Monday, October 7, 2013

Blogging in our Classrooms: Do We Practice What We Preach?

Image from here

Many who read this would agree blogging is about writing for oneself ...but with an audience in mind.  Readers who share interests, experiences, passions ...or not.

Where is that audience for our students? How do our students find those readers?

For those who blog, most would acknowledge blogging is also about receiving feedback.  Blogging provides an opportunity to hear from others who may be moved to respond to your post... readers who may then engage you in conversation and perhaps pull you into re-examining your thoughts and ideas, though not necessarily changing them.

Where is that audience for young bloggers? How do students find those readers?

Blogging for our students has to be more than a paper-to-screen swap in order for it to be the writing/representing/responding endeavour we envision. Many teachers talk about 21st century learning and 21st century literacies but how do we support our students really with the [limited or not] technology they have at their fingertips? How can we help them "Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts"  or "Build intentional cross-cultural connections and relationships with others so to pose and solve problems collaboratively and strengthen independent thought" as NCTE suggest in its definition of 21st century literacies?


And for those of us who have been able to facilitate blogging within our classrooms, there are still real issues around fully exploring the opportunities it holds for intentionally connecting with others. We may spend time within our own classroom community building skills with our students as respectful commenters on their peer's blogs, however that is, in my opinion, insufficient. Our digital manners, like those learned at the table, need to be used out in the world!  Our students need opportunities to be 'polite', add information, ask questions... really engage with others.

To do just that, many of us have sought feedback for students with #comments4kids, a terrific source for bringing our Twitter network to our class blog sites.  Many connected teachers do indeed read and comment on student blogs.  Though we have made many students deliriously proud by the comments posted, I am not convinced we've done enough as educators to develop the conversations or the networks we espouse on our own posts and Twitterfeed.

As I have discussed before here and here  it is that wider circle of readers who visit and leave feedback that can be quite motivating. My class has been thrilled to read the comments and questions left by adults; for example, they truly appreciated Mrs. Jones, who dropped in regularly with feedback! 

This feedback from other teachers is an essential part of the modelling of what we would like to see our students eventually do. Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano, talks about it as reciprocating, coming from being teachers who are committed to "connecting, conversation and amplification" with someone else's students!  Linda Yollis describes in her comment to this post that ending her reply with a question was her way of trying to engage classes in conversation.

But in order or our students to feel that they are writing for more than a positive comment do they not need a little more?

Teaching our students to reply to comments also has to be integral to the process; it's not just about the positive experience and 'pat on the back' feeling they receive from getting a comment. It's not just the thrill of mapping where your readers is from. It has to be about our students going out and giving comments to others too.

 Comments4kids asks  "Does Commenting Make a Difference?" and the response was clear:

Marie put it this way: The power of blogging! Opening ourselves to the world to share ideas, receive feedback and learn from each other. 

 Greta Sandler added:  Leaving comments on other students' blogs has been really powerful too. We have expanded our classroom walls by blogging and commenting, and this has made a difference for my students.

There are great strides made in doing just that when students connect through such activities as the Global Read Aloud. Here they are able to share reactions and responses to a shared reading/listening experience with their peers in other parts of the world. Many teachers support the development of an extended community with the classrooms they link up with, and through, the purposeful use of various programs and apps such as Edmodo, Kidblog, Twitter and the wiki for the chosen book.

However, I am wondering why the conversations 'stop' once we've done sharing the book.

Why do we not continue to provide opportunities for students to connect with [these] students?

How are you trying to build longer and deeper conversations for your students?

How do you support students in the back-and-forth of comment threads?

How do you feel about this aspect of blogging with students? Is building a learning community outside the classroom valid for you?

Image from here

Are we practising what we preach?     


  1. Patricia,

    Thank you for a thoughtful post.

    Building meaningful relations takes a lot of effort. I think the teacher needs to help facilitate the connections and help guide and maintain them, especially at the beginning.

    Sometimes casting too big of a net makes for numerous connections, but too many to maintain meaningfully.

    I hope you don't mind, but I am going to republish my comment that I left on Silvia Tolisano's blog. It really summarizes my thoughts about building relationships via comments:

    Quality reciprocation is the key to building an audience! All the blogging relationships I’ve built with teachers, classrooms, and students have come from reciprocal commenting.

    Teachers often ask me how I have connected with so many classes around the world. The answer is through consistent quality commenting. When I started, I would visit lots of blogs and leave comments. I’d try to make a connection or add relevant information to a post, and I’d always end with a question. My hope was to engage the class in a conversation. If I would get a reply from the teacher/class, I would go back. If I got no response, I’d move on to other blogs and keep trying.

    Many teachers/classes not only responded in their comment section, but they would visit my class blog and connect. A comment that shows you’ve read the post and are interested in what’s happening in the classroom is much more valuable than “Our class loves your blog, please visit ours!” Of course, composing thoughtful comments takes time, but the payoff is tremendous!

    One of the first teachers I connected with was Kathleen Morris (@kathleen_morris). Through reciprocal quality commenting, we’ve built a relationship that spans four classes. Students regularly comment to each other, and two families from Kathleen’s Australian class visited our class when they vacationed in Los Angeles!

    I teach third grade and when my students earn their own blogs, they are excited to get that first red ClustrMap dot and a comment or two. I teach dedicated lessons about how to comment using our class blog, so by the time students have their own blogs, they have a good understanding of composing a quality comment.

    Before too long, I will hear a student complain, “No one is commenting on my blog.” My response to them is, “Hmm…well…whose blog have you been commenting on? Where did you leave your last comment?” They look a little sheepish as the light bulb goes on. In life, you have to give to get. If you want people visiting and connecting with you, you have to get out there and model what you want!

    Focusing on a few blogs is a good idea. It can be overwhelming to try and keep up with too many classes. Deputy Mitchell’s (@DeputyMitchell) Quadblogging idea is a great place to begin.

    There are so many wonderful global projects springing up. It’s tempting to join too many. I have found that if I over-schedule my class, we are not able to participate fully and that doesn’t help anyone. Budgeting your time and choosing projects that fit your schedule makes blogging and global projects more meaningful and enjoyable.

    Finally, I love your idea about mentoring student bloggers. Edublog’s Student Blogging Challenge is a wonderful place to volunteer your time. Following the Twitter hashtag #comments4kids is another way to support students.

    I'm interested in building and maintaining a learning community, but it takes effort!

    ~Linda Yollis

  2. Thank you so much for responding to my post! And the comments you had already published on Silvia Tolisano's blog are absolutely related to the points I raised so I am delighted you added them here!
    It's certainly not that I don't see the value in, and appreciate the teachers who make the effort to comment on other student blogs. I do. Additionally, I love what can be gained by participating in projects such as the Global Read Aloud. The reminder about not attempting to connect with too many classes is valid as well; we only have so much time in a school day (and many are not yet independent bloggers!)
    It is, however, worth drawing attention to and perhaps building a little more awareness in students (and teachers) of the role of purposeful commenting. This is, I feel, the key component in blogging, something I didn't realize when I started blogging with my students. Actually my own thoughts about what blogging can accomplish have shifted significantly since I first began. Now I would like to emphasize,or at least begin to have my 10 year-old students thinking about the possibility of sharing and writing for a 'network', of building connections with others ... sustained over time. That "reciprocal commenting", as you and Silvia indicate, takes time and effort but does indeed have a tremendous pay-off.
    Thank you for sharing so readily about what you and your students do as bloggers. Thank you, also, for being such a strong example of a connected teacher! As has been tweeted out by several recently, aiming to go read and comment on our peers' blogs is a goal for this month; I appreciate your comments any month!


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