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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

The insomnia I attributed to the beginning of the school year, which I complained about in my first blog post, still hasn't gone away. A few nights ago, tormented, I woke up at 1 a.m. and began mulling over the crises and craziness I see every day in the Oakland, California, public schools.

I needed some inspiration. I got out of bed, turned on the computer, and spent hours going through readers' responses to the blogs I've written. There were so many heartfelt words and so much love for kids! I had read them when they were first posted -- thrilled, I must confess, that some of my entries generated so much discussion. Now that I've read them again -- in one long swoop, I might add -- I feel such gratitude for all the passionate work that people are doing to transform public education.

Sometimes it's lonely being an educator, but after reading almost a hundred stories that night about why you teach, I felt reinvigorated, connected to a community, and hopeful, very hopeful. Then I got a little sappy about the power of the Internet and what it can do and how it brings people together.

I was reminded of Jessie Thaler. Hoping to engage her reluctant eighth graders, Thaler -- a young, energetic English teacher -- has started a blog for her students. I've been so inspired by this online student community and what I've read -- it is such a brilliant way to get kids writing -- that I decided to ask her a few questions about the blog. What inspired you to do this project?

Jessie Thaler: I think that eighth graders are at the age where they really need authentic reasons to write, and they really need motivation. A blog is a way to see work in print and have a truly authentic purpose. It means that people other than their teacher will be reading their work.

What have students posted?

The first thing was poetry. That was a great thing to start with, because the poems are personal and interesting to read, and offer a window into the students' personalities. They got a ton of traffic. The kids were excited because they received comments from people we don't know, and they were shocked that all these strangers were reading their writing. A blog is truly an incentive for students to revise work so that they can post it.

Three weeks after the assignment was due, Tyrone came into class announcing that he'd finally written his poem, and he asked if he could still post it on the blog. Tyrone is far below grade level in English and often seems disengaged from school. He also asked if he could read it to the whole class, saying, "I'm really proud of it." You can read his poem on the blog. He signs it DCG4.

What else have you posted?

We've also posted other assignments, such as journal entries. One student wrote about her cousin dying. This was really therapeutic for her. She got a lot of nice responses from other people.

What advice do you have for teachers who might want to start a student blog?

Use Blogger. It's free, and it takes fifteen minutes to get started. Get kids to type their work themselves and email it to you so you don't have to do all the typing. Or, if you have parents who want to volunteer, they can also do some of the typing. Show the blog in class for a couple of minutes every day; that builds excitement. Use a tracker to show who reads the blog. Start with an assignment that everyone can do successfully (not a literary-response essay, for example). Make sure that almost all your students have something on the blog.

What was the biggest surprise in doing this?

One thing that was surprising to the students and to me was the comments thanking the students. I think that was new for them, having someone appreciate that they did this work. People read their writing and liked it.

Thaler's students were greatly inspired by the recent national elections, so they blogged quite a bit on Barack Obama. Check out these posts, and please leave a comment or two for these aspiring writers!

Have you done any blogging with your students? What are the results? How has their writing changed? Please share your thoughts!

Comments (40)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Astrid Tejeda's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The title of this blog caught my attention, as I am currently in a Teaching Technology class in college and we are all required to write blogs. I thought this was a great idea and everyone in my class really enjoys writing blogs, as well as reading our classmates blogs. It is a great tool to use, and it is nice to see that teachers at every level are using blogs. I want to be an Elementary School teacher when I graduate and I had thought of using blogs as a teaching tool. When my proffessor spoke about blogging, I thought maybe my grade level would be too young. These ideas about getting blogs approved before they are posted and having access to who comments on their blogs are great ideas. It makes be more confident that maybe blogs could just work for Elementary school children as well. I know they would enjoy writing to eachother and having the opportunity to comment on eachothers work, as well as making their blog pages unique, which was my favorite part about blogging.

Magan Lantagne's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Blogging really is a great tool at the elementary level. Many teachers in my school district are starting to create class blogs for students to go to where they talk about school events, assignments, and even social events. Teachers can do this with little worry of the content because all postings are first approved by them before actually being available for all to see. The coolest thing about blogs is, they are helping to create original thought in our students. They are not just filling out worksheets anymore. They are working together with their classmates and becoming teachers themselves!

C. Fetzer's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I believe having a class blog could be very beneficial for homebound students. They could still have the interaction with their classmates while not being able to come to class. This could be beneficial academically as well as socially. In the same manner students who are absent for just a day or two could converse about what they missed in class.
Blogs could also help the students learn to speak the language of the class. If students are posting comments about mathematics they must know the vocabulary and terminology in order to clearly communicate with one another.

Estefany M.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I was introduced to blogging this semester in school. I thank my teacher for introducing her class to blogging and encouraging us to blog, by assigning us a weekly post! I think blogging is so much fun because it allows us to practice the freedom of speech and gives us a stand to share our opinions without hesitation. I agree with this article because blogging gives students the opportunity to voice their thoughts, and it doesn't limit them to only text. It also allows them to add and share their videos, pictures, notes and more! I think students enjoy blogging because there are so many things that they can do with their blogs. I also like the comment about 4th graders blogging; simply because blogging is much better than writing in those boring black and white composition journals. So teachers, get your students involved to blog and YOU be their audience.

Amanda Bryant's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As an 8th grade English/Language Arts teacher, I am always looking for ways to help my students find passion for writing. Creating a class blog where they can post their work seems like such a wonderful idea. I have been very fortunate this year to have a group of talented writers. So often we get stuck on preparing for the 8th grade writing assessment that they have to take, though, that it is easy to lose focus on what a creative outlet writing can be. My students will be taking their year-end standardized tests in a couple of weeks. I will have approximately one month of school left with them after that; now that I have read this post, I think that my plans may have to incorporate a test-run of letting my students blog. If this goes well, I will really look forward to introducing it next year when I get my brand new group of writers!

A Smith's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I see where blogging can be a motivating, creative tool to be used with middle and secondary students but what about the younger children? As an elementary teacher I am looking for ways to use this resource in my classroom also. I have seen examples of where blogs/webpages have primarily been used as a communication tool but I'm interested in other means of implementation. If there is anyone out there that can offer guidance or advice please feel free to reply. Thanks!

Kirsten 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach college preparatory writing classes and have been thinking about integrating a blog into my curriculum. Because most of my students view writing as a chore, a blog could be a venue where they'd be willing to write and share their ideas. Students who might otherwise not participate in class would feel less inhibited posting on a blog. In addition, students might reflect more on what they are posting knowing that their teacher will not be the only one reading the post. Students need authentic audiences for their writing and blogs offer that opportunity. Posting and commenting on their peers' postings can also start a discussion that might not have occurred in a classroom setting.

Liz's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I was drawn to this blog entry because I recently experimented with blogging with my fifth grade students in order to give them an audience for their writing. I had them write about their experiences on our Washington, D.C. field trip, and then they read through others' blogs and left thoughtful comments. In reading through the comments here, I see that students of all ages, even elementary-aged students, are blogging in the classroom.

I have used Blogger for my short-lived blogging attempts in the past, but I actually decided against using Blogger with my students. I really wanted the students to have the experience of adding content to their blogs, rather than e-mailing everything to me to add. I signed up at and created accounts for each of my students. This has worked wonderfully because students do not need an e-mail address to log onto their own individual blogs, and every entry and comment gets sent to my e-mail for approval before it is posted (where only the students and anyone I invite can read their blogs.)

I had heard about in the past, but after seeing it pop up in a few of the comments, I decided to look into it further. It looks like a great way to give students e-mail accounts as well as the opportunity to blog, participate in chat rooms and message boards, and my personal favorite- upload files to a digital locker that students can access at school and at home.

casinò giochi's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Really interesting and I consider myself a seasoned blogger. The best bit is telling us to explain what RSS is to our readers/visitors, something I have never done before because I assume that everyone will know what it means. To prove it I asked 3 of my friends at work yesterday and not one of them knew what it was! Good point...don't assume anything and explain everything.

Antoinette Matthee's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Blogging was an entirely new world (and word) to me! Being a dinosaur student (I'm 40!), studying teaching, I had to blog for the first time! Very interesting and rewarding - although I've struggled to come across subject related school-blogs to help me as teacher. I am going to start my own blog soon to swop ideas for mind-blowing lessons and activities in class to suit our curriculum and diversity of learners. Thank you!

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