Students love an audience. Look no further than their social media presence to get an idea of how much today’s generation of students craves a like, retweet, or favorite. Loops, views, and share numbers are worn as a badge of honor. Gone are the days when every student despised the sound of their own voice, were cowering in fear of presentation tasks, and hated having their pictures taken. Selfie culture has made it cool to share who you are and what you’re about with a healthy dab of personal swag dropped right on top. This craving for audience provides a unique engagement opportunity for educators. It gives you the edge of audience.
Since students want an audience, we can make any task authentic by having them create for that audience. No task is “contrived” if we are telling students that they are sharing something with the world. By harnessing this power, we can transform the boring ol’ five paragraph essay into a personalized learning experience for each student. Let’s ditch the academic speak and tell students they are bloggers. Here’s why.
Authenticity of Audience
This is a given. In days of old, students were writing for you, the teacher. Boring. Why should they care about a piece of writing if their only audience is the teacher in the back of the room? They won’t. Blogs flip that script. Their audience is the depths of the internet. They can share a blog link with their family, friends, tweet it out, post it on their wall, feed, timeline, whatever. Their words can go as far as they would like them to. The reach is motivating and can be seen if you check the click and view stats. Now students know who they are writing for, which leads to the next point…
Authenticity of Purpose
When a student figures out that they are writing for the world, and they have an actual readership that extends beyond the four walls they exist within as a writer, the game dynamically changes. It’s no longer about a grade, about meeting the lowest expectations of completion, or keeping mom and dad happy. Now they have the passion inside to create something for people that want to read it. This fundamental change in purpose of writing not only makes students want to write, it makes them want to write well. This is something you cannot provide on even close to the scale they will be able to reach on the internet. Sure, you can create a newsletter, have a classroom share out, or writing celebration, but the amount of eyes you can get on their writing pales in comparison to the thousands of folks they can reach on the web.
Authenticity of Feedback
Old school writing instruction requires a ton of feedback. From you. This is important because after reading your students’ work, you give them the guidance and structure to get better. But consider this:
While your feedback will always be a cornerstone of the writing process in your classroom, when students take their writing online and start blogging, they will begin to receive a new form of feedback that will inform their practice in a much more powerful and meaningful (to them) way.
I’m talking about reader comments. When the voices from the web start telling kids what they think of their writing, then students have a much more “real” reason to listen and apply — it’s impacting their readership. Their online identity is at stake. These voices will truly inform and push students to get better at their craft. Students will listen because, as any online creator at some point realizes, your stuff is only as good as your audience attests.
Authenticity of Voice
Student voice is not just an edu-buzzword right now. It’s a real thing. More and more teachers are finding every day that students who feel that their words matter and that they are listened to are more motivated to learn and more driven to be an active part of what happens in the classroom. And while we can’t offer voice in every single classroom activity we plan, we really should consider deploying student blogs with this in mind.
Why? Because it’s motivating. I recall an aghast 7th grade English teacher that recoiled in fear when I mentioned the name “Tupac” when suggesting a writing topic. Needless to say, I was assigned, along with the rest of the class, a topic of the teacher’s choice. Why do we do this? Writing can easily feel like a chore already. Especially when you are stuck with a teacher that assigns topics or allows limited flexibility in what you are allowed to publish in the classroom.
Let a student choose. Here’s a sampling of what my students have blogged about, in no particular order:
- the NBA
- Chevy Trucks
- Premier League Soccer
- Middle School Current Events
- Internet meme explanations
- 1970’s east coast hip-hop
- movie reviews
- “My dog”
The list goes on and on. The topics they pick may seem…odd, but students care enough about these things to tell me, “This is what I want to tell people about”. If you let kids pick what they want to tell people about, they will write about that topic.
Authenticity of Volume
Most of our students don’t write nearly enough. I have seen the amazing writing teacher and author Kelly Gallagher speak before about the “4×4 classroom.” This is when teachers focus on four big books and four big papers (one per quarter) throughout the school year. Gallagher posits that this fails students for a variety of reasons, but the biggest failure is in the dearth of writing activity students participate in.
Blogs are a panacea for the volume problem. Since blogs are less formal and easily accessible, students can access and publish their work whenever they like. Maybe they post once a month, a couple times a week, or every day. However students manage it, they are creating a portfolio of writing that has advantages for a variety of reasons.
- Persistent effort in any area leads to improvement
- Creation of a portfolio of work for students to compare and set goals from
- A deep pool for writing instructors to provide assessment and feedback
- A digital legacy that students can share and be proud of
Simply put, students are going to write a whole lot more if you give them the freedom and space to do it. Blogs make that happen.
There’s a story I often share wistfully when I discuss student blogs with colleagues. Several years ago I started blogging with my kids in ELA and I, very anxiously, allowed them to provide the vision and scope for their own blogs. One student took this freedom and created a poetry portfolio that she updated almost daily. She emailed me the link and asked for my feedback whether it was a weekend, holiday, snow day, any day. She updated it from 7th grade all the way through high school, and shared it with me every step of the way. A few months ago she called me to say she had her first poem published in a collection.
I was so ecstatic and so proud. And while this young lady was an excellent student destined to achieve great things in her own right, I would like to think that our blogs were a tipping point that allowed her writing to develop and flourish into what it is today. The creative freedom, the visible audience, motivation to persist in it–If the authentic experience and voice that is given to students can lead to such amazing outcomes, why wouldn’t we include this as a focus of our classroom writing experiences?