school.

Digital Portfolios

Picture a first grade student using a blog to start talking about or writing a narrative piece about her favorite topic, Disney Princesses.  She can add pictures and links to the blog post, and she can accept comments from others.  Then, she goes to art class and takes a picture of her latest masterpiece.  She starts a new blog post and speaks into the iPad’s microphone to explain how she incorporated the use of lines and secondary colors in her work (concepts taught by her art teacher).  Next, she goes to music class and creates a blog post with a 30 second video of her playing a simple rhythm on a drum.  Back in her classroom, she write a new post where she explains how she “Solves a word problem that calls for addition of three whole numbers whose sum is less than or equal to 20” (CCSS 1.OA.A.2).  (Don’t even think about saying “1st graders don’t know the CCSS” because they are learning them everyday in classrooms all over the country!)  

Fast forward to the same student in fifth grade writing much more sophisticated blog posts for all school subjects on the same blog she started in kindergarten or first grade.  How much fun has that student had over the years seeing how her work has improved as the blog posts have become so much more involved and detailed?  How amazing and powerful is this kind of a portfolio for students and their parents?  The blog has followed this student through all of her elementary grades, and she has used it to create a huge digital portfolio, in chronological order, with tags to organize everything, making her posts easy to find and sort.

So where to start?  

I started the process by purchasing a Kidblog Admin-Pro account which gives every student and staff member his or her blog with unlimited posting and commenting abilities. The total cost for my school, at $1.50 per student was $630 for the entire school year.  Pretty good bang for our buck considering the potential usage we will get from these blogs.  I choose Kidblog based on the low price, but there are a number of other blogging sites schools and teacher can use.  Wesley Fryer has a great post here where he shares other blog sites for students.

We have just started getting our students up and running on their blogs.  Some classes are moving a little faster, some are not quite there yet.  But, as we talk more about the power of students blogging, and as we teachers and principals model the use of blogs in our professional lives, more students will join the fun and excitement of writing a post and having someone other than a teacher write a comment.  They will truly start raising their hands as high as they possible can when they write.