Sunday, September 5, 2010

Learning to Blog Using Paper

That's right...you heard me! And it's one of my favorite activities all year long. Paper Blogs. I use them to introduce my seventh graders to the idea of blogging and, more importantly, commenting.

Let me just be clear right from the beginning. This was not my original idea! I first heard about it at a session on blogging at our East Bay CUE Cool Tools mini-conference a couple of years ago. The presenter, Matt Callison, had each participant create their own "blog" on a piece of paper (cardstock, I believe). If I recall correctly, I believe our topic was food...or something food-related. I definitely remember writing about food. Perhaps I was just hungry at the time.

We also had to decorate our new blogs so they might reflect our own personality. I shudder to think what my "decorations" said about me that day. So instead of showing you the one I created that day (you don't think I actually kept it, do you?), here's an example that Cassidy created last year:



I didn't require that their paper blogs actually look like blogs (we use Google Sites, in case you were wondering), but several of my students chose to be tech-creative. Jack had a similar idea, even going so far as to make up a URL for his blog!


Of course, I'm getting ahead of myself a bit. Back to me.

After we were done writing and decorating our blogs in our blogging workshop, it was time to read some blogs. We exchanged blogs with other participants and practiced the art of commenting. First, of course, we had to read the blog post thoroughly...you can't write a proper comment unless you totally understand the message. Then we wrote our comments on 3 x 3 Post-It notes and attached them to the blogs. Naturally, if you wrote a comment to a commenter, then you would attach your Post-It to that comment.

As you probably know, teachers are just great big kids at heart. At least the ones I was with that day were. We could not wait to get our blogs back and see what others had written in their comments! It was a fun way to introduce the idea of blogging to a room full of teachers. I knew middle schoolers would love it as well.

Before I continue with my take on the lesson, let me share with you the original lesson developed by Leonard Low and shared with us at our workshop:


In the comments on that post, you'll also want to take note of Sue Rockwood's reference to her lesson plan based on Leonard Low's activity:



The McTeach Version


As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I use this activity to introduce the idea of blogging to my seventh graders as we start our year together. Not only does it help my students understand blogging and, more importantly, the art of commenting, it also helps me to learn a lot about my students.

Step One

Before I give them the writing assignment portion of the activity, we have a class discussion about blogging in general. I ask them what they know about blogging and whether or not they've read any blogs. There were only a couple of students in this year's class that have read any blogs.

We discuss why someone might want to blog and the kids come up with a lot of different ideas: sports, news, favorite activities, personal journaling, one student even said, "for school." Bonus points for that one! I explain that we'll be using our blogs throughout the year for educational purposes and I want all of my students to feel comfortable posting their work to their blog. And that means they need to feel safe. "Why might a student not feel safe blogging?" Not a tough question to answer in a class with only eight boys and twenty-six girls! "Somebody might be mean."

Thank you. I was hoping you would say that.

And that's when I pass out the 7th Grade Blogging Rules handout that we read through together. They then must take the form home and read it again with their parents. Both the student and the parent sign this form which is based on the Academy of Discovery - Discovery Blogging Rules.


Step Two

I explain to my students that we will be practicing several aspects of blogging on paper before we hit the computer lab. To begin, they need to create their Paper Blogs. The assignment:

Write one to two paragraphs about something you are passionate about; something that you could do all day, every day and not even realize time had passed. It could be your favorite sport or hobby, or a topic that is of particular importance to you, like the environment or ending poverty or increasing teacher salaries. (Hey, it could happen.)

I have my students write out a rough draft first which they bring with them the next day. I want them to have every opportunity to create a product they can be proud of; a Paper Blog without a thousand eraser smears is a good place to start.

Step Three

The next day we start creating! I provide each student with a heavy piece of cardstock, about 9" by 12", which they will use to write their "final" draft of their blog post. After they finish with their post, they need to decorate their blog, adding color and artwork that speaks to their own personality. Of course, the decorations also have to go with the topic of the blog, and I preface this portion of the activity with a discussion about what types of photos or artwork you might see on different types of blogs. "Do you think a blog about soccer would be decorated with pretty flowers?"

"Yes! It's the field before you trample everything in site."

"Yes! I like to wear a flower in my hair when I play soccer."

Note to self: Ask better questions.

I give the class plenty of time for this part of the activity. It's the beginning of the year, they have a lot to talk to each other about, and it gives me a lot of time to wander around and chat with my new students.

Step Four

Ahhhh...my favorite part. Commenting! Before beginning this portion of our Paper Blogs activity, the students and I go over in great detail "The Art and Aspirations of a Commenter." While looking for lesson ideas to help me teach commenting, I was fortunate enough to happen upon A Pirouette: Commenting blog post where I found exactly what I needed! On the reverse of the handout, I added a list of possible comment starters for those who needed a little kick-start to get going.

When I'm fairly certain that they understand how seriously I take this portion of the activity, I point to the baskets I have placed around the classroom. Each one contains 3x3 Post-It notes for them to use for their comments. Before they start wandering around the room, I give them four more pieces of instruction:
  1. One person at a blog at a time. I don't want them to start talking about the blogs and finding out what someone else thinks about them. I want them to think about what they think about the blogs.
  2. Read the blog thoroughly. In order to write a proper comment, you must first give the blog post full consideration. No skimming!
  3. Quiet please! Let's provide everyone with the reading environment they might need. [This works quite nicely for the teacher too!]
  4. Enjoy! This is their first real blogging experience and I want them to see that they can have fun and be considerate of others at the same time.
And they were awesome! I didn't hear one peep out of these seventh graders for about 30 minutes. That's right...half an hour of peace and quiet for the teacher, but more importantly, my students spent thirty solid minutes reading and writing. And they didn't even realize it! Love that part!!

Afterwards, we spent some time reflecting on the activity. I asked them their initial thoughts as they got started, how they felt about writing comments - was it easy, challenging, fun? [Their responses were overwhelmingly positive!] We talked about the blogging process itself and whether or not they felt this activity would be similar to what they might experience with their "real" blogs (they didn't at first, but changed their mind afterwards). What did they learn in doing this activity?

I teach at a Catholic school. Most of these kids have been together since kindergarten; they think they know everything there is to know about each other. They're always so surprised after this activity that there is still something they can learn about their classmates. I love that! It's my cue to remind them that people can change and we need to allow them the space to change and not hold them in our own definition of who they might be. It's also a great lead-in to a conversation about being open to everyone they meet; if they pre-judge someone before they get to know that person, they may miss an amazing opportunity to make an important friend.


After the activity is over, I am left with a bright and colorful stack of Paper Blogs, and a room full of seventh graders ready to become full-fledged bloggers!












45 comments:

Pam said...

What a fabulous idea! I'm sure it would reinforce the idea of quality of writing and commenting.

Christina Spiezio said...

What perfect timing! I'm just starting to introduce blogging to my students in the next few weeks, and I had no idea how to start! This is great! Thank you so much for the great idea... this looks like a perfect way to get the students excited about bloggin!

Mike T said...

An outstanding idea! Thanks for sharing!

Nesredna1234 said...

This was a Great! I love your approach, process and reflection. I also appreciate your connection with teachers, and how this can demonstrate what a blog is. Very well done and it will be extremely beneficial for my blogging adventure with 5th grade this Year! Hat's off to a Job Beautifully Done! :)

McTeach said...

Pam and Mike...thank you so much! It really does help them understand the blogging process quite well.

Christina...I love it when that happens. I can't tell you the number of times I've been looking for something particular and it shows up that very day in my Google Reader or on Twitter. Have fun with this...I always do! And let me know if you have any questions or if you just want to share how your students do with Paper Blogs. Can't wait to hear all about it!!

Linda Yollis said...

What a great idea! Very thoughtful approach to introducing blogging! I bet they are fabulous commenters as well!

Thanks for sharing!

Linda Yollis
:-)

mrarakaki said...

This is so awesome. I think I will be doing this in the next two weeks...

Karen said...

Awesome! I too was looking for something to do with my 7th grade computer class and this is perfect! Not only that but I've found a new blog to read as I found you through another blog!

Anonymous said...

What a fun class activity. Wish was back teaching so I could try this. I think it could be adapted nicely to various subjects... sciences, history, and the like.

Mrs. Tenkely said...

LOVE this idea!! Such a neat offline way to explain the blogging process and have students "get it" before jumping into the online version. The commenting portion is also my favorite! Thanks for the step by step of how you did all of this and for the fantastic pictures!

Julie said...

I explained these concepts to 4th & 5th graders last year, but quickly learned there is some kind of disconnect in how they approached commenting online. This is the perfect way to help them understand. Thanks for sharing!

Laura said...

This is a creative way to introduce blogging to anyone. It is concrete, hands on, and fun. I can't wait to try this idea out with my co-workers, to get them involved in blogging.

Leigh Newton said...

Thank God for bloggers, including teachers! Thanks so much for sharing your learning, your ideas and your enthusiasm.
A path is so much easier to tread when someone gives you a road map for the journey and you've given some great assistance. I'm in the early stages of establishing student blogging after a few years away from it. Sometimes the difficulties are remembered more than the joys. Your idea of starting with a paper blog provides easy steps for student learning.

Because of the emphasis on creating a product that is well-presented, I suggest displaying the paper blogs in the school corridors to go one step closer to the world being able to enter the conversation.

When I first introduced the coming blogs, some of my students expressed their fear of blogging, presumably because we've had reason this year to talk about online bullying and the potential for abuse. I can't insist that anyone blogs but I can suggest that, if they don't wish to blog online, they continue to paper-blog and present in the corridor for others to comment.

Geoff Flett said...

Very inspiring. Thanks for sharing this great idea. It is a great way to introduce blogging to students.

Catina said...

I did this yesterday with my sixth graders. Thank you for a fantastic lesson and a positive experience with "blogging" before I allow them to start on their own Kidblogs. I will definitely be sharing this lesson with others. Thank you!

Catina said...

I did this yesterday with my sixth graders. Thank you for a fantastic lesson and a positive experience with "blogging" before I allow them to start on their own Kidblogs. I will definitely be sharing this lesson with others. Thank you!

@tcash said...

I'm so glad I found this thoughtful and thorough post - fantastic! I'm currently doing some research on how blogging can affect student achievement & foster reflection and critical thinking. I need one "control" group and one experimental group. The experimental group will be doing weblogs, but I was looking for a way to do blogs minus the technology (while keeping it fun!) for my 5th grade control group. This is perfect, thank you!

PNaugle said...

Thanks Karen for sharing this with us. This is such a great way to introduce blogging. I will definitely be referring others to this post.

It is great that these paper blogs can be posted in the classroom or school for a great display. If a pack of Post-it notes and a pen where attached nearby others could add comments too.

Zane said...

Great Idea...Most students treat the blog like a Facebook where anything goes Instead of a place to give meaningful and insightful feedback. I plan on using this next year before introducing the student accounts. Thanks.

julie.thorp said...

Thank you so much for sharing this great idea. Often I jump into things too quickly. Your ideas really helped see how I can lay the ground work for successful blogging in my classroom.

julie.thorp said...

Thank you so much for sharing this great idea. I never would of thought of paper blogs, but this truly lays the groundwork for successful blogging. I am so looking forward to using this idea in my classroom as I begin to blog with my students.

Jan Wells said...

I love the idea. Will be using in next year to get my 4th graders started. Thanks for sharing and @plnaugle for sharing on #4thchat

Julie said...

This is such a great idea! I am new to blogging and I can't wait to use this idea to launch blogs with my students. Julie

Charlie said...

Thanks for the great ideas and resources. I've been trying to come up with a way to introduce blogging to 3rd graders. I also have been trying to find a blog tool for kids this age and recently found kidsblog. I do have one question. How did you sell access to kidsblog to administration so it is not firewalled? Our district recently adopted Google Apps for Education, but both sites and Blogger have been turned off for students. Blogger is also turned off for teachers!! Yikes!! Kidsblog has some nice features I can use to sell it's safety like the requirement for all posts to need approval. But, I am a computer lab teacher. That means I will be doing this with over 300 students. So, any advice would be greatly appreciated. Both for handling admin's fears and for accomplishing blogging with so many students/classes. On the bright side, I can use my own classes to connect with each other.

Joan Young (aka Mancini) said...

Wow, Karen! I can't believe I had never seen this post before. Thank you for all of your fabulous ideas. I am going to use this in my class this year as well!

McTeach said...

Many thanks to everyone for their comments about paper blogs! Special thanks to Kelly Tenkely and Paula Naugle for sharing this post with so many people. You ladies rock!!!

Mme Chiasson said...

I love this idea! I may have to borrow it for my next class. Thank you for posting it.

jessievaz12 said...

Wow! Thank you so much for sharing this amazing idea! Simple but perfect! I just had a teacher at my school mention that they would like to start blogging and I am going to send this to her right away! I think it will be FANTASTIC! Brilliant work!

McTeach said...

Mme. Chiasson - Please, feel free to borrow away!

jessievaz12 - Thanks! I'm getting ready to do this activity with my own students. Can't wait!!

Mrs. Fisch said...

Your ideas, examples, and pictures are wonderful! I have always wanted to do this with my 7th grade history students. I think I now have enough information from you to comfortably start it. Sharing all the details really helps. I am concerned about selecting a safe a secure blogging source and I'm open to hear if anyone has suggestions. I can't wait to get started and get my class involved in this ongoing writing activity.

Mrs. Fisch said...

Your ideas, examples, and pictures are wonderful! I have always wanted to do this with my 7th grade history students. I think I now have enough information from you to comfortably start it. Sharing all the details really helps. I am concerned about selecting a safe a secure blogging source and I'm open to hear if anyone has suggestions. I can't wait to get started so my class is more involved in this ongoing writing activity.

Mr. Boyer said...

Wow, what an awesome idea. This would be such a neat way to introduce my 5th grade students to blogging next year.

Ben Winter said...

Great idea. I loved seeing the photos to illustrate what you did in class.

ehackett said...

Thank you sooooo much. I really needed this information for getting my class started with blogging this next school year.

Constantine Connections said...

Awesome!!! I blog with my 4th graders and will definitely start it out like this next year. Thanks so much for posting!

Anonymous said...

I am going to try this. Diving in to the 21st century! I teach middle school math, and need to incorporate more reading and writing skills in math. Please comment if you have any suggestions!

The Phoenix said...

We love this approach for introducing blogging. We plan to try it tomorrow as our introduction to a year of blogging across the globe. Thank you so much for your good ideas and examples.

Joy Kirr said...

I realize I'm two years late to this conversation, but I'm ready to start blogging on a regular basis with my 7th graders. I'm putting your plans (so beautifully laid out here) into my plan book for this coming week - and am excited to see what we create!

Thank you so much for posting, and thanks so much to the bright educator who tweeted out your post!

~@JoyKirr

Jennifer Wolfe said...

What a super cool idea! I'll be using this with my middle school kids!

Ann Marie said...

This is exactly what I was looking for to introduce blogging and digital citizenship to my fifth grade students. Thank you so much for sharing this!

Jack Davidson said...

Hi Karen, this is a great write up and gives some really clear instructions for teachers. I'm going to have to go back to my school and try this out!

I hope you don't mind but Ive referenced this article on my educational blog.

Thanks
Jack

Celana Chino said...

This is a creative way to introduce blogging to anyone. It is concrete, hands on, and fun.

Shawn Storm said...

Thank your for putting this together! Just introduced blogging today and used many of your ideas! How was the transition to the "real" blogs?

Shannon said...

Can't wait to use this after Christmas break when my 6th graders are going to start blogging!

Shannon
http://www.irunreadteach.wordpress.com

Frazier gifted said...

This was very helpful. I am going to use it with my elementary gifted class to get them ready for a blogging activity that I would like to create around a novel we are reading.