Encourage authentic writing and grow students' voices.

Carla Jefferson | October 5, 2016

"You want me to do what? No way!"

My 10-year-old daughter is on the autism spectrum. When we met for her annual review this year, one of her goals revolved around her learning how to extend her writing. I cringed. Last year, I'd bought a marble composition notebook. and I told her that we would write every day -- it was like pulling teeth. She didn't want to do it. I was driving myself crazy (and making both of us miserable) trying to make her.

But this year, I was determined that I would come up with a plan that would both encourage her to want to write and allow me to keep my sanity. The answer was so simple, and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it sooner. She would create her own blog! In conversations with teachers, I consistently recommend that they allow students to experience blogging because of the many benefits. Why did it take me so long to come to this conclusion for her?

Where Do I Start?

I first began to make connections with other classrooms through the Quadblogging experience. Since its 2011 debut, teachers from all around the world have used Quadblogging to gain a real, authentic audience for their students. With Quadblogging, you're assigned as a group of four. Each week, one of the classes will be the "focus class," while the other three classes visit and comment on that blog. After four weeks, each class has had the opportunity to be the "focus class." We would normally be paired with one U.S. classroom and two international classrooms. That experience really allowed us the opportunity to see how different things were in other parts of the world.

In addition to Quadblogging, each year we would participate in the Global Read Aloud (GRA) initiative. Created by Pernille Ripp, the initiative's theme, "One Book to Connect the World," encourages classrooms all over the world to make connections in a variety of ways -- like blogging. My students connected with classrooms in North Carolina, Kentucky, and Texas. They had conversations about their thoughts and predictions on the book and about what life was like for a sixth grader where they lived. In addition to that, something else came out of it -- students began providing constructive criticism to each other, forcing them to be more attentive when deciding when they were ready to post.

An (Almost) Impossible Task

In many schools, an ELA teacher is responsible for basically three subjects: reading, writing, and vocabulary. Teaching writing is a laborious task. It's an individual process and takes so much time to provide feedback to students, becoming an almost impossible task if you're tackling it alone. Blogging shifts writing from this individual process into a collaborative one, making the impossible, well, possible!

Seeing the difference blogging made in my students' writing encouraged me to create blogging buddies within the classes and our grade. I decided to do this for two reasons: 1. It was obvious that the peer feedback worked, and 2. It helped correct basic grammatical issues so that I could focus on the content. Although it was still a difficult task to read all those essays, I felt like the feedback I provided really focused on improving the students' writing voices.

Effective Feedback

How many times have we attempted to use the peer-editing model, only for our students to come up short? Using the techniques found on Linda Yollis' blog, my students provide feedback that:

  • Shares something they liked
  • Shares something that could be improved on
  • Makes a connection
  • Asks a question that might allow the writer to extend their piece

Building a Community

How often do we talk to students about being aware of their audience? When students write an essay for class, it often isn't seen by anyone but the teacher -- especially after elementary school. No longer are weekly folders sent home, and often there's a disconnect between home and school. Because of this, I made a point of sharing students' blogs with their parents and other family members. In addition, my principal, coordinating teacher, and other colleagues would comment on students' posts. After reading the comments, my students realized that their words mattered! Blogging has made a world of difference to my students, and I truly believe that it will make a world of difference for yours, too.