Blogging 4th Graders

Ben blogging

Originally uploaded by TonyBaldasaro

Today I was invited by Steve Gagnon and Ashley Page to come teach blogging to fourth graders at Stratham Memorial School. Both Steve and Ashley are part of the Tristate PLP cohort, are strong supporters of connectivism and have been leaders in our school district in the use of technology as a tool in the classroom. Their students have been blogging using Moodle -the Acceptable Use Policy of the district does not allow it otherwise- and they asked me to come share my personal blogging experience with their students and parents.

I have to start with perhaps the most telling moment of my time there. When I asked if anyone in the room blogged, each student raised his or her hand. When I asked the same of the parents, no hands went up.  After a quick chuckle that came with the realization that today’s students are writing and participating in their learning in a much different way than their parents, the moment provided me with the opportunity to show the students that they were the family experts on blogging and had the responsibility to share their expertise with their parents.

What was surprising to me was how hard it was to explain to 9 and 10 year old students how powerful a learning experience my blogging has been for me. How do I explain to a fourth grader the transformation I have undergone since I started this journey in July? How do I explain to a ten year old why it is a good thing when people who I don’t even know question my writing, my thinking, and my dogmas? How do I explain to a 9 year old boy that his thoughts can change the world, much like the thoughts of this young girl and this young man did? How can I explain to parents that being a participant on the web is necessary to develop 21st century skills and understandings when all they hear about on Dateline and 20/20 is how predatory the web is?

I struggled in not only trying to answer these questions prior to my talk, but in also trying to communicate how important the process of finding out the answers to those questions is. But, here’s the good news. I get to do it again. Another teacher, this time a 5th grade teacher, wants me to come talk to her class about blogging.  So, I get the opportunity to refine my talk and do it better.

So, I humbly ask for help from my elementary experts:  for those of you who have taught blogging to 4th graders, help me.  Help me answer the questions above.  Help me teach 4th graders how to connect and make a difference.  And help me show parents that it is okay to be a participant and that children can do it safely and with meaning.

Finally, before I finish this, I’ll share one more cool thing about today. I subscribe to all the kids blogs in Moodle, which means that when they submit an entry, I get an email. When I have my email open and I get a new email, it “pings”. I say that because, when I got home today and opened my email, I already had nearly 20 emails signifying 20 different blog entries from the kids, and in the time that I have been writing this entry, I have been pinged nearly a dozen more times.

Keep writing kids!

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10 Responses to Blogging 4th Graders

  1. Cgibson says:

    Thx for sharing. I teach jhs, but I must learn how to use moodle…

  2. I taught 4th grade for several years and think kids that age are a riot! What you want to communicate is somewhat abstract. The more you can relate it to concrete experiences students are familiar with, the better they’ll understand your ideas. For example, feedback from a widened audience may relate to just that—a larger audience. When kids “perform,” they like an audience. Parents are major audience members, but the more people who clap the better. It’s like performing or playing a baseball game in front of one vs. two, vs. 20 vs.… More makes the performing or playing more exciting. If the audience is full of experts (e.g., major league baseball players), it’s even better to get their advice. How could you swing a bat better? or how could you improve your throwing accuracy? Readers of blogs read according to interest, so they will likely have some knowledge of your topic. They can “coach” you.

    If possible, show examples of comments from your blog so kids see what you mean. It’s like a conversation that takes place electronically over time. Something like that. Hope this helps a little. I bet you did better than you think!

  3. Ann Lusch says:

    I just started a class blog for high school juniors and seniors. This will be new territory for me, and I’m sorry I don’t have advice about 4th graders. But what was interesting is that I asked my class of 24 how many had ever blogged, and maybe four or five raised their hands. I think your experience might be giving me an idea of what’s ahead for us.

  4. Arlene Anderson says:

    I’ve been working with 4th grade blogging for the last 2 years, and with other grades prior to that. I think we have to ask the students, “Why would you want to blog?” And the, “Who can see your blog?”
    When students realize the possibility that people who they don’t even know might be interested in what they have to say. And that those people might read and comment on their blog, they are more motivated to write and write better. And not all blogs need to be writing. Students can work to their best ability.

    I agree with Kevin that the feedback in terms of comments on blogs is so meaningful for students, whether it be peers, parents, or a guest to the blog. Who doesn’t love an authentic audience. And that quiet student sitting in the back of the classroom who loves to write, but not participate now will have a great vehicle to express themselves.

  5. Dodie says:

    Great reflection and I totally agree that blogging is a powerful tool to demonstrate how we all need to be connected to the global world. I work with teachers, k-12 and recently we discussed digital conversations and whys they can use it in their classrooms. Right now they are blogging and the feedback I get back is amazing. The school walls are now transparent, and learning can occur 24/7.
    Good luck and have fun shaing

  6. Stephanie says:

    What a great opportunity you have to work with these young people and their teachers. Perhaps sharing the recent PBS Frontline with parents and families will add some perspective to your work with their students (I especially like the piece with Henry Jenkins:

    In my experience, students who know that their work is being viewed by a larger audience (even Grandma in Florida or an aunt in California) work really hard to produce top-notch materials. It may help to show them blogs written by other 4/5 grade kids and have them comment–perhaps you can get a collaboration with other classrooms going.

    Have fun, keep us posted on the journey!

  7. Tony,

    As you know my daughter is also a 4th grader in one of these two classes. How lucky am I? She loves blogging due to the fact that she knows everything that she writes on her blog will have an audience.

    This has motivated her to start her own blog out of school as well. I think we have both seen the data supporting the fact increased writing opportunities creates better writers.

    Thanks for pushing this in the SAU and supporting these 4th grade teachers in this. My child is excited about school and school work!

    • tbaldasaro says:

      Hi Patrick,

      Yes the work of @jstepheng and @ashleypage29 is to be commended. More and more research is showing the positive impact blogging has on student writing. I’m glad to hear that your daughter has started her own blog. As a family, we have discussed writing a “family” blog in an attempt to share our lives and support our the writing of our own children.

  8. I’ve been blogging in the classroom since it was invented and before that, my students used an online forum to participate in asynchronus conversations about what was going on in our classroom. I started doing this more as an experiment than out of some well-thought-out plan. My brain has had a chance to ruminate on exactly what you’ve asked above out of needs similar to your own.
    There are a lot of things that can be said here, but as the first reply poster explained, it’s a fairly abstract point you’re trying to point out to the kids, and the nature of fourth graders (I’m a current 4th grade teacher) is that they are naturally quite egocentric- they might not actually care too much about how blogging has affected you personally, especially if you use the “I” word.
    I’d simply ask them if they’ve ever raised their hand in class and never been picked; had something to say that someone else blurted out; or been annoyed that there’s always someone else who gets there faster and shares first.
    That’s what a blog is for (at its best IMHO). It’s a place for thoughtful conversation to take place at a speed that encourages and rewards complete thinking rather than knee-jerk response.

  9. Pingback: Back to My Roots « TransLeadership

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