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While blogging FOR the kids is a powerful tool to connect to their world of digital engagement, I enjoy their blogging even more 🙂

About four months ago my students created their first blogs. At first this involved them simply typing up some of their writing from English and responding to a couple prompts from me. While I was convinced at a tech conference in Greensboro that blogging was a strong tool to improve students writing, I wasn’t convinced immediately. The idea that writing for an authentic audience would improve their voice, grammar and style was compelling, but students didn’t seem to feel that their audience WAS authentic since they weren’t receiving any comments. It was then that a brilliant mind in the world of KIPP suggested Blog of the Day. LOVE IT! Since then an essential part of our Do Now has been visiting the blog of the day (written on the board). We discussed and learned what positive and constructive comments look like, so comments do not become a sort of “writing on walls” if you will, a transfer over from their MySpace and Facebook worlds. In my next unit I’m going to hopefully teach the idea of continuing and building the conversation through their comments, to increase the intellectual conversation potential created by a blogging community.

Okay, now the one huge wall I’m already predicting from teachers NOT in a tech lab setting. If not privileged with a classroom full of computers here are a couple of options.

1) Reserving the school computer lab so you can set them all up at once. Then save it as an earned privilege, potentially using it as a class incentive, earned however you consider appropriate for your subject and what you want to emphasize at the time.

2) A ‘pod’ of computers in the back of your room, if possible. Even 2-5 computers in the back of your room can be a cool earned privilege for kids making smart choices, or an even rotation where everyone gets signed up and blogging within a week. From there, normal writing assignments in your class can become new blog posts! No need to type them up first, but everyone can write on paper and later transferred to blogs. Encourage kids to visit them at home as well… even those without internet access will miraculously find a way when they WANT to get on. You’ll be amazed by which kids are motivated by this!

The biggest key with both of these is providing a way for them to receive comments. You’ll find that many may not respond very quickly to the idea of blogging when they’re receiving no response. But as soon as they get their first comment, many will be hooked. Send their blog web addresses to your staff listserve. Encourage other teachers to visit them. Send the addresses to friends and family members and encourage the same (make sure to mention to them what kind of comments you’re hoping for… grammar feedback, content responses, or just conversation based off of what they’ve brought up). Send them to other KIPP teachers. You’ll be amazed at how much fun it is to read the ramblings of a middle school student… we have a lot to learn from them, and many just need a place to express it!

Some prompts I found with great responses:

Do you believe in love at first sight? (They’re doing Romeo and Juliet in English right now)

Are there some things that are evil, but in certain situations good? Or things that are good, but in certain situations evil?

If I were a teacher I would…

In 20 years, I will be…

The qualities that make a best friend are…

One thing I’d like to change about the world…

The more controversial/debatable the better. Not only will they love expressing their opinion, but it also makes it easier/more exciting to comment on and spark discussion.

One helpful hint: send home a permission slip first to parents to let them know about your project, and make sure to emphasize with kids this is a CLASS project, therefore what they write should be appropriate for a professional/classroom situation.

Here’s a website that can really help when thinking of setting up blogs for the first time:

http://teachertechblog.com/teachers-guide-setup-and-configure-a-student-blog-in-4-steps/97/

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