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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Blogging for 6 year olds?

I think that kids generally love to read. They love books, the things they contain, and the feeling of success they can provide to emerging readers. Kid's natural curiosity in books is one of the things that I love about my first graders age group. Although not universal, reading is a subject that can set off sparks to ignite learning and student engagement.

Writing, is another animal. While there are some of my students that love to write, most would just rather lose another tooth than write something. In Room 116, we use quite a few web tools that provide fun, interactive activities that the students usually don't recognize as a writing assignments.
A few:
  • Storybird Uses great looking graphics and text boxes to create stories in a story board format. A student can publish their story and buy the book they created.
  • Picture a Story The author can place characters and props to support their text.
  • Witty Comics Cartoon panel format with choice of characters and background with word balloons.
  • The Zimmer Twins Users can make their own movie in a storyboard format and input narration and dialogue.
I can assign a purpose to the writing activity and easily assess whether the student needs some support or whether we need to regroup and review what skills we are trying to master. During a recent lesson on quotation mark usage, we used  Witty Comics as a perfect site to demonstrate what we had learned. The characters (the weird bunny heads on human bodies are among my favorites) are facing each other and dialogue is placed into cartoon balloons. I could easily see what kids were "getting it" as I made my way around the 24 laptop screens.

Recently however, my methods were uncovered. "You're tricking us into writing Mr Johnson" was heard by a particularly astute student during one of our Storybird  sessions. Well, kinda. Not really tricking, more like trying to make them recognize that writing happens all the time, everywhere. It was apparent that I needed to up my game. Enter blogging.

I had kept my eyes open on Twitter to see what student blogging services members of my personal learning network (PLN) were using in their classes. I was looking for a safe, easy to set-up, easy to maintain, blogging site that had some advanced features that we could use for the entire class. Kidblog.org fit the bill.

Kidblog.org allows the teacher to have complete administrative control over the class' site with the ability to control access, edit posts, and edit/approve comments. Private by default, student posts are viewable only by classmates and the teacher. If a parent, administrator, or grade level partner would like to view or comment, the teacher can create a guest user with a distinct user-name and password. The guest ID is a great feature for parents that helps build excitement for the student's writing, a parent (or administrator) can see what we are up to in class and fears of 'blogging' and 'online activity' can be eased. Guest comments also provide a motivational factor to student's blogging, because "someone is reading my blog."

It is super easy to set up an entire class room. Once signed-up for a free account, you can to create a class by entering each user individually or use a two column Excel spreadsheet to import, which is what I chose. Super simple. The kid's passwords can be kept simple to ease sign-in. Kids can be blogging in minutes.

Students can read their classmates blogs and make comments, ask questions, or encourage more activity. The ability to leave and respond to moderated comments is a great feature that lets the kids experience a  full blogging environment. The classroom teacher can make constructive comments to encourage more writing, reflection, or expansion of an idea. The control panel allows the teacher (site administrator) to control who may view, post or comment on the blogs, define user permissions, and set comment moderation limits.

The website's easy to understand toolbar makes uploading video clips, pictures, and audio very simple. Our class wrote about their predictions for Groundhog Day and then attached a short Flip Video clip with them speaking their prediction.

When we published our class' first blog, we rang the class bell every time a student hit the publish button "to tell the world", followed by a round of applause and cheers. The energy is the room was terrific. The students had forgotten that they just completed another writing assignment.

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  1. This is truly wonderful, Eric!

    WRITE ON, Room 116!

    Dr. Ryan

  2. Eric, great blog post on getting little ones to write. I actually will try some of your methods with my junior highers. I am just getting going on blogging with my second group of ten students. I have each group for four weeks. Looking forward to it. Can I ring a bell? Maybe chocolate would work better for them! :)
    My blog: Dare to Care

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