I just finished reading Will Richardson's book which gave some nice thoughts on the pedagogy of blogs. I am getting ready to institute blogging in my fourth grade classroom for the first time, and would love some feedback on a couple of issues I am stuck on:

He says that complex blogging is "extended analysis and synthesis over longer periods of time that builds on previous posts, links, and comments." Journaling ("this is what I did today"), on the other hand, is not blogging. Yet, as I visit most elementary blogs and see what kids are writing, it is mostly journaling and poetry; not the analytical, connective blogging that is going to result in the most powerful learning.

Are elementary school students just not able to do this kind of learning? I think they can. Obviously not on the same level as a high school student or adult, but I think they can start to stretch their synthesis muscles if we teach them.

My question is, what would this type of complex blogging look like for elementary students (are there examples?)? How can we as teachers scaffold this type of powerful blogging and learning?

Tags: blogging, elementary, pedagogy

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Thanks. I like the idea of talking about books. It seems like blogging about a shared topic (whether a book, or math, or something), will help to generate depth of thought. I could see doing that in the fall and then having students take on their own topics in the spring.
I teach in a program for elementaty gifted kiddos (4-6) but their writing abilitiies vary as much as the students in your classroom. We've been blogging since November and if you'll bear with me I'll share some favorites. One bit of advice---ask high level reflective questions to get started, you may be surprised at the level of the responses. Remember, you get back what you accept. We also use RSS feed and creative writing prompts to generate posts. Let me know if you need any other tips.

None of these posts were prompted by me. Couldn't post them here (too long). Go to http://anotsodifferentplace.blogspot.org to see the examples.
I think you might need to look at the level of writing that your kids are capable of before deciding how you want to structure their writing on a blog. I've been a teacher coach for the past 5 years, so I don't work with kids for extended periods very much anymore, but I did a three week summer camp wtith kids in grades 4-6 ( http://ppsblogs.net/tech_cadet_boot_camp/ ) this summer - half of whom were labled gifted - and it was really an eye opener. I organized my kids by teams and just asking them to write 4 sentances about what they did that day - journaling - was a struggle. So I kept increasing the requirements. By the last day I could get 4 good sentances out of all of the students without any problems. I do think what you are seeing is a result of teacher expectation, but if you sttart where the kids are and move them gradually, I think you could really be successful with real blogging with kids. Like Wade said, I think you'd get the best results if you focused on a theme or book they were reading. They would probably be able to go deeper that way.

To enable students to think deeply and reflect on their learning they really need TIME, they need the high level reflective questions that Nancy recommended above, and the suggestion by Wade to use literature is another great starting point. My class produced some great writing and some very reflective thinking during a descriptive writing unit:

and individual student blogs at www.allstars.edublogs.org:


Often my students are able to think more deeply about their responses when writing in a notebook, rather than writing directly onto a blog - its all too easy (not to mention exciting) to type up a quick answer and hit publish so you can see your work on the blog. By using notebooks and then publishing onto the blog the kids have the time to develop their answers more fully.
Modelling by you will also be a really important scaffold that will help your students see what is expected, and will give them a visual model to use (along with appropriate structure, language and ideas) in their own responses. Modelling will probably lead to developing a class set of "How to ....."s, "Words to use when .... " , "Questions that help" or "Reflection sentence starters ..." which will also help get the kids thinking about what they are learning.
Lastly (I think!) talk, talk, talk to your students about great responses, celebrate wonderful answers, show examples of what you are looking for, and persevere: it will take time, but it will be worth it. Your Year 4 students will be able to do this with your guidance, your support and your encouragement!
Go for it :)
I agree with all you said! Another point as the teacher/blogger it is very hard to step out of the teacher mode and into the "just one of the bloggers role". Generally I make only a few comments dealing with the actual writing and then only when the errors are egregious---no paragraphs, horrific spelling (we have a spell check), not citing something, etc. Sometimes I will email the student and suggest an "edit" rather than say something direstly on the blog site.

One of my favorite approaches is to tease---I'll end my post with something like "Hey, Jason--two words for you Spell Check!!' They get the idea, but my main job is to model the conversation of a blog.
I do the same thing with comments! I usually just email them and suggest they edit it. Mainly I just need to remind them to "make friends with the spell check!" It's easier for me (and less public) to email them with really bad errors. I subscribe to their RSS feeds so when I see the post in my google reader, I just email them. I'm still working out the kinks about the quality. It's just something that takes time.
I'm doing two online book discussions with 50 kids. I'm soending two hours a night responding!! This Web 2.0 stuff is time consuming!
Definitely celebrate wonderful answers! Encourage and participate as much as possible. You get what you give.
In order to scaffold this type of blogging, you would have to help your students see connections between things, whether it be stories or activities or art pieces or physical education and then talk about it. An example I can think of is having students discuss movements in their dances with movements they do in phys ed or how a picture tells a story. By having them make connections, they can then begin to discuss these connections. I believe young students can do this, some can probably do it very well. In fact, you may want to try using podcasts and have students explain themselves before they try to write about it. Most young students are not able to write about what they are thinking because they don't know how to construct the written pieces. Yet, if you were to listen, you would get deep discussions about different topics. It's a case of allowing them to use the tools to best achieve the learning you want them to do.
As a second grade teacher, I'm struggling with the same issues. Some colleagues even questioned whether a blog was developmentally appropriate for second graders. Kids this age definitely need guidance. To begin our blog, I started posting questions about monarch migration. Since scientists don't even know all the answers (this was shocking to many of my seven year olds!), we've been able to have some really wonderful discussions. Many of their comments really show how they are synthesizing the information presented in class. I just hope I can continue to find/create the questions that encourage self-reflection, inquiry, and critical thinking. I hope they will also share their own questions with each other.

For young children just learning about this technology, I think the journal piece is important. The motivation is different when the audience is more than just their teachers/parents and when the audience responds! The kids are incredibly excited and I am pleased with the results so far. They are looking forward to collaborating on posts, connecting and interacting with other classrooms around the world, and sharing their work/ideas.
It happens over time. I teach in an elementary computer lab. My students are starting blogging by commenting on questions I pose to them about their language arts units. These are still "what" questions at the point, but they are going to start answering "why" questions, and begin to comment on each other work. I got deeper responses from last year when I taught a straight fifth in oral form (podcasts), but I think you can get stuff out of the kids if you build from recall level thinking, give them a manageable typing load (3 sentences) and have them two times a week like I do.
http://oakridgesixthgrade.edublogs.org - This year's sixth graders
http://nicholasfifth.edublogs.org - Last year's fifth graders

It will not start out with a lot of depth this early in the year. I'm happy with them giving me examples of things like cooperation, competition, and perseverance.
Okay, you can see how I'm having fourth graders began to comment on each others' comments. Probably in about a month, I'm going to have them comment on other class blogs (some in other countries). With elementary, you have to build it over time.



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