Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Blogging with Middle Schoolers: Frontloading and First Steps

By on September 8, 2010

So I just finished introducing blogging to my middle school classes. They are hooked, as each year before them was hooked. I use it as a substitute for Reading Logs, that dreaded love-of-reading killer which causes eye rolls in many a Language Arts class. Rather than simply log the quantity of books, perhaps embellishing with a short summary or bibliographical entry, I have them discuss quality.

The discussions are rich, organic, and run themselves. All I needed to do was have the patience to set it up right. So I’ve pulled together some steps that I’ve been working on for the past couple of years that help introduce students to the art of blogging without neglecting the science of building community and collaboration.

1. First give them a technology survey. After all, you need to know who has access and who does not. That way, you can strategize options for students who are not online at home. I do not believe that we can hold classes or schools back, creating an ever-widening gap, by holding out for students who do not yet have access. It is our responsibility, however, to provide options. I offer lunchtime or after school computer use in my classroom. The local library is willing to reserve computers at certain times. And our school media center has a couple that are available as well.

2. Show them what a blog is. I first show them the little video by Commoncraft.com, “Blogging in Plain English.
Then I show them examples of other blogs. I might show them one of my own book reviews or an author’s blog or even look at the give and take in some Amazon book discussions. (I, of course, scout ahead for appropriateness. I never assume the link or the content from one year is able to be used again the next year without previewing it first.)

3. Hand out a simple list of the basic rules of Netiquette for How to Comment on a Blog. I use the ones for a middle school workbook I wrote for Teacher Created Resources. I have them here with their permission. Even just going over rules helps to set a tone of expectations.

4. We do offline blogging first. I think offline blogging is an important step because it demystifies the process and breaks it down into a more tactile activity. Basically, I print out 4 different online book reviews (one for each kid at a table group to read.) I attach a template that includes user name, subject line, and comment field to the end of the review. It’s just three boxes of differing sizes to mimic what they will see online. (I actually attach multiple templates so that multiple students can comment.) The students read the review, then fill in their user name (their first name + last initial), the subject line (which is the main idea of their upcoming comment), and their comment. Then they rotate their review to the next person in their group for that person to comment on. After the first student, the kids have the option to comment on the initial review or comment on another student’s comment. By the time a few students have rotated their reviews around, the list of comments has noticeably grown, and the students get the idea of blogging by creating the visual themselves. Here’s also a hint: use books from your own classroom library and they’ll be checked out by the middle of first period. This year I used Uglies, Shiver, The Hunger Games, and Everlost.

5. Have the students choose their own book club groups. I say no more than 5 kids in a group, and I believe that student choice, whenever possible, is key to middle school buy-in. These students won’t be working together face to face, only online, so it won’t be a classroom management issue to allow them this treat.

6. Hand out Guidelines on How to Write a Discussion Post. You can get a copy of mine here that is based on a version first designed by my awesome colleague and fellow Writing Project mentor, Liz Harrington. This gives students a sense of your expectations regardless of the book they are currently reading or where they are in their book. Incidentally, if you teach a subject other than Language Arts, it’s a good idea to hand out guidelines about what you want them to be posting about: what to base their topics on, where to find concepts, etc…just to get them started. They can blog about how they discovered the solution to an equation or predict the outcome of an upcoming experiment. Anything with guidelines can be used to begin an online conversation.

7. Still working offline, I have them turn in a final draft of their first discussion post on paper before we go to the computer lab. This will be the only time they turn this in to me other than as an online post. It’s just a format they are used to and it allows me an easy way to make sure everyone’s prepared before going up to the lab for the first time. Everyone needs to be on the same page to learn the skill.

8. Once in the lab, introduce them to your blogging program. I use www.kidblog.org. It can be a little buggy, but it’s safe, fantastically user friendly, and forgiving. It takes 5 minutes to learn, and 5 minutes to set up. Show them a post that you’ve created already on the same subject that follows their same guidelines. Model, model, model. Have the students log on and comment on your post. This way, you can give quick feedback on their commenting quality before they comment on each others’ posts.

9. Have them type their discussion post into a new post entry and teach them to link a piece of their text to a website or image as a further resource for their readers. I think linking is a vital skill that students in this digital age should learn. It’s an added layer of comprehension that the author shares with you and an added dimension of information to which a reader has access. Once their post is typed and a piece of text is linked to an online resource, the students can click to publish (which actually goes to you for approval first on many programs.)

10. Skim for appropriateness and publish their first discussion post. Then spend some time privately commenting on each of their posts, give them a score, whatever, while the kids begin publicly commenting on the published posts from the members of their book club group. Eventually, however, you’ll notice that students will start commenting on everyone’s posts. They can’t help it. Blogging’s addictive.

I have no doubt that there is a more efficient way to frontload blogging in your classroom. But this is what’s worked for me, especially with kids who have no freaking clue what I’m talking about when I first approach them the the “b” word.

Middle schoolers love to talk, so give middle schoolers the opportunity to talk using technology. Blogging gives them the chance to exchange ideas and discuss, but with eloquence, guidance, and the rules of netiquette. It taps into their chatty tendencies, creating greater buy-in, and it gives them a 21st Century skill that will move with them beyond their year with you.

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  1. Tia
    September 8, 2010

    Leave a Reply

    This was very helpful. I am starting to incorporate a class page and blogging into my instruction for the first time this year. Well, I had a class page, but not a class blog.

    I am wondering how you introduce class blogging to parents.

  2. tweenteacher
    September 9, 2010

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    Well, one of the things I make sure that I do is have parents sign a release at the beginning of the year with the start of the year handouts that mentions online projects. You can get a copy of my release here: http://tweenteacher.com/2010/08/17/middle-school-nuts-and-bolts-start-of-the-year-routine-and-handouts/

    Anyway, from there, it becomes a project that I have up on the computer screens for Back-to-School Night and I talk a little then. To be honest, I don’t do a specific reaching out parents about the genre in general (perhaps it is it’s own genre) as many of them see the kids working at home and I’m always gotten impressive feedback.

    I will say this: that you should be as transparent as possible. When I click my settings on the blogging program, I always make sure that anyone can see the blogs, but only my students can edit and add. That way, there isn’t a gatekeeper if a parent wants to see what their child is doing.

    Thanks so much for your comment and your question!

    -Heather WG
    aka Tweenteacher

    • Lisa Davis
      September 14, 2011

      Leave a Reply

      Thanks for your advice. I think this would be a great addition to my spiel for parents on parent/teacher night!

  3. Samara Lotz
    September 10, 2010

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    I love your article and it really hit home to me. We have developed a blog site that allows students and teachers to blog about science and math that I think you should check out and share. It is called http://www.iteachinquiry.com and is a wonderful resource that students kindergarten through high school are using as an online notebooking tool. The kids love it and their writing skills have grown so much with their enthusiasm. It makes a great class blog or technology center for assessment and dialogue with peers and is monitored for safety which is a great value.

  4. Lisa Watts Lawton
    September 10, 2010

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    Hi! Another excellent article, this one full of clear steps to follow to start students blogging! I teach 2nd grade and last year I created a classroom blog to help my students with math and reading fluency. I posted videos of math lessons for the year’s curriculum, and audio recordings of our fluency passages. Parents came to a parent workshop at the beginning of the year and they filled out a technology survey. The response from kids and parents alike was tremendous, and we saw measurable improvements in both math and reading over the course of the year. This year I’m creating a storytime blog so kids can take the books I read during storytime home and listen/read along, hopefully with family members!

  5. S Henchey
    September 11, 2010

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    Hey Heather,

    Awesome ideas! I especially love the idea of the “offline” blogging.

    Like you, I’m looking for a more authentic response to reading that is also manageable. I’ve experimented with student blogs in the past but am interested in taking a more comprehensive approach this year.

    Out of curiosity, do you have a rubric or checklist you use to evaluate their responses?

    Thanks again for the ideas!

    • heather
      September 11, 2010

      Leave a Reply

      A formal rubric should of course be in my toolbox, but I admit it is not. I use the guidelines that I gave them in the beginning as my checklist and from there it’s based on the quality of their comments, a topic we are always working to improve upon.

      Did they ask level 1 questions, or level 3? Did their commentary include prediction or just opinion? Did it include visualization and relating the quote or book to something else, or did they just translate the quote?

      These are the things I look for, and the elements I comment on when I comment back to them with my assessment.

      Hope this helps!

      -Heather WG
      aka tweenteacher

      • S Henchey
        September 14, 2010

        Leave a Reply

        Definitely! I especially appreciate the focus on the level of questions (Level 1 questions drive me up the wall!).


  6. Angela
    September 13, 2010

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    Thank you so much for sharing so freely! Great ideas about incorporating this in the classroom. Love the “offline” idea too.
    – Angela
    6th grade LA teacher

  7. Melissa Minkin
    September 13, 2010

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    Hi Heather. What a great article. Thanks. I hate reading logs – not only are they soul-crushing, I think the kids fake them anyway. I like dialogue journals, but I have been looking for a tech-based alternative to paper journals – but it has to be an easier-to-manage alternative. I haven’t really thought about blogs, but your mention of “privately commenting” has made me reconsider (along with your well thought out implementation – and perhaps best of all, your mention of LIz Harrington who is one of my very favorite teacher of teachers)! Thanks for the info.

  8. Rock n Roll Teacher
    September 16, 2010

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    What has helped you get the idea of blogging approved by your administrators and superintendent? I have wanted to blog for several years and use them with the kids but I keep running into walls. I need to really push home the idea and I think your lesson plan is quite concise and clear. Any suggestions to presenting the idea to administrators with success?

  9. heather
    September 16, 2010

    Leave a Reply

    Hey Rock N Roll,
    Great question. I think the key here is to cater to what they are nervous about. Make sure you start with a program that is secure. I know having things public and transparent might be your preference. It is, after all, the world the kids need to exist in; but they also must learn how to function first in the public and transparent world of your classroom. So use a program that can be secured to only the participants and the teacher is the keeper of all keys. That way, the kids can respond to each other’s posts at midnight, but it doesn’t go live and get published until you check the appropriateness of the post.

    There are great programs out there that can do this. Nicenet is one, kidblog is another. I use kidblog because it’s super user-friendly. You decide their usernames and passwords. Everything they post goes through you, and its easy to approve for publishing large groups of posts so you aren’t spending too much time turning around the kid’s posts.

    I think once you address those fears, it becomes much easier. Also, make sure that they know that it isn’t just internet literacy and collaboration that blogging is about. It’s an amazing silver bullet in encouraging writing skills and giving them quick feedback. I have never seen more “low” kids try, try again than in blogging. If you scaffold it well enough, the format really is a miracle in pulling writing out of every student. After all, everything they do requires writing to participate. It’s like living in a foreign country. After awhile, you begin to sleep in a new language. Immerse them in a world where writing is the only form of communication and by, golly, their level of writing increases.

    That’s hard to argue with.

    Good luck, and check back in with how it all works out!

    -Heather Wolpert-Gawron
    aka Tweenteacher

  10. Sheila
    October 3, 2010

    Leave a Reply

    Your guidelines and process for teaching blogging is clear and concise. I want to add my Kudos for the offline blogging strategy. I agree that kidblog is a great tool to get kids hooked. I work with a group of 6th grade teachers and I will share your blog with them. I hope I can interest them in giving blogging a try this year.
    Thank you for sharing your process! Blog-on…

  11. Adam
    October 7, 2010

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    Thank you so much for putting together this helpful guide to student blogging. I am facilitating a professional development workshop next week about blogging, podcasting, and other 21st century technologies that teachers can use in class. This guide will be a great resource.

  12. Tara
    October 30, 2010

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    We just began blogging our shared reading responses, and it’s been a wonderful experience. Although my students (sixth graders) still write to me once a week about their independent reading, the blog allows for everyone to “see” what everyone is thinking. What a great resource for further discussions!

  13. Chrissy
    March 15, 2011

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    I love this idea of having students chat and have discussions about books they are reading and incorporating it into book club discussion. I think kids would be more inclined to write more and have more indepth discussions when working via the internet! Also they have the feedback and conversations that are needed to help it thrive. I look forward to working at getting this into place with my studnets and watching it take off!
    What are some of your thoughts about how parents like/dislike this form of communication?

    • heather
      March 15, 2011

      Leave a Reply

      Hey Chrissy,
      The parents love it. I mean really love it. Those who have a sense of 21st Century literacies are excited that the school is promoting them. Those who don’t still are excited that their students will have the knowledge that they do not.

      I explain everything very clearly, and they are generally impressed by the rigor even if they don’t participate in the end product.

      My advice, be transparent. Let them into the process and they won’t question the lessons you’re giving their kids.

      Good luck, and come back and tell us how it goes!

      aka tweenteacher

  14. Arthur Eves
    May 4, 2011

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    Thanks for this. I set up a blog that I used for managing online projects but it would have benefited greatly from frontloading it the way you did. I will definitely incorporate lots of what you did in my teaching.


  15. Jenny Mitchell
    September 14, 2011

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    I like all your steps for frontloading this information. You are teaching students to not spew word vomit just because it’s online; instead, they are still going through the writing process to post something thoughtful. I am a first-year teacher and would love to set up a blog. I will certainly incorporate these ideas! Thanks!

  16. Ifitte
    November 5, 2011

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    My principal passed your article our way. It was very informative. I use mine for classroom news, but I love the idea of using it as book club. Thanks!

  17. Ifitte
    November 5, 2011

    Leave a Reply

    My principal passed your article about blogging our way. It was very informative. I use my blog for classroom news, but I love the idea of using it as book club. Thanks!

  18. Judy Jester
    December 5, 2011

    Leave a Reply

    Hi there Heather,

    Do you have a template for the offline blog you have kids compose?

  19. Great fun for all
    December 10, 2011

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    Thanks I have seen one paste blog.

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    December 11, 2011

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    December 11, 2011

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  22. Dee
    December 20, 2011

    Leave a Reply

    Hi. I like your idea. Can you help me set my blogs for my students?

  23. Julie20
    December 24, 2011

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    Frontloading is an categorisation; Frontloading activities can be victimized before datum to set testee.

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  25. Mary Kelly Branning
    May 25, 2012

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    I have tried to open your document on How to Comment on a Blog and cannot access it. Is there a specific program that I need in order to view it?

  26. dakota
    August 30, 2012

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    i love ur blog I’m a girl in GRISD and i need reading blogs and i checked this out Your AWESOME

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  28. Jessica
    June 27, 2013

    Leave a Reply

    Hello Heather!

    Thank you for this post! I jumped into blogging at the end of this past school year with a small class of 7th graders. We did everything during class, and I was amazed at the level of engagement. When you’re in the computer lab with 20 students and all you hear is the clacking of keys, it’s beautiful thing! :)

    This year, I want to expand this to use with all of my students, AND I’d like it to be primarily outside of class. I’m wondering if you have any further advice as to how you evaluate student participation. Do you reserve a separate page in your grade book? Do you have a certain form you use? Anything you’ve tried that just really didn’t work (you could save me the grief)? I’m also wondering how much of YOUR time this typically takes once you get the blogs rolling.

    Thank you!

  29. Sofie Propp
    August 3, 2013

    Leave a Reply

    Great article, thanks for the advices

    I’ll post my results here soon

  30. Amy Laukhuf-Fitch
    February 2, 2014

    Leave a Reply

    Hi there, and thanks for sharing such wonderful information about blogging with your students. I just finished a blog research project with my 8th graders, and they liked having the choice to research and blog about a topic that interested them. I wish I would have run across your site beforehand though, but I have it for next time.

    Amy Laukhuf-Fitch
    7-12 Eng.
    Otsego Local Schools

  31. Amy Laukhuf-Fitch
    February 2, 2014

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    oops, I wanted to sign up for your newsletter and didn’t check the box the first time.

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    Email the author and he will send you a discount code. This book is amazing and my son aced his Science FCAT, only missing 3 questions. Way cool!

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    July 23, 2014

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  35. Abby
    August 4, 2014

    Leave a Reply

    I’m in the exact situation! I would also love to hear about evaluations/assessments. Thank you!

  36. barbara
    August 5, 2014

    Leave a Reply

    What are the grades you are having the children do there blogging. I find that it will help with their comprehension of the materialI like the step by step process that is present and it is easy to follow. Following your steps it would be easy to set up a blog system even if it not online in the begining.

  37. Jodie
    August 27, 2014

    Leave a Reply

    This was a very helpful guide. I cannot stress the importance of educating children and young adults on online responsibility and other practices – this includes netiquette. Thanks for sharing the steps.

  38. Brian M.
    November 13, 2014

    Leave a Reply

    I can’t open the file http://dl.dropbox.com/u/4234943/How%20to%20Comment%20on%20a%20Blog.doc referenced in your article.

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