Writing: Learning to Blog FOR your Students

This is the second post in a series of seven blog posts digging deeper into learning about blogging FOR your students.

  1. Reading Blog
  2. Writing Blogs
  3. Commenting on Blogs
  4. Connecting Blogs
  5. The Reciprocation Factor
  6. The Consistency Factor
  7. The Quality Factor

Blogging is not about Technology, but about Writing

In the previous post you learned the importance of READING blogs in order to gain a firsthand understanding of student blogging as a platform FOR learning, not “just” a vehicle for technology integration.

Blogging is a journey. It is not as simple as waking up one morning and deciding, “Let me blog with my students” or attending one professional development workshop or conference presentation about blogging and thinking to yourself, “I’ll start blogging on Monday.”

The journey begins with reading; and it continues with WRITING.

I firmly believe that any educator who expects his/her students to blog for learning, NEEDS to be blogging for his/her own learning.

The biggest obstacle to writing is YOU! I hear educators, who say they want to blog with students, tell me over and over again the reasons why they don’t/can’t/won’t blog for themselves:

  • I have nothing to say that might interest anyone
  • I am not a good writer/ I don’t like writing
  • I don’t have time

Let me address each one of these:

I have nothing to say that might interest anyone

My response to the reluctant or scared bloggers, who feel that they have nothing to contribute to the edubloggersphere, is that blogging should not be about “others.” Writing a professional blog should be foremost about yourself as a learner and about your own journey. Writing for others might come later down the road.

MY own reasons for writing:

  • I write for myself, because I enjoy writing.
  • I want to practice writing in order to get better at doing it.
  • I blog to have a record of my thoughts, my learning process, and resources that I find.

Seth Godin,  in the video above, expresses that the METACOGNITION of thinking is what matters when blogging.

“It does not matter if anyone reads it. What matters is the humility that comes from writing it. What matters is the metacognition of thinking about what you are going to say. How do you explain yourself […]? How do you force yourself to write in three paragraphs why you did something? How do you respond out loud?”

The blogger needs to realize that the primary reason for their blogging is NOT to please others, but to be a process that aids in their own learning.

“Obvious to You, Amazing to Others” is a short video clip by Derek Sivers that talks about what so many new wannabe bloggers also feel like in respect to their potential writing contribution to the field.

“My ideas are so obvious, I will never be as inventive [as others]… but I continue to do my work, I tell my little tales, I share my point of view, nothing spectacular, just my ordinary thoughts.”

He continues to explain how one day someone emailed him to ask HIM how he ever came up with that genius idea?

“Everyone’s ideas seem obvious to them[…] so maybe what seems obvious to oneself, might seem amazing to someone else.”

We need to keep this profound little discovery by Derek Sivers in mind, when we think that we might not have anything to contribute through our writing that would be of interest to others!

“I am not a good writer/ I don’t like writing”

Diving into blogging with our students, it is our hope that they grow as writers, that they connect their learning with new knowledge and that they will be able to express themselves with age appropriate eloquence. We also acknowledge that preparing our students for their futures must include a literacy (of reading and writing) through different media and new genres.

If we are in charge of preparing our students, we need to be riding the wave as well.

Karl Fish asks, on a blog post titled “Just Write Poorly. In Public. Every Day,”

“This begs the question, of course, about how much our teachers are writing. Particularly our Language Arts teachers, but really all of our teachers. If it’s so important for our students to write, how come we’re not modeling it?”

Seth Godin shares (in the video mentioned above) that,

“If you are good at it (blogging) someone is going to read it. If you are not good at it and you stick with it,  you will get good at it.”

If you are one of those who feel that they just don’t like writing, maybe due to writing assignments from their own years as a student, keep in mind that:

Writing for your own blog IS NOT like a writing assignment from college. There is pleasure, inspiration and satisfaction to be found in your writing.

Give writing another try, without the deadline, performance angst or grading pressure that used to come with it. Remember you are writing for yourself. You are writing for your own learning journey.

I don’t have time

Yes, we have all heard this, even have thought it ourselves,  the good old response: I don’t have time…

It is a great response for almost anything. It is easy and quick to say… It fits perfectly, it molds itself to any request, idea, proposal, thought… for the not so good, the great and the best ones…

My thoughts are somewhere between “then don’t”… and … ” choose your priorities wisely”…

Tips for Blog Writing

So, let’s get down to real life tips to help you write your blog. Keep in mind that the same basic principles apply when facilitating blogging with your students.

Just write!? Write for yourself first. Blogging is about your own learning. Use it to remember, to document, to follow and refer back to your own journey. Remember that the destination is not always the goal, but that the journey is what you are after. No more excuses for not getting started.

Write about what interests you?

No reason to force subjects and topics that bore you. Dig deeper into your area of expertise or explore something you always wanted to learn more about. Don’t feel confined. You can find a niche by writing about one area of interest/subject matter or you can write about anything that think and wonder about. It is, after all, your blog

Don’t force a certain writing style on yourself?

Find your own: be formal/conversational/narrative/ straightforward in outline form, etc. Experiment with different forms.

Link to what you read?

Connect ideas you read about to your own ideas and thinking (give credit where credit is due of course!). Collect quote and citations you come across, as you read traditional books or during your online reading. See them as puzzle pieces that you assemble during your writing to paint a picture of your point of view.

Add visuals?

Find ways to add visuals that support your thoughts. Creative Commons – images (from Flickr for example) are your best friend. Sometimes a single visual can even spark your writing. Remember to also take your own images (to use in your blog) as you explain the way you see the world. If you enjoy graphic design, consider creating your own visuals as well. Many visual minds learn best by taking an idea or concept apart and visually re-assembling it.

Make writing (on your blog) part of your work and learning process

Don’t think of blogging as something in addition to your teaching. Incorporate, embed, braid it into your work.? Need to write a lesson plan? Lay it out via your blog. Explain your rationale for choosing certain activities and pedagogy. After you teach a lesson, make reflecting (on your blog) part of the lesson planning cycle.? Doing research about a certain topic and need resources? Use your blog as the platform where you collect and review the resources you find.

Leave a positive Digital Footprint?

What would you like others (colleagues, students, parents, administrators, future employers) to find about you, if they were to google you? The answer to this question can give you ideas about what you could write about as you are starting to share and shape your digital footprint.

Create a professional brand

Brands used to be reserved for companies. Since we have become a “producing” society (not just a consuming one), the concept of branding has spilled over to us “individuals.” Your “brand” represents who you are, your beliefs and points of view across different media and online platforms. The writing on your blog will help define your professional brand.

Don’t be a perfectionist?

Obviously do your best, but the point is to get it out, to process your thoughts, to formulate your thinking. Don’t spend hours on finding the “perfect” image at the expense of actually writing the post.

Don’t get stressed?

You don’t/ won’t (most likely) get paid for your blogging, so don’t add unnecessary stress to your life. Work at your own pace. Don’t set deadlines that you won’t meet and that will only stress you out. You will enjoy your writing much more without the stress.

Gwyneth Jones, The Daring Librarian,  in a post titled ” Just Blog it! Blogging Tips & Ideas”-  gives the following advice:

Blogs are like pets – you have to feed them regularly […] If you start a blog you should try to maintain it. Post when you can, be upbeat, share what you can, give anecdotes about your profession, tech tips, lesson ideas, student successes, & professional philosophies.

  • Start When You’re Ready, Already!
  • No Excuses!
  • Keep an Idea Folder Going!
  • Schedule it
  • Get Graphic
  • Share Shamelessly
  • Gimme a Widget!
  • Be You!
  • Give Credit
  • Be Thankful
  • Be Stubborn

Just as Karl Fish called on us to “Just Write Poorly. In Public. Every Day,”  I am calling educators out to start writing, too. Start writing FOR your students (not necessarily for them to read your professional thoughts), but in order to become:

  • better writers FOR them (to teach/coach/facilitate)
  • transparent learners
  • aware of their own learning journey

Students as Blog Writers

Let’s look at student writing on blogs.

[Disclaimer: When I talk about “student blogs” I am referring to blogs intended for academic writing and sponsored by a teacher.]

I have seen too many student blogs, that are of very poor quality. I have to ask myself:

  • Where was the teacher?
  • Are students not supervised, guided and coached as they blog?
  • Are the expectations set too low?
  • Does the teacher know what quality looks like on a blog?
  • Does the teacher not see that writing on a blog should have the same quality writing standards they have set for analog writing?

There is a need for us to sketch out and define what a quality student blog looks like.

Quality blog writing includes:

  • age and developmentally appropriate content, grammar and vocabulary
  • focused quality and relevant content
  • traditional quality writing characteristics
  • evidence of writing for an audience
  • reflection
  • logistics of digital writing, such as hyperlinking, embedding media, categorization, etc.

Clarence Fisher shares the blogging rubric below to help get you started thinking about blogging and assessment.

Primary Objectives for Student Blogging

Note- this image is available as downloadable poster as part of “It’s not about the Tools, it’s about the Skills” series of 7 posters.

Blogging is surely not about learning the logistics of typing and uploading posts. It is not about the tool, but about the skills that the tool can facilitate.

We MUST keep this in mind as we are asking students to write on blogs.

On Teaching That Makes Sense–  , Steve Peha lists the six traits of quality writing:

  1. Ideas that are interesting and important. Ideas are the heart of the piece — what the writer is writing about and the information he or she chooses to write about it.
  2. Organization that is logical and effective. Organization refers to the order of ideas and the way the writer moves from one idea to the next.
  3. Voice that is individual and appropriate. Voice is how the writing feels to someone when they read it. Is it formal or casual? Is it friendly and inviting or reserved and standoffish? Voice is the expression of the writer’s personality through words.
  4. Word Choice that is specific and memorable. Good writing uses just the right words to say just the right things.
  5. Sentence Fluency that is smooth and expressive. Fluent sentences are easy to understand and fun to read with expression.
  6. Conventions that are correct and communicative. Conventions are the ways we all agree to use punctuation, spelling, grammar, and other things that make writing consistent and easy to read.

Recognizing Quality

It is the job of ALL educators to teach and coach our students in becoming better writers. It is not only the responsibility of the English or Language Arts. Science teachers, math teachers, history, music teachers all share the same responsibility of helping our students express their thinking, ideas and to be able to communicate in the written form. If you have chosen to use a blog as the vehicle to do that, YOU NEED TO GET GOOD at recognizing quality writing in blogs and take into consideration the different genre and writing style in a digital environment demands.

As with anything else, in order to get good at something, you need to practice.

  • Start reading student blogs (your own students and others from around the world )
  • Read A LOT OF STUDENT BLOGS! (While you are at it, leave comments for these students too)
  • Be aware of what you like and don’t like. What stands out? What is unacceptable? What is missing? What makes you go, “Wow” ?
  • Can you see evidence of learning in the blogs? What artifacts are being used? How are students articulating and reflecting about their learning?
  • Start rating blogs you read in several categories, ex. content, presentation, connections, etc.

It is imperative that a teacher who is blogging with his/her students becomes a coach for them. In order to be a good coach, you need to know what you are talking about.

Learn about blogs FOR your students!

Action Steps

  • Read Karl Fish’s post Just Write Poorly. In Public. Every Day – and discuss in the comment section below what he means by “writing poorly in public.” You may also reflect on this on your own blog. Please leave a link to your reflective post in the comment section then.
  • Do you agree that a teacher should be blogging first BEFORE attempting to blog with his/her students?
  • How can we teach/coach/facilitate blogging and hence, writing, if we have not gone through the process ourselves?
  • What is the most important advice you would give a teacher to start blogging/writing?
  • Create a blog for yourself on WordPress.com, Edublogs, Blogger and write your first post.
  • What are YOUR primary objectives for student blogging?
  • What are some of your experiences and ideas in coaching students to write QUALITY blogs?
  • Create a quality blog writing rubric.
  • Think of concrete lesson examples from various grade levels and subject areas. How can blogging be embedded into the lesson? Share these ideas with a colleague.

This was the second post in a series of seven blog posts digging deeper into learning about blogging FOR your students.

  1. Reading Blog
  2. Writing Blogs
  3. Commenting on Blogs
  4. Connecting Blogs
  5. The Reciprocation Factor
  6. The Consistency Factor
  7. The Quality Factor