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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

Erin Woodring's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is my first experience with blogging, but after having had the chance to read a variety of different posts on a variety of different topics, I can safely say that it won't be my last. It opens up so many new doors to me as a teacher, and until now, I hadn't even considered the possibility of using blogging with my students. I definitely think that this would be a way to motivate students. It makes the writing process very authentic for them, and they have a real purpose because they know that they will have an audience beyond the walls of their classroom. I think that what you are doing with your students is also a great way to integrate technology into the classroom. Thanks for sharing your ideas!

Ashley Spence's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It does seem like blogging can be more geared toward higher grades, especially since the students know by then how to get online and they can do it by themselves. However, the more I'm reading about blogging and different Web 2.0 functions, the more excited I get to use this technology with my third graders. I am thinking about getting my class signed up with Gaggle in the fall, so they all have an email address to communicate with me and the other students. I think they will feel very special to have an email address. I also want to try to encourage the use of blogs to respond to story questions- especially when I am having the entire class read the same book. Blogging will be useful for members of the same guided reading groups to discuss the stories they are reading in their leveled groups, too. I definitely want to have the children post writing assignments for the feeling of being published and for the opportunity to critique each other's work. For science or math, you could require each child to go onto the blog and define or explain one of the concepts or vocabulary words. The same could go for reading vocabulary too. If you have any other ideas, please do let me know! Good luck :)

B. Pearl's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

If you are looking for a HANDS-ON way to make mathematics
fun across the curriculum, check out this title: Math in Motion: Origami in the Classroom for grades K-8. It is also available in Spanish. The motto of the program is: "Where every child counts!"
Kids love origami. There are so many ways you can integrate skills with paper folding to teach reading, writing and arithmetic. Request a FREE e-copy of 101 Ways to Use Origami at: info1@mathinmotion.com
Happy folding!

Lisa B's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks for the information, Liz. I want to set my students up with blogs this year and am just now exploring different ways to do that.

Melissa McManus's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am new to the concept of the blog and am somewhat embarrassed to admit this fact as I am a fairly young teacher at this point in time. I often feel pressure from the expectations of my colleagues and principal that I am constantly using innovative forms of technology in my classroom. However, I do not feel very confident in my knowledge of the technology programs available that can be used to supplement and enhance my lessons. For these reasons, I am thankful for the various resources, websites, and information about classroom blogs from other educators. I am very intrigued by the website, classpress.com that Liz suggested in her response, as well as gaggle.com. Has any one tried these sites and know any advantages or disadvantages of these programs? I would like to incorporate blogs this year, but am looking for any insights that would help make this transition smoother!
Thank you,
Melissa McManus

dating's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Cognitive article! Thanks to the author!

Francesca Muraca's picture

There was another Blog I participated in that questioned if technology makes students lazy. I think student blogging is a perfect way of actively engaging students using technology. As an educator, it is important to give proper guidelines and prompts when blogging. This will keep students focused and on the right track and get the most positive experience with blogging.

Mary Martin's picture
Mary Martin
Eighth grade English teacher from Aiken, South Carolina

Tina,

Like you, I am trying to incorporate technology into my language arts classroom. I like your idea about having students blog about books that they are enjoying. In fact, your idea has inspired me to think about creating a blogging book club for my students. I imagine that doing so would require a structure similar to literature circles, including an opportunity for open discussion (like adult book clubs). I'm also new to this, so I share your concerns about shielding students from inappropriate comments. However, I think that I can protect my students' identities by asking them to select a pseudonym. They can reveal their identities to friends and loved ones, but still protect themselves from strangers.

Kim Cao's picture

I teach seventh and eighth grade math and writing in math is something I've been looking into to implement to get the students out of the thinking that math is just "numbers-only." Having read some of the students' writings in Jessie's blogsite, I was amazed at the way the site was put together to give the students a platform for publishing their writing. What a wonderful idea. As a matter of fact, this could be a great way for our grade level teachers to collaborate on a site together. With this technology, it can reinforce lessons in class and brings out students' thinking on particular math problems or concepts. Thank you for sharing.

Liz B.'s picture

I have never used blogging in my classroom. I am trying to incorporate technology into my classroom and I am inspired by how others are making learning fun using blogging. I look forward to a time when all students will have access to computers and the internet to make this a real possibility.

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