“Bill Ferriter draws on his own classroom experience with blogging to bring us three valuable tips on how to really make blogging work in a classroom setting. This article was featured by him recently on TransformED.”
As some of you may know, I started a new classroom blog with my students that is designed to raise awareness in tweens and teens about the amount of sugar found in the foods that they are eating.
It’s called #SUGARKILLS. Check it out:
So far, the project has been a remarkable success. We’ve literally posted a new bit every school day for the past month — and my students are straight jazzed about the notion that THEY have the power to make a difference in the world.
Then check out this quote from a recent interview that we completed for Middleweb:
A couple weeks ago, Mrs. Swanson left us a comment about how her dad has diabetes and our blog is really helping him. It makes us feel great to know that we’ve made a difference in someone’s life.
What if Mrs. Swanson’s father made the decision to say “no” to one candy bar, because of us? Then he would keep making healthier choices, and that could eventually save his life! We would have made a huge difference.
We’ve also discovered that other teachers are actually sharing our work with their students, which makes us feel like we really matter to other people. How many 12 year old students can say that they are changing people’s lives around the world? The fact that we can is amazing!
So how can YOU get a great student-driven blog up and running in YOUR classroom?
Here are three of my favorite tips.
Tip 1: Create ONE Topic-Focused Blog
A lesson that I learned early in my work with blogs is that they are far more vibrant — and attract far more attention — when they are updated regularly. The challenge for student bloggers, then, is generating enough content to bring readers back for more.
The solution in my classroom is to always START classroom blogging projects with ONE classroom blog that EVERY student can make contributions to. Doing so takes the pressure of generating content off of individual students simply because there are dozens of potential writers who are adding content at any given time.
I also tend to create blogs that are focused on a specific theme or topic rather than general blogs that contain content across several domains and/or interest areas. By focusing my blogs on a specific theme connected to a cause that my kids are passionate about, I can tap into the desire of students to “do work that matters.”
Tip 2: Train Student Editors to Lead Your Blogging Project
I’m going to be honest with you: Student blogging projects take a TON of time and energy and effort. Posts need to be written and revised and edited. Images need to be found and cropped and inserted. Schedules for creating new content need to be created and maintained and monitored.
Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it?
Here’s the good news: YOU don’t need to be the one that does all of the drafting and coaching and revising and posting!
Instead, work to train a small handful of student editors. Give them the username and password to your classroom blog and turn them loose. You’ll find that they are JUST as capable as you are — and probably MORE motivated!
Our #sugarkills team currently has two fully trained student editors — Andy and Daniel — and four other kids who are “editors in training.” They handle the VAST majority of the nitty gritty details of generating content for our blog.
Training student editors makes classroom blogging projects WAY more manageable for classroom teachers. More importantly, training student editors reminds students that THEY can be powerful WITHOUT needing the help of their teachers.
Tip 3: Recruit Readers and Commenters to Your Blog
For any blogger, the ultimate reward is crafting a piece that actually gets READ. Every page view and comment left on a classroom blog is proof positive to your students that they DO have an audience and that they ARE being heard.
Just as importantly to classroom teachers, every page view and comment is an opportunity for a student blogger to have their thinking challenged — and the tension that results whenever thinking is challenged ALWAYS leads to new learning as students are forced to refine and revise and polish their positions on the topics that they care about.
The challenge, however, is that classroom blogs won’t AUTOMATICALLY generate enough attention to receive page views and comments automatically. The simple truth is that in a digital world where there are thousands of new blogs created every hour, “being heard” isn’t nearly as easy as “getting published.”
To address this challenge, I always recruits volunteer readers and commenters when my students are working on a blogging project.
Most of the time these volunteers are parents or PTA members who want to help at school but can’t find the time to get away from work during the day. I ask them to monitor the blog for a month at a time and to leave two or three comments a week that are designed to challenge students.
Other times, I turn to my own professional friends and family members – pointing them to specific posts that I want to generate traffic for. Doing so generates momentum, ensuring that students feel the reward that comes along with having an audience.
If you are interested in establishing relationships with other classrooms that are blogging, spend some time poking around the growing collection of blogs at the Comments4Kids website. And if you are trying to generate traffic for individual blog entries, consider sharing a link to the post in Twitter using the #comments4kids hashtag.
Any of this make sense to you? More importantly, do YOU have any tips for teachers interested in starting classroom blogging projects?