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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.


Edutopia.org: 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

Bobbie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Joelle, I was wondering what Gaggle email was, and how does it work?

Ukiah Woock's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think that creating a blog for your high school students would be a fantastic idea! Last night my high school daughter brought home her course syllabus for a new class she is taking. As a requirement the students are asked to check the blog regularly and to interact with the students in her class. This brings in a whole new component to what you can learn in the classroom and from your other students.

Michele Abbott's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Blogging is a wonderful piece of technology to implement into the classroom. As a fourth grade teacher I use blogging for writing, reflection, and even math. I have a weekly blog on my web page where students are required to make a post and they must also respond to two other students post. The students have a great time with this. I even get the parents involved in it. I have them write book reviews or I have questioning as a blog. There are many items that you can blog about. The sky is the limit. This is not only a fun tool to get them on the computer but it most definitly enhances there learning.

Adrien Weeks's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love the idea of blogging for my fourth graders. I have never even considered it before. I could use it for reading response, writing, study groups, even parent interaction. I'm not sure how my districts tech department would handle it though.

Maria Nesloney's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I would like to see how this high school in incorporating it into their lessons. Would you be able to provide me with the name of the school and teacher so that I could contact the school. I would like to talk to someone who is already doing it so that I can get input on what has worked well and what has not worked at all. I would like to avoid major pitfalls if possible.

Maria

Joelle's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Gaggle email is a safe site for students to email one another and their teacher(s). The site is filtered for language, pictures, etc. There is a digital dropbox for students to turn in assignments and a place for blogging.

My county has enrolled all its schools in Gaggle. I had to go through my county to get student email accounts. My students are enjoying it and can use it at home or at school. It is a great site for technology lessons and giving students assignments.

I recommend this site! My county has a permission slip that we have all parents sign before a student signs on. Also, like I stated before, it is a safe site. If a student does anything inappropriate the site sends an email to the student and the teacher. Also, a student may get kicked off a Gaggle because of any inappropriate actions.

Gaggle.com

Joelle's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Gaggle is a safe site for students. Any inappropriate language, pictures, etc. is prohibited. Students receive a warning and then are removed from the site, if the inappropriateness continues. There is a filter on this site for these things.

Gaggle is a site that students can email, digitally drop assignments and blog. The site allows for various technology lessons and a great way to communicate with your students. Each student can access this site at home, at school, and so on. I recommend this site.

My county has enrolled all of its schools in Gaggle. Our county's middle and high schools use Gaggle, especially for its digital dropbox. I am getting my students used to the set-up and different options/features on the site. My county also has a permission slip for parents to sign.

Gaggle.com-you can sign up just as an individual class and the site will call you to enroll your students.

Amanda Bright's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

There are settings that can be enabled on blogs that make it to where the administrator of the blog (you) would have to approve any comments to the blog entries before they are posted. This would prevent just anyone posting anything they wanted to... So, you could let the kids type directly but check them before letting them post, and then approve any comments before they are posted. Hope this helps. :)

Derek Rehage's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I like the IDEA of the bloging as well. This is something simular that I do in AN line course that I am taking. I feel it is a great IDEA of communicating with teachers from across the country. You can share with people outside of your district.

Magan Lantagne's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

There are so many advantages to blogging for not only adults, but children as well, as it is clearly shown in all the postings here. I have been trying to put together a blog where I can have my classes go to and blog about various topics, whether it be personal issues, language arts, technology, science, or social studies. I think by using the blogs, students would tend to bring their guard down a little bit. I am sure we have all had that student in class who sits in their desk trying to be invisible because they are so afraid to draw attention to themselves for whatever reason. With blogging, students have that opportunity to express their thoughts, opinions, and knowledge without having the "all eyes on me" feeling. The same goes with responding to the blogs as well. I think that students would be more apt to forget how popular the person is who was making the post, and really look at what they are saying, then in turn contribute their own meaningful response. Another huge positive with blogging is that if students know their writing will be seen by so many people, they are more likely to really take their time and think about what they are writing and proofread it! We need to continue to find ways to get students contributing to the world around them and I think blogging is a great step in the right direction!

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