10 ways to motivate students to blog…

Collaborative post with Mitch Squires, a primary school teacher in Sydney. Cross-posted at his blog. I wrote some, he wrote some, we both wrote some. We had fun… kids could do this too!

From Ed: I love to blog. I’m an addict.

I like to blog about things that matter to me, things I’m thinking about and things I learn. I respond to things I’ve read. I share things that I discover. I reflect.

I’d find it difficult to blog if someone told me what I had to write about. I’d hate to have deadlines by which my posts were due. If I was expected to blog about things that didn’t interest me, I’d never produce another post. I don’t think I’d like someone correcting my writing. I wouldn’t like writing on the same topic everyone else was writing about today!

Why should younger, possibly smaller people feel any differently?

From Mitch: I was only ever an occasional blogger until this year, writing in fits and starts, however starting a class blog opened up a whole new world . Students loved having their work on show to a global audience, able to provide genuine feedback. Parents loved the ‘window into our classroom’. I loved the excitement I saw in the students, the motivation it sparked in them. After the initial buzz wore off, however, I had to find ways to keep the students interested…

10 ways to motivate students to blog…

1. Hook them in.

Post a powerful provocation to get them thinking. Get them to respond as a comment. Use photos, artwork, video clips. Suggest a thinking routine to scaffold responses. eg ‘Connect, Extend, Challenge‘ or ‘See, Think,Wonder’. Ask powerful, engaging questions about big ideas and accept all kinds of responses. Sam Sherratt’s class blog is a great example.

2. Freedom of choice.

Allow choice. Encourage students to write about what matters to them. Don’t expect everyone to write about the same thing at the same time in a uniform way. Encourage creativity rather than compliance. (I love this point. I struggled initally with the idea of set tasks vs student choice. While it sometimes bothers me that some of my students won’t post great classwork because it doesn’t fit with their own view of their blog, if I look at the bigger picture, it makes their blogs more authentic and relevant to them. (Mitch)

3. Don’t over correct.

Ed: Actually the jury’s out on this one. Some say blog posts should be final draft pieces, with spelling and grammar correct. I tend to disagree. I’d allow students to express their opinions, grow their thinking, be creative… but I may be wrong! Mitch: My general rule on this one is if the work is an assigned class task, I expect students to have thoroughly checked the accuracy of their spelling and grammar. If it is a personal interest piece written in their own time (most of what makes up their blogs) then I am happy as long as it all makes reasonable sense.

4. Help provide an authentic audience.

Share student blogs with other teachers at your school. Invite parents and grandparents to comment. A comment from a grandmother interstate, a cousin overseas or a teacher from a school on another continent is a powerful motivator for students. Tell your online PLN about them. Add a Clustrmaps widget showing global visitors.

5. Model good writing.

Blogging is writing. Share your own blog with your students. Write posts that model the sort of writing you’d like them to produce. John Spencer writes beautifully. So do his students at Social Voice!

6. Encourage different modes of expression.

Blogging isn’t only writing. Encourage creativity. Students might create videos, images or cartoons and post them. Great examples here from David Mitchell’s class blog.

7. Make global connections.

Students love to hear what their peers think. Help them connect with both an in-school and an online PLN. Collaborate with classes in other countries. Read about Australian Kath McGeady’s collaboration with a class in the US. Their Uganda project is inspiring! And have you seen the Alice Project, where ‘Three 10th-grade Honors English classes tumble down the rabbit hole to discover Alice’s journey first-hand’?

8.  Encourage students to support each other.

Who doesn’t get a kick out of working together to solve a problem? Students love to show each other how to use that photo of their artwork to make a Jigsaw Planet, or record their speech as a podcast for their blog. If they have the skills, let them share them! (I love this one. ‘Kids showing kids’ is much more effective than teacher as boss of learning! -Ed)

9. Let them own it.

The theme. The widgets. The blog name. The posts. Kids love to take full control and place their own stamp on their patch of online space. Mitch Squires’ Year 3 student, Emily blogs here.

10. The power of embedding.

Help students master embedding web 2.0 and multimedia tools. They’ll be empowered to experiment and include an almost endless range on their blogs. See Steve Davis’s middle school English class understandings of text, expressed through different media.

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18 thoughts on “10 ways to motivate students to blog…

  1. Love this idea of both of you making a post & yes the children could do it easily. I comment regularly on David’s class blogs & we have just decided that I am now going to move into making suggestions for improvement now that the class knows me.

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  2. Edna, thanks for the mention!

    I can say I’ve been using most of these tips with my students and they really work. My blogging students are hugely motivated.

    You may disagree with this but, as I have blogged about before, I don’t allow everyone in my Grade Two class to have their own blog. They have to earn a blog. Perhaps it would be different with older students but in my class this works very well.

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  3. Great post Edna and Mitch, I agree with all your thoughts, especially about the need to provide authentic ways for your students to connect with others once the initial excitement has worn off. I find some of my students love to blog – just like you do Edna, while others need more help in keeping going. Which is why I sometimes direct mine to http://thebloggerscafe.edublogs.org/ as a way of finding other students to connect with. We are also trying to engage them with thinking questions, this week my class are considering the tricky one of ‘Should mobile phones be allowed in class’ I am hoping we will get some of the parents answering that one.

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  4. Great suggestions and tips. Blogging, like anything else, appeals to some and not to others. Some of my students are insatiable bloggers, whilst others need s little more encouragement🙂

    My students’ blogs tend to be a mix of their learning at school and their own interests, which I find works just fine. I agree with Mitch on the standard of writing – if I’ve asked them to, for example, do a term reflection I’d expect it to have been proof-read and edited, but when it’s something they’ve written off their own back I think the ideas and creativity are at the forefront. I have a few reluctant writers and if I was overcritical of spelling, punctuation etc in all of their posts I think it would be counter-productive.

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  5. To say we want students to be good bloggers is like saying we want students to be good paper-ers, or good pencil-ers. A blog is just a medium, or a tool. We don’t go to the hardware store to buy a drill–we go to the hardware store because we need to make a hole in something. Likewise, if we’re are going to blog, we need a reason to use that particular tool. Personal expression, global connections are not ends in their own right

    Now, I think a blog is a very good tool for carrying on class discussions asynchronously and outside regular class time. I agree, students ought to have a place for personal expression on the web, but my students feel they had that on in their FB pages. So my job is not to help them create personal blogs. Besides that takes just a few clicks of a touchpad and most any kid figures that out pretty fast. Rather, my job is to create a climate where worthwhile discussion are encouraged and where students feel confortable taking intellectual risks (Your point about not over-correcting is important. We forbade grading of any sort on blog posts. Instead we wanted comments that pushed the conversation forward. Our argument was that a blog was a place where we should feel free to think out loud and to test ideas.)

    The practice seemed to work. We wanted to see if extending classroom discussions beyond the classroom could help develop higher order thinking. Last year we took our middel school students from this sort of post:

    I think the reason we read old literature is to understand the past more. Like Beowulf most old stories were originally passed down verbally then written down later. Also I think people read old stories because we learn new things from it like how different our world is now, and how different our literature is now a days!

    to spontaneous posts like this in six months:

    The American writer, Flannery O’Connor said that distortion is often a way of leading people to see the truth. What do you think she means by that? What truths do the Surrealists want us to see? What truths does Carroll want us to see?

    I think that this is all connected to what we define and see as “reality”. Surrealists, Lewis Caroll, philosophers too, have the goal of showing us “many realities”. Or more so, showing us that reality is relative, subjective, and that it’s only a reality for us because it’s so deeply rooted in our everyday life, in what we do and see every day, leading us to being “nestled comfortably in the rabbit’s fur”; it’s comfortable, yes, but reality will never change, never differ for you, unless you climb to the tips of the rabbit’s fine hairs, or as Flannery O’Connor puts it, distort your reality. Surrealism, to me, basically means opening up to – not exactly a “new reality” – but to the fact that there is no such thing as “reality”; just many different ones. The distortion of reality, in the same way that many surrealist paintings make people uncomfortable, and sometimes even scared, is, I feel, another way of pushing past your “reality”. Here’s an example that I feel greatly reflects on what Flannery O’Connor said. Maybe you’ve been living underground for all of your life. It’s comfortable, you’ve created a “nice little home” for yourself, but you’ve never seen or experienced the reality of the outside world. And so one day you climb out of your small home in the ground, the one you’ve so conveniently and safely created for yourself, and enter the outside world. It’s chaotic, hectic, nothing like the warm, comfortable home you’ve always lived in. It makes you scared, uncomfortable; and this is when you either decide to return back to your home or explore this new outside world. And what I think Flannery O’Connor is saying is that the truth, or reality, can be uncomfortable, can scare you at first, but once you push past that discomfort, that feeling that “this is nothing like the real world”, or “my reality”, it can be amazing, it can be a completely different reality than you’ve experienced. Because distortion, or discomfort, or fear, is
    what motivates you to push past all of those things, and see what Flannery O’Connor says is “the truth”. Whatever that may be. This is why I feel that when in, say, a museum, when someone asks what your favourite painting is, you’ll most always point to a pretty watercolour painting of some nice scenery, or a peaceful sunset, etc. It’s pretty, it’s safe, it’s in your comfort zone. But it’s those other paintings, those strange, bizarre ones, that really make you think, make you wonder. I don’t think surrealists want us to see a truth, but more the fact that there can be many. Many truths, many realities, however “surreal” they may be. It’s just always getting past that initial discomfort, that early uneasiness, that’s difficult. And I think that this is what all these people – Caroll, Surrealists, philosophers – want us to try to see, to try to understand.

    Because of these things I mentioned, many people, such as Socrates, got ridiculed and sometimes even killed for introducing to the world a “different reality”. Why was Socrates killed and ridiculed? Because society was scared? Because it was just too different a “reality” for them to comprehend? Galileo was punished by the church because he claimed that the earth rotated around the sun, not the sun orbiting around the world, like they believed at the time. They believed so strongly, so deeply, in their logic, their reality, Flannery O’Connor may say, that anything else seemed
    just too absurd, maybe even too threatening, to comprehend. They could have either questioned their own motive, their own views on reality, or could have punished anyone who believed otherwise. And, of course, they did the latter. And later in time, Galileo’s theory turned out to be the truth. So this is just another example of what I feel surrealists – and people like lewis Caroll and many philosophers – try to convey.

    Both are quoted in their entirety to show how quality and depth of thought grew over the months.

    This is authentic writing–there was no question that the students were engaged in something they felt was interesting and worth their time. But at the same time it’s focussed and bears directly on the kids’ studies.

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    1. Thanks for your thought provoking comment! I have used ‘blogging’ as a verb… it doesn’t mean paper-ing, it means writing (mainly!) We didn’t suggest that personal expression or global connections were ends in themselves. We suggested that they might be motivating forces in getting students to want to write. Admittedly we are both primary school teachers and write from our own experience, but these ideas do apply at our end of the school. Have looked at http://thinkglobalschool.org/… a somewhat different reality!

      I totally agree that as an educator my job is to ‘create a climate where worthwhile discussions are encouraged and where students feel comfortable taking intellectual risks’. And for some students reading, commenting on and writing their own blog posts is one medium for fostering this. Just one🙂

      Thanks for sharing exceptional student writing!

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  6. First of all, thanks for the mention and the link! I agree with the comment Pam made above, my class blog is a mix of what the pupils are blogging about and the work we are doing in class. Tagging really helps with navigation but I have now set the page to display 30 posts and some days the pupils do more than that, so some of the posts we have done in class that are sensational voicethreads etc. can be out of view within a few hours! Some days people will view my class blog and see a full page of 30 posts entirely of text, sometimes a mixture of web 2.0 tools.

    Only 6 weeks into this year’s blog, some pupils have already registered for wallwisher/voicethread accounts so it is only a matter of time before these tools find their way onto the blog through independent blog posts!

    Julia Skinner is a big supporter of our blog (and many others too). She has begun to challenge the pupils through comments now after I spoke to my class and asked them if they could ‘take it’!! They loved the idea and now the pupils are started to respond to certain comments through replies. It is all shaping up to be a great year of blogging ahead!

    Thanks for your ideas above! I really enjoyed reading it, thank you!

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  7. Enjoyed this post. I applaud your willingness to test the limits of the blog and invite others to rethink how to use this new medium. You inspire me to try this method of blogging in the future.

    I want to respond to #3. I’m an upper school English teacher, so I suppose I must confess that perspective from the start.

    One of the things I love about blogs is that they are about ideas. Not writing as an exercise. They are about perspective, about seeing and observing and reflecting, about sharing. Once students discover this, they are excited by the enormous power of blogging. But I also like the power of publishing, which is what blogging is, and that power can goose students into caring about what they say and how they say it. When students understand the reach of their possible audience, they are usually eager to polish their writing.

    The great thing about blogs is that there is some room in them for the spontaneous, and this allows for a few editorial glitches here and there. At the same time, the educated audience out there has a reasonable expectation for readable prose, and this is being met by writers who ultimately want to be read.

    Yes, we can kill a blogger’s best impulses by insisting too much on editorial perfection, but we also benefit from the blog’s power as publisher. Students seem to understand this almost instinctively.

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  8. Thank you for sharing…I am beginning my first Blogging Adventure with Fifth Grade and “10 Ways….” was ensured and validated the route I am taking. Thanks again!

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  9. I like this post, it reminds me of one of my favorite teachers from my childhood. She always tried to put us into a tribe/community with one another. Tribe took on it’s own set of ideals, rules, and culture and she was there to help mold the rules of our little community.

    I think you are helping to do the same with this post by encouraging people to do things like share blogs, comments, themes, so that student feel part of something.

    Great post.

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