Yeah. I’m not going to rap. I care too much for the sanctity of your keyboard. I don’t want you to have to clean vomit out of those tiny spaces between your keys. You’re welcome.
On May 30th, 2014, my little experiment came to an end. Looking back, my goal was to get the kids to write and write often. Adding the “21st Century” component is really just a fancy way of tricking kids into writing. They live in this world of social media, of instant access, of sharing every aspect of one’s life. Why fight that? My job is to teach students how to function and be successful in this world. This world. This world of instant feedback with a skewed sense of fame. But I’m not writing to rant about some inevitable doom of our youth, especially since I LOVE social media. (You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr….) I’m writing to share what I learned.
I decided to take the last week of school and have students add essays, a list of books they’ve read, as well as “blurbs” about projects they did in social studies and science. I wanted it to be more than just a blog, but also a portfolio of their 8th grade year.
What I learned:
- Have students write down passwords and usernames. In Sharpie. On their foreheads. Permanent tattoos might be a viable option. I had so many students who had to start over because they couldn’t access their page. I’m developing a lesson plan on “How to pick a password you won’t forget.”
- Allow more time for design, but then set a deadline. I started blogging after just one day in the lab. Quite a few weren’t ready, and it snowballed. They got further and further behind.
- Be very specific about your expectations on a blog. This might seem like a “no duh” teaching moment, but it’s worth highlighting. I fell into this hole. Simply giving an 8th grader a topic and telling him to “write as much as he’d like” often results in one sentence. I found giving a specific word count to be the most helpful (200 words).
- Always give a topic, but also allow for “your choice”. Freedom allows for creativity, but not all are ready for that.
- Require students to read other blogs and comment. Work this into the day. It is completely worth it. I sent out a Google Doc with the all the URLs.
- Learn from your students. As with anything else, some will only do exactly what you require, so be specific. Others will take this to a whole new level you never imagined. Pay attention to these kiddos. They’ll show you things that you didn’t even know were possible.
- Mostly, BLOGGING IS POWERFUL. As I sat and read every kid’s web page, each blog written, I remembered how powerful writing can be. It is therapeutic, leading to self discovery and is often a safe place to share things, one might never share. I read about losing a friend in a car crash, being adopted at only five years old, watching a beloved pet get hit by a car, and what it feels like to be left out of a group. I laughed, I cried and felt a sense of connection with my students. So much of my days are spent teaching students to analyze literature, to cite sources, to organize thoughts, that I fail to teach the heart of writing. Writing is one of the greatest forms of communication, but it also allows us time to think, organize and reflect before we let others in.
I am so excited to continue this project next year. Taking what I’ve learned and building on new ideas, I hope to improve it ten fold. I’ll be starting right away in the fall, making it a year long effort.
I’m guessing I’ll still be wearing my running shoes.