How to Flatten Your Classroom and Encourage Authentic Writing Through...

Language Arts

How to Flatten Your Classroom and Encourage Authentic Writing Through Blogging

By Carla Jefferson     Dec 7, 2016

How to Flatten Your Classroom and Encourage Authentic Writing Through Blogging

My ten-year-old daughter is on the autism spectrum. When we met for her annual review this year, one of her goals revolved around her learning how to extend her writing. I cringed. Last year, I’d bought a marble composition notebook, and I told her that we would write every day. It was like pulling teeth. She just didn’t want to do it.

This year, I was determined that I would come up with a plan that would both encourage her to want to write—and allow me to keep my sanity. The answer was so simple that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it sooner. She would create her own blog!

In conversations with teachers, I frequently encourage classroom and student blogging because of the numerous benefits. Why did it take me so long to come to this conclusion for her?

“Camryn’s World” was an instant success. Although it wasn’t the easiest idea to implement (I mean, it still required reading and writing during her break!), she was quickly encouraged by the comments that she received from former teachers, friends and family, in addition to members of my PLN.

But Why Blog?

Well, for starters—it might help better prepare students for assessment.

With the newest addition to our South Carolina state standardized tests, where I work, our writing assessment has transitioned to utilizing the Text Dependent Analysis (TDA) model. In the TDA model, students are asked questions that encourage them to develop answers based on specific evidence within a reading passage and demonstrate their ability to interpret the meaning behind that evidence. Many students do not do well with this model because they don’t have the background knowledge to effectively answer these complex questions. Building a global classroom where students connect with students from all over can assist with them being exposed to situations and/or environments that are different from the one in which they live. And one way to do that? By blogging.

Blogging is unbelievably powerful for reasons beyond that, as well, as French teacher Sylvia Duckworth explains in “Top 10 Reasons for Students to Blog.” For example, I initially began student blogging to connect them with students in other places, who were alike (yet different) from them. My previous school was tiny, in an extremely small town, and having students connect with other classrooms in other states and countries was powerful.

Throughout my career, I spent 14 years as an ELA teacher. (Currently, I’m an instructional technology coordinator for a school district.) Back at the beginning, I chose ELA as my content focus because I am a voracious reader, and I wanted to share my love of reading with every child that I came into contact with. The reading and vocabulary instruction came easy to me. But the writing…. not so much. Teaching writing is a laborious task. It is an individual process, and it takes so much time to provide feedback to students. Imagine if you teach one hundred students a year? It almost becomes an impossible task if you’re tackling it alone. Hence, here’s my advice on how to bring blogging into your classroom.

Where Do I Start?

First, create a blog—and then show students how to do it. I’ve primarily used Edublogs and Kidblog for student blogging. Edublogs hosts the Student Blogging Challenge twice a year, which assists students and classrooms in getting their blogs off the ground. It provides the opportunity to connect student bloggers with a global audience while supporting teachers with their classroom blogging.

Next, connecting. I initially began connecting with other classrooms through the Quadblogging experience. With Quadblogging, you’re assigned as a group of four. Each week, one of the classes is the “focus class” while the other classes comment on that blog. We also participated in the Global Read Aloud yearly, where we connected with classrooms in North Carolina, Kentucky, and Texas. Students had conversations about their thoughts and predictions on a chosen book, as well as what the average sixth grader’s experience looks like in those other states. As an added bonus, “buddies” began providing constructive criticism to each other, and students became a little more attentive when it came posting publicly. Peer feedback is powerful, so it should come as no surprise that my gentle reminders about following proper grammar rules were reinforced when their Kansas buddy says, “Hey man! You should always capitalize ‘I’ when it’s alone.” It’s a win-win.

And then, there’s feedback. How many times have we attempted to use the peer editing model, and all students did was give it a cursory glance and say, ”Looks good to me”? Linda Yollis and her third graders provide great examples of how to comment on someone else’s blog post, and that’s what I used as our model for “peer feedback.” Students were expected to:

  • Share something they liked,
  • Share something that could be improved upon,
  • Make a connection, and
  • Ask a question that might allow the writer to extend their piece.

When You’re Ready for the Next Challenge: More Feedback with Blogging Buddies

Seeing how much of a difference blogging made in my student’s writing encouraged me to create a full blogging buddies program within the classes and our grade. I decided to do this for two reasons. First, it was obvious that the peer feedback worked, and simultaneously, it helped to put an additional eye on the work before I got to it—thus dealing with some of those basic grammar issues so I could focus on the content.

As a final note, I made it a point to share students’ blogs with their parents and other family members. Students were tickled pink when they received a comment—from family members, from the principal, and even from other educators. Comments like, “Excellent job in stating your ideas… you’ve definitely given me something to think about” made them so proud. They realized that their words mattered.

Trust me, it wasn’t all unicorns and glitter with my students… nor with my daughter! But, I have seen growth. People are reading my daughter’s words and responding, and it has made a world of difference. It made a world of difference with my students, and I truly believe that it will make a world of difference for your students, too.

Carla Jefferson, M.Ed. (@mrsjeff2u) is an instructional technology coordinator at Darlington County School District. She is also an EdSurge columnist.

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