How Blogging Transformed my Classes

This semester I incorporated blogging into my classes. I decided to use Edublogs and encourage each student to set up their own blog. All the individual blogs link back to mine, and students can see one another’s work on their “Dashboard” when logged in. This is nice because instead of clicking on the link to each student’s page and then searching for the posts, recent published posts show up on the dashboard for easy reading. Students can then create lists or subscribe to peer’s blogs for easy reading. Edublog allowed me to monitor and have editing rights to the students posts in an educational setting. Edublog was easy to learn and my students picked up the basics so quickly. I did pay a small price for a year long subscription to a Pro Account, but I believe it was well worth the nominal fee. Edublog has tons of resources to help you format and make your blog as complicated or as simple as you would like. I do not have experience using other blogging platforms, but I would highly suggest Edublogs to anyone looking to get into blogging for the first time. I know nothing about coding or website building and I think my blog is pretty impressive. Even if you think you can’t blog, you can! Now, on to why you’re really here- How blogging has transformed my teaching!

I was apprehensive about how blogging would impact my classes at first. I wanted to make sure that blogging was meaningful and not just replacing typical essays we would write in class. I was worried I would not be able to find the balance between students writing for academic purposes and students writing for self expression. Looking back, I had nothing to worry about. I was able to easily balance the blogging assignments so my students were able to show their personality as well as practice fine tuning their writing skills (specifically research and citation skills).

Obviously I worked with my students on the writing concepts I wanted them to display in their blogs, but the real magic happened when students were reading one another’s posts and interacting in the comments. I hoped this would happen, but I wasn’t sure how much I would have to coach them to make meaningful connections with their peers work. At first, I instructed students to comment on a certain number of posts, and I even gave them guidelines about what to include in their comments. Once students had a baseline understanding of my expectations, they took off. Most students read every single one of their peers’ posts. Many students commented tons of posts. All students talked about posts and suggested posts to their friends to read. Seeing my students engaged in one another’s writing and beliefs and opinions was powerful. Can you imagine if every student printed out their persuasive essay and we passed them around class to read and comment on? WOOF! I’m even bored thinking about grading all those assignments that way. Blogging made the writing fresh and fun. Blogging made my students interested in what their peers had to say and opened up so many meaningful classroom conversations that would have never happened in a traditional classroom.

I also noticed my students working harder to produce quality work. Most students knew that their friends and peers would read their posts, so they wanted to make sure they were bringing their A game. Students were naturally revising. Through my teaching career, I have struggled to get students to actually go back into their writings and revise and edit. With blogging, my students were publishing their post, viewing it on their page, going back and changing formatting, editing grammar and spelling mistakes, revising and changing because they wanted their work to be the best it could be. Their writing went from being a teacher-student communication to a public communication. They were intrinsically motivated to make their work better because they knew more people would see it. This is not to say all posts are perfect. If you look through my students’ pages, you will find plenty of mistakes. My students are still just sophomores in high school and they make plenty of mistakes. That’s how they grow. I saw every single student grow and develop as we were blogging.

The student blogs allowed each student to show their personality in a safe manner. Today’s student is different than even my friends and I were in high school. We were starting the online movement with chat rooms and AIM. But our students now are often more comfortable behind the anonymous nature of a computer screen and screen name. Students could show their personality by choosing a theme they liked or customizing their blog with images and fonts that showed off who they are. We spent a few days in class experimenting with the looks and layouts of the blogs. Their first assignment as to delete the sample pages, create a tag line, and publish an “about me” page. It was really awesome to see kids figuring out how to do something and then teaching one another what they learned. Students were looking at their peers’ pages for inspiration and giving praise when someone figured out how to do something cool. Blogging allowed my students to break out of their shells and form relationships with students they never would have worked with or even spoken to. When a self proclaimed “redneck” read a post by a transgender student about the struggles LGBT people face, I saw one of the most powerful conversations I have ever witnessed. These two students probably would have avoided working together at all cost, but were able to form an understanding because of their blogs.

When I decided to start blogging, I wanted to make sure my kids would learn the same skills as the other 10th graders who were writing one long persuasive essay (for the whole semester) with a fresh and new spin on writing. I wasn’t sure that I would be up to the challenge of many smaller argumentative essays, or that my students would even like blogging. My fears were totally unfounded. My students embraced blogging (and dare I say LOVED it) like I hoped they would. Although initially blogging was intended to really replace what we were doing traditionally, it opened so many more opportunities and dialogs that traditional writing has never allowed in my classes. Writing was redefined by student blogs and I will never go back to the old ways. Blogging transformed my teaching and my students’ learning in just a few short weeks. I am so excited to start next year with blogging. I cannot imagine the impact an entire year of blogging will have on my students, but I have some really great ideas about how our student blogs can really change the culture of a school.


Stay tuned, because I know you’re going to like what’s to come!

There IS room for crying in English

The Book Thief

I took a risk in teaching The Book Thief this year to my sophomores. There has been a grand movement within the 10th grade team of English teachers to all work together and teach the same things at the same times. We agreed that we should teach a novel this spring, but we couldn’t agree on what novel to teach.

I am passionate about introducing students to literature that doesn’t SUCK. Yes, I know that language is unbecoming of a proper English literature teacher, but so many students are turned off by literature teachers teaching only the classics in boring ways. I can’t be that teacher. I won’t be the teacher that turns a kid off from reading or tunes him further out. I want to introduce my students to classics in fun and innovative ways, and literature they can connect with and love. I have 180 days to turn my students into literature lovers (I guess I will settle for appreciators). If I teach a book that I don’t even want to read myself, I am positive I will not turn any of my students into literature lovers or even appreciators.

I taught The Crucible, one of my favorite classics, in the fall, so I really wanted to do something more contemporary in the spring. My kids enjoyed the story, and I worked hard to make the classic relevant and fun for 2015.  After looking through my bookshelf and the text exemplar list for 10th grade, I decided to stick with what I believed was right for my students. We read The Book Thief. What a powerful novel! My students have recently written blog posts with their review of The Book Thief. You can check them out by exploring our class blogs listed below to see their personal reactions to the novel. Add your comment and let them know what you thought of their words!

By taking a risk and going against my team, I was nervous at the results I would see. If my kids didn’t connect with the literature like I had hoped, I would have failed. As we made it though the 552 page novel, there were certainly high points and low points. There were points that we were tired of reading and just had to push on. The story was always good, but snow days and breaks sometimes made it hard to stay focused. I thought I was keeping them interested and engaged, but sometimes I wasn’t sure. On the last day of reading, I told my kids that I had a feeling I knew how the book would end. I warned them that I would likely cry, and to not judge me. I joked and encouraged them that all the coolest kids cried while reading. I even went so far as to pass out tissues to each of my students, just incase they were more like me than they cared to admit. I wanted them to feel comfortable and at ease. I wanted them to know that they didn’t need to try to hide the emotions they would likely face, but to embrace them like I was doing. I wasn’t sure if they would actually feel as I hoped they would.

As we read, the greatest thing happened. I wasn’t the only one crying. Many of my students shed tears over the ending of the book. They cried for the characters, and I ended up crying for my students. How often have high school students sat in English class and openly cried while reading a book? I have never had that experience with any piece of literature. Actually, I have never had students even come close to connecting with literature like that. My risk was worth the gain. I turned some students into literature lovers and appreciators.

I have often heard the quote that our best work happens when we break outside our comfort zones. I broke outside mine to teach a book that no one else thought was important or relevant for my students, and I had the greatest “Teacher Moment” I have ever had. The reaction of my students was candid, real, and honest. It reminded me that although it is important to work well with your peers, it is most important to always do what is best for your students. I did what I believed was right, and I introduced my students to a piece of literature that will forever change their views and thoughts on the Holocaust and humanity. I am certain that they will carry The Book Thief with them in their hearts for years and years to come, as it has stolen a little piece of them and me.