More than students just writing and posting, each week we discuss a different aspect of the writing process (brainstorming, attention grabbers, thesis statements, supporting details, proofreading, etc.). It is then their job to try and incorporate this aspect of writing into their weekly blog post. At the end of the week they get a grade for their effort. Additionally, I always post my “comments” on their blog, and other students are encouraged to read each other’s blogs and post their comments (comment etiquette was an initial lesson and all comments are supportive). The idea is to have a fun and safe place for students to practice their writing, free of teacher criticism and negative grading. And in the end, each student will have an online portfolio of their writing where they can directly see just how much their writing has improved over the year.
Blogging can be a great tool for parents to use at home, as well. The beauty of blogging is that it is something that parents can encourage their students to do independently, with just a little parental monitoring. There are plenty of educationally appropriate blogging sites that will allow you to set up a blog for free. And students can use their computers to do something cool while inadvertently learning in the process.
But wait, you’re thinking, as a parent I don’t have time to teach writing lessons and grade my student’s work. Yes, that’s true. But think about it this way. We’ve all heard the saying that you become a better reader just by reading, right? So wouldn’t you think the same goes for writing? You can become a better writer partly just by writing.
Regardless of whether it is structured or graded, the mere act of writing will improve your child’s writing abilities, in school and out. To start, blogging requires students put their ideas into writing. By practicing putting their ideas onto paper (or computer file), students inadvertently learn to use strategies for organizing their writing. Not only do they learn to use such strategies, but they consistently practice these strategies. For example, I have learned after years of writing that I need to outline first or my writing will be a complete mess. The more I’ve written, the more I’ve refined my entire writing process.
Furthermore, as students take their ideas and covert these ideas into written expression, they begin to realize that writing is not the insurmountable task they’ve always believed it to be. Often, students find writing too daunting or challenging to even attempt. For them, it is easier to ignore the impossible challenge of writing than to attempt it (regardless of the effect on their grade). By writing smaller, ungraded pieces, they get used to the fact that writing is not impossible. And the more they do this, the more possible it becomes. It’s like riding a bike in some ways. Once you’re able to ride a few feet, you see that eventually it will become possible to ride down the street with just a little more practice.
This is where the beauty of blogging comes into play. First of all, students get to write about what they like. So if your child is a huge Chicago Cubs fan, they can write all about their favorite team. Or Justin Bieber, Halo: Reach, or Glee. Or a combination of everything. The difference between given an artificial writing prompt and an authentic writing experience where they can write about a topic they have a real interest in can make a huge difference in a student who is reluctant to write. I have a student who refuses to write more than two sentences for any school work. However, given the opportunity to discuss the Chicago Blackhawks home opener, he was taking his writing home to work on it (and you’d be surprised at the wonderful supporting details he would include when he was allowed to look up player statistics). And this all leads to another benefit. As students see their writing published on the web and responded to positively by friends and family, they begin to feel successful about their writing. Anyone who feels successful doing something will want to continue to feel more success. Additionally, knowing their work is published on the Internet and others can read it means students unknowingly start putting more effort into their writing.
Blogging has additional benefits beyond the writing element. Encouraging you child to blog allows for an authentic discussion of Internet safety. Teaching your child what is acceptable to post and what is not is important in an age where everyone seems to have a Facebook account or some presence on a social networking outlet. Guiding students through the dangers of the web and the implications of what they publish (both in blogs and other online realms), within the context of their blog, provides students with an important learning opportunity at an earlier age. (A friend of ours recently put on her Facebook page how she would be gone for the weekend in Mexico. She was reluctant to realize how privacy settings aren’t always perfect and how dangerous it was broadcasting to the world that her house would be vacant for two days – and she’s 30 years old).
So blog away students, moms, dads, grandmas, and more! You never know. Any one of us could become the next blogging star, with our own book and movie deals in the works. And even if we don’t make millions of dollars, at least we improve our writing in the process.