Student Blogs – Exhilarating & Slightly Terrifying

BACKGROUND

Although I dabbled with blogs a bit in the past, they have really taken off with the changes I made this year.  The key to this transformation has been providing students with a blog where they can write about whatever interests them, as long as it is school appropriate of course.  You should also know that we are very fortunate in two ways.  We have a period at the end of the day in which the students are expected to work on both math and ELA (English Language Arts), and our school began a one-to-one iPad initiative this year.  This combination provides us with both the means and the time to vastly expand our work with blogging.

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THE EXHILARATING

What has astounded me the most is watching the students at work on the blog.  Many of them read the blog instead of an SSR book whenever they have a spare moment, and an astonishing number of students spend the vast majority of the time they have available working on creating new posts and commenting on others.  It is actually getting to the point where I may have to limit the opportunities students have to work on their blogs because they are ignoring opportunities to study in favor of writing.  The synergy in the work produced is amazing as one post or comment leads to the next, or inspires the writing efforts of readers.

An unexpected benefit is the insight the blog provides into the lives of my students.  I have never been a teacher who has devoted a lot of time to personal conversations with students, and while I will occasionally pick up on things they may be interested in, the blogs have opened up a whole new world in this regard.  It is fascinating to be able to get a glimpse into what my students find interesting and exciting.  This makes it so much easier to remember the wonderful individuality of each child and what makes each of them special, when it is so easy to simply label them as students while I focus on my work.  Finally,  for me this experience has been a lot like watching The Voice on NBC.  While watching the show I have been exposed to a lot of different kinds of music I wouldn’t have encountered on my own because in many cases it isn’t what I might hear on the radio stations I listen to, but I find myself enjoying that in many cases.  Similarly, I am discovering things I never knew about by reading the posts and comments and by discussing them with the students.

THE SLIGHTLY TERRIFYING

Without a doubt, the scariest thing about the blog is not knowing what students are going to say.  This week marks the second time this year we have taken time out to review the posts and comments students have authored, both the good and the bad, in light of our blogging guidelines.  Earlier this year the primary focus of the discussion was getting the students to put more effort into posts so that they were more detailed.

This time the issues are a little more serious, but the posts and comments have also improved tremendously in many ways at the same time.  Sixth graders will to some extent be sixth graders, and I wasn’t properly prepared to deal with the darker side of blogging that cropped up.  Most of this was simply students trying to be funny.  Unfortunately, sometimes they don’t know exactly where to draw the line with humor and feelings get hurt.  In a few instances, some of the posts and comments went beyond humor and showed a tendency to target a student or ridicule their ideas.  While it didn’t reach a level I would regard as cyberbullying, it does need to be halted and energies need to be redirected into more positive expressions.

After doing some additional research I added a new page on the blogging section of my website about trolls.  We reviewed comments and posts and talked about how they contribute to our blogging community in positive and negative ways.  I was extremely proud of my students during these discussions.  In both of my classes I had students who quickly made the connection and pointed out that some of what people think is funny takes away from the serious work others are doing and might also make them feel bad. Next we took a look at the information I found about trolls and how to deal with them.  I am hopeful that this will lead to another quantum improvement in our blogging, though I am also concerned that the serious nature of our discussion may slow the enthusiasm students have demonstrated for our blog.  This will be a telling experience for finding out what the students are really getting out of the blogging experience and whether or not they are willing to exhibit the same level of interest and dedication without the silliness.  Especially since the scariest part is still to come.  I have recently been working with our administration regarding opening up our blog for public viewing and in order to allow my students’ relatives to comment on our blog and possibly even post on a blog of their own which our students would then be able to comment on.