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!