Blogging. It’s such an inspirational and aspirational idea to incorporate into the classroom. It has an audience, it asks students to really share about a topic that interests them, and it gives them a platform to voice their perspectives on pressing civic and political issues. It all sounds good on paper and in lesson plans you read online, but when it’s time to make it happen, there always seems to be a few lingering fears -- like a monster under the bed that haunts you in the night.
- Will my students take the task seriously?
- Will they leave thoughtful comments and respect others’ work?
- Will they feel confident enough to post their work?
- Do I have the bandwidth to manage their “online” lives?
Three years ago when I had my students blog for the first time I had these questions too, and I let the monster under my bed hold on to my ankles. I had my students add pages to the same Google Site and only leave comments on each other’s work. I controlled the situation to limit the answers to those questions. It went fairly well, but some of the authenticity was lost.
Then, I met Youth Voices and began to stare the monster down.
Youth Voices is a school-based social network platform that was developed by National Writing Project teachers to bring students together online to share writing and engage in conversation. Students from all over the country and world are posting and commenting daily.
One lesson I learned in my battle with blogging is that students will take the task seriously if both the task and the audience are authentic. I'd recommend that any teacher who is thinking about blogging with students find a site with an authentic, active audience -- which is why I love Youth Voices.
The work on the site is high quality. I started the year with my students reading work already on the site, reflecting on the quality, and then leaving comments for students they had never met. They were both nervous and pushed by the quality of the work. Youth Voices also has commenting guides which provided my students with the support they needed, as well as high expectations.
I also took time to remind students that just as letter writing, poetry, and essay writing are a genre, so are academic comments. Academic is a key word here, and we took time breaking apart the difference between a Youtube, Instagram, and Snapchat comment and a comment found on Youth Voices.
What’s more, once published on Youth Voices, student work is available through Google. Students become published authors and I remind them that this work can be added to their resume and seen by anyone anywhere -- including colleges. For this reason, students publish polished tasks, so they have already been graded by me and revised if needed.
And most importantly, students write about topics that they're passionate about and that are impacting society. For example, my students have blogged about the relevant concerns in Oakland and the root causes of these challenges, the parallels between Romeo and Juliet and today, and the dominant narratives that affect them and the counter-narratives they want to share. You can check out these examples of students’ blog posts:
As for managing online lives, this year I fully trusted my students to self-manage, and I linked the Youth Voices accounts to each student's personal email account instead of my own. This move allowed my students to take ownership of the posts they published on the site. Students were responsible for monitoring the activity around their work and staying engaged with commenters. As an added bonus, my inbox is less crowded with notifications and my students have an academic reason to check their email. Also, with all the pre-work mentioned above, I found that the authenticity, audience, and professionalism took care of itself.
So, here are my key tips for slaying that monster under your bed and ending your teacher nightmares about blogging:
- Find an authentic site with a trusting and professional audience.
- Frame commenting as a genre and provide a “sentence starter” structure.
- Give students ownership and link the blog to their personal email accounts.
- Allow students to blog about issues that matter to them.
I know the night before your first blogging lesson that monster might still be there, so feel free to reach out here with more questions or find colleagues you can lean on. Remember, you’re not in this battle alone.
Happy Monster Slaying!
How do you incorporate blogging into your classroom? What are some of your key tips? If you haven’t tried blogging with students, what are some of the monsters you’re hoping to slay? Let us know in the comments below.
For more ideas on how to spark students' writing about civic and political topics, you can watch this video. And check out Teaching Channel's Educating for Democracy Deep Dive for even more great ideas on engaging your students in civic learning.
Nina Portugal is in her third year at Life Academy of Health and Bioscience and fifth year with Oakland Unified School District. Prior to Oakland, Nina taught English at a bilingual high school in the South of Spain and at a Charter School in South Chicago. Nina spent her first two years in Oakland, focusing specifically on Long-Term English Learners and English Language Development. She then moved to Life Academy to teach ninth grade Humanities. When she's not teaching or thinking about her students, Nina is finding her center as a yoga teacher at Left Coast Power Yoga in Oakland.