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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

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Cheryl's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Elena, Thank you! I was very inspired about how you felt as if you were a lonely eduator and decided to interview Jessie Thayer. I have been teaching for 16 years. Even though my grade level is Kindergarten, it has insired me to consider adding more technology into my writer's workshop. Even those of us, veterans, can really learn alot from a novice teacher such as Jessie.

Grace Wine's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a novice teacher, I had thought of introducing a blog to my classroom this year; however, with the institution of a classroom wiki and forum, I was afraid I would lose track of all my new tools. Now that the first semester is over, I'm thrilled to see that this has been successful for others, and look forward to adding a blog during the second semester. Thanks for the encouragement!

Sarah 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think starting a blog for students is a great idea. I am also a Kindergarten teacher who looks for every way to incorporate technology into my classroom. My students are engulfed in technology in todays world. Sometimes I feel I have lost their attention unless I am teaching something with technology.

Lauren .'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and the story of Thayer's class. I'm a fifth grade teacher looking for easy ways to both incorporate technology in my classroom and help my students recognize that their writing is important. I think a blog would be an easy and effective way to give my students an audience for their writing. Has anyone come across any obstacles to posting of student work? Do students keep their work completely anonymous or just leave their last names off of it?

Joelle Eiden's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My students are enrolled in Gaggle email. There is a blogging opportunity in this email site. I was interested in starting my students with a blog. Do you have any suggestions for getting my students started?

My students are in the 4th grade and I think that they would really enjoy blogging. I want to introduce them to parts of the web that they will be using in middle/high school. I also want to have them practice typing because for some, it is a monumental task.

Maria Nesloney's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am so glad that I came across this blog. I teach High School English and I need to bring more technology into the classroom to help keep the students engaged. I want to start a student blog with some of their writing and other assignments. Now that I have read this I think I can do it. Do you have computers in the classroom? I have three computers in my classroom and I have access to labs.

Maria

Tina Hoefs's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Elena,

I really enjoyed reading your article and about the teacher who implemented bloggin in order to give her 8th graders an audience! I find this very interesting. I teach 4th grade and as a few others mentioned am always looking for ways to integrate technology. I am also weary of technology at times though, worrying about inappropriate responses from people and security and safety of my students. Can you tell me more about setting up blogging for my students?

Bettina Hoefs's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Elena,

I enjoyed your article and am thinking about how I can have my 4th grade students use blogging in the classroom. I am concerned about security and inappropriate responses from readers. Do you have some tips or advice? I was thinking I would let my students type directly, but it sounds like this teacher did the typing for her students? Can you give me some more information?

Tina Hoefs's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a fourth grade teacher and I too am always looking for ways to integrate technology. I think setting up a blog for my students is a great idea, but am wondering about security for my students and the possibility of inappropriate comments. I have some thoughts on possibly posting some options/topics that students could write about such as books they are enjoying or characters they can relate to and why, for reading purposes, but I guess I'm confused on how other people would interact with this outside of our class? What have other elementary teachers done? I would love suggestions and ideas of how to use this best.

Bobbie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Cheryl, I am in my fourth year of teaching, and I struggle to integrate technology, but I do realize that we have to use all the resources available to us to try our best to reach our students. I also like the idea of adding blogging into writing. Students love to be on computers, and if we can get them to use competers to increase their writing skills, I'm all for it!

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