Category Archives: Student Blogs

Part I. Blogging with My Writers and You Can, too.

“Mrs. Rasmussen, can we write on our blogs more than just for assignments for class?”

After we set up our personal blogs, I received a similar message from several of my students. Of course, I replied, “Yes.” (Inside I yelled “YAY!!” and danced around the room a few times.)

Students want to write other than when I assign it. Wow.

And we are off…

I doubt anyone would argue that digital writing is important. Most of our students do it anyway:  texting, tweeting, commenting on YouTube videos. We might as well help them do it well.

We might as well help them share their ideas, opinions, stories, and arguments in a way that allows them to show their learning — and build their credibility as citizen scholars. That’s what I want for my students anyway. I want them to know that their voices matter. Their writing matters.

They have to have an audience other than me to truly understand that. That’s why I blog with my students.

Every year I ask student to personalize an online writing space. I’ve blogged with students when we had to reserve the writing lab. I’ve blogged with students when I had 12 computers we shared in my classroom. Another year I had an ipad cart with 30 devices. Now I’m at a 1:1 ipad school. It is easier, but it is not necessary.

If you want students to blog, you can find a way to make it work. I urge you to not let the lack of technology prevent you from at least doing something with digital writing.

Every year I try something new to help students take ownership of their blogging.  I’ve learned a few things about setting up blogs and getting students to write on them.

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Here’s my blogging basics in a nutshell:

  • Build a case for blogging. I read “Blogging is the New Persuasive Essay” a few years back, and it helped me wrap my head around the how and why blogging works for the 21C student. I’ve even used this text as a reading piece with my students. They read, determine the author’s argument, and then have to defend, challenge, or qualify it. I can see pretty easily if a student is climbing on my blogging training willingly.

 

  • Conduct a little inventory of the blogsospere. Simply ask students to type “most popular blogs” into Google. Then ask them to do a bit of light reading. They might find “Top 15 Most Popular Blogs,” and they might recognize a few. They might find “The Top 10 Top Earning Bloggers in the World,” and you might see some jaws hit the floor. They might find “The 10 Most Inspirational Bloggers in the World,” and if we give them time to explore and read and think and play with the idea of become a blogger, we might get lucky, and our students might think: Hey, I can do this. This could be me!

 

  • Choose a platform. I’ve use Edublogs and WordPress in the past, and this year I am using Blogger because in my new district all students have google accounts. I’ve had no trouble learning blogger. It’s a Google product, so I figure if I cannot figure something out — or if kids can’t — we “Google it.” There’s a handy chart in this article that compares different blogging platforms used in education. You can decide for yourself which will work best for you and your students.

 

  • Take the time to get everyone set up. In year’s past I’ve expected students to know more than they do about using technology. Not every student is confident on a computer. Texting, yes. Applications, not so much. This year we took it slow. I created my own Blogger account and then modeled creating a new blog step-by-step in front of each of my six classes. I talked them through every step of their set up. Then I shared these instructions in writing, which include how they will be assessed for creating their blogs and their first blog post.

 

  • Show off students’ initial work. Besides asking students to follow each other, I think it is important to project their blogs and let everyone see what the class has created. Many students decide to change titles or themes or add different gadgets after they see the work of their peers. Here’s a few of my students’ blogs:  Jessica Ortiz, Mary SassamanDianna Sosa, Beatriz Vargas, Allie Tate.  (I do have male students; however, I have many more young women this year than young men. I just haven’t managed to follow all my writers’ blogs yet.)

 

Watch for Part 2 soon. I’ll write about how my students and I decide what we’ll blog about and what those choices look like in our AP English Language class.

Please share your questions about student blogging in the comments section. I’ll do my best to answer.

 

©Amy Rasmussen, 2011 – 2015

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Good Writing Moves Us — THIS Writing Moves US

I want to include you in a celebration of the work of a student that represents several of my kids this year. If you teach, or have taught, ELL students, I know you will understand.

The last assignment was an intensive writing piece that we workshopped for about seven weeks. Writing in class almost daily, conferring regularly, and mini-lessons with mentor texts and modeling served as the routine. Students turned in their writing in three separate chunks, gave one another feedback at least three times, presented their final pieces (published on their personal blogs) as their semester exams. Formative assessments were student writing conferences and the checkpoints along the way. Summative assessments were a self-evaluation and a self-evaluation paired with my feedback from a rubric we crafted as a class.

Biak with the book she loved the most this year. She read 12.

Please read the writing of Biak Par. The poems are original, and the story is her own. Just before school was out, I had to call Biak to my desk and let her know that she failed the state English II EOC. Again. That was nothing short of heartbreaking — for both of us.

Take several minutes and read Biak’s story. You will read the words of an improving and authentic writer. These words are elegant, poignant, and powerful. Good writing moves us — this writing moves us. 

Now, take a look at Biak’s writing from the beginning of the year— her first blog post is here, and her second is here.

Now, think about her end-of-year piece of writing. I know it is narrative, but you will note what I do — improvement. So much improvement. Voice, coherence, organization.

I wish I had another year with Biak, and several of her friends. We’ve come so far, and this is the work she should be allowed to celebrate — not a test score.

I know — preaching to the choir.

©Amy Rasmussen, 2011 – 2015

6 Ways to Spend Your Snow Day

snow-day2So it’s your fifth snow day this winter…or your fifteenth.  Either way, you’ve done all of your spring cleaning, you can’t grade or lesson plan because you haven’t seen students for a week, and you’ve completely emptied your queues on Netflix and Hulu.  What’s a teacher to do?

1. Read a good book.  If you’re anything like the hundreds of English teachers I know, you love reading.  Use the time you’ve been cooped up to read something you’ve been wanting to but just haven’t had the time to start.  I haven’t stopped hearing about Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places, Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, and Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot SeeI’ll think I’ll try to tackle the last two this week.

2. Write around a poem.  Penny Kittle shared once that she likes to tape poems into her notebook and write around them–it’s one way to move toward doing your own beautiful writing, she advised.  So, I signed up to receive the Poetry Foundation‘s daily poem via email, and when I read one I love, I print it and tape it into my writer’s notebook.  I’m amazed at the nuggets of written wisdom I arrive at after responding freely to a poem in writing.

3. Read a teaching book.  I’ve been wanting to finish Tom Romano’s Zigzag and Donalyn Miller’s Reading in the Wild for quite some time now, but with the day-to-day craze of the school year, it seems like the only time I find to read teaching books is over the summer.  This is the time of year, though, that I often need a little lift in my teaching spirit, so it’s always rewarding to explore some new thoughts from some of my old favorites.  Since I’m in the middle of a nonfiction book club and writing unit right now, I think I’ll settle down today with Georgia Heard’s Finding the Heart of Nonfiction.

4. Check out that dreaded State Test.  Dana Murphy at Two Writing Teachers reminded me that when our students are accustomed to writing in a choice-based, unit-driven workshop, they are not accustomed to writing to a prompt, and that while standardized tests do leave a bitter taste in our mouths, they are a reality our students must face.  If we want them to feel confident as writers in all environments, we must prepare them for all writing situations–especially the two or three standardized writing tests they may face each year.  Here in West Virginia, we’ve elected to go with SmarterBalanced as our Common Core-aligned assessment.  Today I’d like to spend some time looking at the writing portion of that test and brainstorming some lessons to help my students feel confident writing to those prompts.

5. Catch up with your tweeps. Twitter is a bottomless pit (seriously; you can get lost in it) of resources, ideas, and inspiration for teachers.  I could spend hours perusing the archives of #engchat, #titletalk, and #litlead, just to name a few.  I’d also love to look at the archives of some chats I missed recently–#mindsmadeforstories, for one.

6. Read incredible teacher blogs. I could browse the virtual thoughts of my colleagues forever!  We have so many brilliant and inspirational people in our profession, from the genius team at Nerdy Book Club to the marvelous ladies at Moving Writers; the steady wisdom of What’s Not Wrong to the joyful inspiration of the dirigible plum.  I’ve also been loving the thoughts of Hunting EnglishThe Reading Zone, and countless more…really.  I could never list all the great teacher blogs I’ve stumbled upon.  I feel so grateful to the many, many teacher-writers who have helped me fill my writer’s notebook with thoughts and ideas on dreary snow days like these.

What are your favorite ways to relieve the restlessness of several snow days?  Share in the comments!

Gifted and Talented Teacher Leaps off Cliff of Faith and Experimentation

Guest post by Tess Mueggenborg

Make no mistake about it: I’m a classical canon gal.  Always have been, always will be.  And when I say “classical,” I also mean “really old” – few things written after 1650 hold much interest for me.  Favorite work of literature? Milton’s Paradise Lost.  Favorite time period of literature? Early Roman Empire (Ovid & Virgil).  Favorite English Lit class from my undergrad days? Greek Tragedy.

But as much as I love the canon – and I’ve had surprising success with teaching the canon in the past – I’m also a pragmatist.  I know that what I love isn’t always what’s best for my students, and their learning should take priority over my passions (I know … radical idea, right?).  I also acknowledge that the real world in which I live and work is far from my ideal.  Would I like to devote all of my class time to discussing Beowulf and Canterbury Tales?  Of course.  But can I realistically get my students to read and engage with these texts, and develop a passion for them?  Not likely.  Some, of course, will – and I’m happy to guide them on their own paths of classical literature studies.  But I bet (I hope) that those students will wind up as English Majors, and they’ll get their fill of such works in college.  I must work with the students I have, not the students I wish I had.  And the students I have are awesome: bright, curious, hungry for meaningful learning and wisdom.  So this classical pragmatist has started to break her own mold.  Here’s how …

I teach a class known as World Experience; it’s for Gifted and Talented sophomore students, and it combines AP World History with literature.  The history drives the course – it sets the pace, scope, and sequence for the year.  It’s then pretty easy to match up literature with the corresponding time periods.  leap off cliffAncient River Valley civilizations at the start of the year? We read Gilgamesh and Horus the Hawk.  Classical civilizations come next – that mean Antigone and a few selections from Metamorphoses.  Next up is the Medieval period … and this has always been a struggle.  I love Medieval lit, I can read Middle English, and I can wax poetic on the virtues and merits of The Song of Roland and Sir Gawain and the Green Night ad nauseum.  And while the students usually enjoy these stories, they don’t usually get much out of this unit in terms of literature.  They don’t learn much about author’s craft, they can’t do much literary analysis, and they become so frustrated with the archaic language of the text that most of them give up … and it takes me another six weeks to pull them back into literature.  So this year, I’ve scrapped all this, and leapt off a cliff of faith and experimentation.  The results have been pleasantly surprising.

Our district head of English Language Arts was kind enough to buy $600 of books for my classroom library.  I got to choose every one of them: all award-winners (or by award-winning authors), all world literature, all contemporary, all high-level.  No softballs in this classroom library – these are, after all, GT students.  Each student got to pick a book (this was a time-consuming and sometimes contentious process, but it certainly got every student interested in the books and invested in their choice).  Once a week, they’ve been blogging about their novel, based on someone generic questions posed by me.  Some of the questions are just opinion (Do you like this book so far? Why or why not?); some of the questions are analytical (Who is the main protagonist of your novel? What problems do they encounter in the course of the novel? How do you predict they will resolve these problems … or not?); some relate back to the history half of the course (In what ways does your novel relate to the history we’ve studied so far this year?).  Some responses have been good.  Some have been profound, moving, passionate, and elegant.  None have been outright bad, and none have been missing.  That’s right: NONE have been missing.  Every student has been reading and blogging.  Even the student who earned a grade of 9 (yes, a single-digit 9) for the first 9-weeks is reading and blogging about her novel.  I’m calling this experiment a success.

To be fair, I should say: this hasn’t been easy, and it hasn’t been without challenges.  But they’re good challenges, and not insurmountable.  Some students read their novels in a week – and then wanted to borrow another book.  YES!  Many students didn’t devote enough time to reading their novel, and they’ve fallen behind.  But they haven’t given up: they’re still reading.  I haven’t had any complaints of “this book is boring,” though I’ve had many complaints of “this book is so sad/depressing/pessimistic/disheartening.”  Which has led to some great discussions about the point of literature, analysis of tone, and some hefty doses of maturation (I’m pretty sure the girl who read The Kite Runner in a weekend has been inwardly weeping for two weeks now).

We’re wrapping up this unit, and thus this great experiment.  And I think it bears repeating: I’m calling this experiment a success.  Enough of a success that I’ll be spending this weekend revamping the next unit (which starts Monday) to include more student choice and incorporate more of these novels, though in a slightly different fashion.  Stay tuned.

Am I still a classical canon gal? Heck yes. Always have been, always will be.  But my students don’t need to be classical canon fans – they just need to be readers, eager to engage with the world and its complexities.  I think they’re well on their way.

“Professor” Tess Mueggenborg teaches English (and anything else with which her students need help) at RL Turner High School.  Her academic passions lie in comparative language and literature.  The Professor lives in Dallas with her husband, Jeff. Tess’ on Twitter @profmueggenborg

Authenticity: Making it Real with Student Blogs

North Star of Texas Writing Project (NSTWP), in which I am a teacher consultant, asserts that authenticity is connecting student learning with significant audiences, tasks, and purposes.

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Blogging with my students is one way in which I make that connection happen. Writing posts and commenting on the work of our peers has become an integral part of my readers/writers workshop classroom.

photo: Petras Kudaras

During the second week of school, once schedule changes calm down a bit, I introduced the idea of blogging to my students. This year I wrote a post on my class blog and imbedded an article that made them see that blogging can have value to their futures. You can see that here.

I’ve had students use Edublogs as their blog platform in the past, and I know some teachers have their students use Kidblogs. I decided to go with WordPress this year. I thought using the “real world” blog platform would be a good idea. You know, just in case some students loved the idea and kept writing long after they leave my classroom. Finally, eight weeks into the school year, I am glad I went this route, but the set-up, especially with my 9th graders took a lot longer than I’ve had to spend in the past. (Most of my students are not as tech savvy as many technology advocates would like to believe. For more on that read this post:  Digital Novices vs Digital Natives.)

These are some ways I’m transforming my teaching by using student blogs this year (See this SAMR model for ideas on instructional transformation):

Timed Writing. I need students to be able to think quickly about a topic, organize their thoughts, and write effectively in a short period of time. Years ago I had students complete timed writings on paper with a pen, and I’d take the stack of essays home and laboriously grade them. By having students post to blogs, my classroom is getting close to being green. We do very little writing on paper anymore. I can read student posts with the swipe on my finger on my iPad, and I try to leave comments that inspire improvement in their writing. Sometimes I put the score from a rubric. Most times I say something I like about what students have written. They like that kind of feedback best, and it usually prompts some kind of improvement in their next post–something that rarely happened with the marks of my red pen.

For our first timed writing, students wrote about their reading lives. We spend 10 minutes at the beginning of each class period reading our self-selected books. I conference with each student, brief one-on-one chats. I learned more while reading student posts about their reading habits than I did in the prior eight weeks of school. I posted a reflection of my own reading life on my class blog with the actual assignment, and then students wrote on theirs. The response to our wide reading warmed my teacher heart. Read a few of these students’ posts, and you will see why: Helen–A Path Led by Wise Words; Gina–Lay Down the Bridges; Mian–A Passion for Books; Emilio–Reading Life

Our second timed writing, students wrote an argument in response to our in-class study of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The American Scholar.” Some student posts were thoughtful and wise; most were ineffective and needed major revisions. All students wrote and showed what they’d learned from their reading and our class discussions.

Persuasive Practice. The AP Lang exam and the 10th grade STAAR test both require students to be effective persuasive writers. I like this blogger’s post:  Blogging is the New Persuasive Essay. As I teach my students how to use persuasive techniques, I also want them learning about their world. They have to know “stuff” to build their credibility after all. So every Monday my students write a post that they base upon something they read in the news. They scan headlines until they find a topic that interests them. Then they pull an idea from the article, and then they write an argument based on that idea. So far, we haven’t delved too deeply in the art of persuasion; we’ve talked mostly about form and structure and a few rhetorical devices, but some of my students have taken ownership of this weekly recurring assignment. Here’s a few to give you an idea:  Kathryn–Words Hurt; Ashley–Recycled Look or Recycled Lives; Jason–Smoking is Safer? Impossible; Adrian–Chemical Mistakes

Published Polished Pieces. As we move through different genres of writing, I need my students to fully immerse themselves in the process of creating effective and moving texts. We started the year with a focus on narrative. I know, it’s not on the AP exam or the STAAR test anymore. But story is so important. It’s what connects us as humans, and it’s story that has helped create a classroom community where students are not afraid to take risks and throw their hearts out on the page. While a few student narratives are not as polished as I would have liked prior to publication (grades being due always seems to interfere with authenticity), if you read just these three, you’ll see why story is important. I can be a better teacher to these PreAP students because of what I know from these posts. Esmeralda–Memories; Mercedes–What Do You Think About Moving? Bryanna–Why Batman?

I remember learning from Kelly Gallagher that students should write more than I can ever grade. Well, of all things in my teaching life, I’ve finally figured that one out the best. I cannot read every post my students write, but I can read a lot, and I can give a lot of feedback in a way that is meaningful so that students respond. We just started reading and leaving feedback for one another. I can already tell that this will be more valuable than just me giving feedback. After we spent two class days reading one another’s narrative posts, I had students tell me on their own narrative evaluations:  “I knew I could do better after I read other people’s.” For an example of our student feedback, read the comments on this one: Amy–Forever a Bye. The instruction I gave students was 1) Be polite but honest, 2) Bless something you think the writer did well, 3) Press a moment that needs more detail or description, 3) Address an issue of concern in regard to style, grammar, etc. For our first time, I’m proud of these students for the feedback they gave their friend.

Engaging student writers is often more than half the battle. So many times they have the attitutde “What’s in it for me?” By allowing students to choose their topics, and allowing them to express their true and authentic voices, I get better participation, and I get better writing, and I get to know the hearts and minds of my students.

That is all I ever really want.

photo: Dee Bamford

#NCTE13  Writing Teachers (Re)Inventing Literacy Instruction by Following the North Star

Writing Instruction that Follows the North Star

writing notebookCan you remember when you learned to write? I can’t. Not really. I remember the lined paper and the fat pencils. I remember trying to have the very best penmanship because I wanted my name listed on the chart that covered the side of my teacher’s desk. I remember that writing came pretty easily. I was one of those students. My teachers loved me because I was well-behaved, listened, learned, and made all A’s.

I do not teach those students. Well, maybe a few, but most of them would be my antonym if my student-self were a word.

When I began teaching, I had no idea that my students would not be like me. I know, funny, right? I thought I could teach them comma rules, show them where the commas went, and I would see beautifully crafted commas in all the right places. (Don’t even get me started on the period.)

I had to learn to be a writing teacher.

Thank God for the North Star of Texas Writing Project. Fortunately, for me and the hundreds of students I’ve instructed since, I’ve learned how to create a community that fosters a love (or at least some days, a tolerance) of the written word.

A couple of weeks ago, the leadership team of NSTWP met and crafted the tenets of our site. We decided that community encompasses and interweaves itself throughout our work, and authenticity, inquiry, modeling, dialogue, and re-visioning make it shine.

A few of us jumped on a Google doc yesterday to craft our proposal for NCTE 2013 where we defined our points and described how we would share them at the conference. This got me thinking about my own practice:  do I walk the walk as well as I talk the talk?

Here’s a glimpse into our thinking, plus a little of my own:

Community— Trust, communication, sharing, feedback, and transparency all lead to a safe place for learning. Community is the core of a workshop classroom, so it must be a constant focus. (National Writing Project, Gomez, 2010) Read-alouds, and classroom and school-wide book clubs, among other relationship-building activities, can all help build community.

Authenticity— How do we make learning real? By allowing for real life connections and experiences. When we expose students to real-life situations and allow them choice in topics, we can engage them more effectively, stimulate more critical thinking, and get them to read more abundantly. At the end of 2011 only three young people in ten now read daily in their own time, down from five out of ten in 2005 (Secondary Annual Literacy Survey, 2011). How do we change lives? We allow students choice. Just as in reading, students must have choice in writing; teachers must allow students to choose topics that interest and intrigue them, and they must allow students to publish in mediums and to audiences that students believe matter, i.e., student created blogs, ebooks, and portfolios.

Inquiry— An inquiry stance goes beyond the use of essential questioning and places the creative thought process into the hands of students, inviting them to questions in every aspect of literacy from responding to texts, engaging in research, to broadening their horizons as writers.  An effective response protocol that fosters inquiry can be adapted and applied to a myriad of literacy experiences.

Dialogue— Authentic conversation transforms classroom community. Learners take ownership of their craft and develop a sense of agency in a student-centered approach to dialogue.  In Choice Words (2004), Peter H. Johnston explains that language “creates realities and invites identities.” Thus, dialogue in our classroom becomes an essential part of student growth.

Modeling— An integral part of literacy instruction, modeling as reader and writer is essential to an effective workshop classroom. Mentor texts that engage students and provide for in-depth study of craft allow for authentic reading and writing experiences.

Re-visioning– NSTWP invented this word to describe the complexity involved in revising our instruction and engaging students in revision of their work. Adaptive Action, “the iterative process we use to leverage unpredictable change for individuals” is crucial to making workshop work. (Adaptive Action, 2013). Conferences, written feedback, and portfolios can all be managed and used to revise our classrooms.

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5 Ways Students Can Learn as They Blog

American writer, editor, and teacher William Zinsser taught that “writing, and learning, and thinking are the same process.” If this is true, then the not-so-easy task of the teacher is to get students to effectively put their thoughts into words on a page. One relatively simple way to get students engaged in the process is to help them take ownership of online writing; specifically, get students to create and maintain a blog, which will allow for what Zinsser calls the four basic premises of writing: “clarity, brevity, simplicity, and humanity.”

5 Ways Students Can Learn as They Blog

    1. Write about topics that interest them.

      Allowing students to choose topics that have personal and meaningful applications to their lives provides opportunities for better writing. Still, some students will be stumped and say, “I can’t think of anything to write about.” Consider encouraging them to scan the front page of Yahoo, Google, or any other online news source. Read some headlines, which might lead to reading some articles. Respond to news they find interesting, shocking, or outrageous. (Look, you may have students reading AND writing!)

    1. Write in response to current events or videos that make them think.

      Posting links on a teacher or class blog and asking students to read and then respond on their own blogs allows teachers more control over the selection of topics that students write about than complete self-selection. Consider linking news articles like Kelly Gallagher’sArticle of the Week” and asking students to post their reflections, or post YouTube videos that have thematic ties to the literature being discussed in class. Students can write commentary or reflections as a way to show they are learning about life outside the classroom.

    1. Write in response to questions about literature.

      Asking questions that make students think and/or justify their thinking about the books they are reading creates instant “prompts” for student blogging. Open-ended questions like “How does this story relate to _____?” or “How would you deal with _______?” or “Describe another story that deals with the same conflict” lead students to make connections with the text that may help with their reading comprehension. Of course, by adding the “use text evidence to support your answer” component, students learn how to justify their responses and maybe embed quotes and all that good stuff.

    1. Write to show technology integration by using hyperlinks, tags, digital images, videos, etc.

      Encouraging students to add links, tags, images, etc. in their posts ensures that they are exploring what it means to embrace 21C writing skills. When students model authors’ blogs that effectively lead readers to more information, they show that they understand how knowledge is linked and perhaps they will come to understand that seeking knowledge takes effort.

    1. Write in response to peer posts and comments.

      Requiring students to interact with their peers’ online writing promotes a spirit of collaboration and community beyond the classroom. Teach respect in terms of language, but also allow for disagreement, as debate is what often makes for deeper learning.

Still need to learn the basics of blogging?

 

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How are you teaching online writing? If you’ve got kids blogging, any success stories?

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