A few months after Rebekah and I started Moving Writers in 2015, I knew blogging was something I needed to bring into my classroom. I was undoubtedly behind the curve — lots of teachers I knew were already blogging with students, and every year at NCTE, I circled multiple blogging sessions in my program but never attended them. 2015 was going to be the year.
But I struggled. Only two years into using the writing workshop approach, I was still trying to find my rhythm — the perfect balance of depth and breadth. Writing studies took a long time, and I was trying to fit 6-8 studies in over the course of the year. In addition to these studies, how would I be able to successfully integrate blogging into the classroom? How could I make it MORE than a single writing study without sucking all our writing energy and precious time? Could I make it a core practice in our workshop — one that could magically run itself?
It took me a few tries, but last year I feel like I finally got into a groove with my eighth graders. Here are some considerations for making blogging a core practice in your workshop:
- Study authentic blogs and set up students’ blogs at the beginning of the year.
At the beginning of the year, we start with the things that are most important to us. In my workshop, I teach students about mentor texts on the first day of school because mentor texts are everything to us. Within the first few days, I help them set up their writer’s notebooks, invite them to write every day, help them choose independent books, invite the librarian into my classroom, get them started with notebook time, and invite small writing groups into meet with me during lunch. I do these things first because they are the most important things. Putting our blogging study at the beginning of the year also signals to students — and to myself — that blogging isn’t something we are going to try for a few weeks and then abandon. It will become a core practice in our workshop. Here is the blogging handout I pass out to students in the fall to kickstart this study.
- Put blogging on autopilot.
I want blogging to amplify our workshop, rather than make it a drag or become all-consuming, so I have to set it up really well at the beginning, putting some mechanisms in place that will let it run itself:
- Devote in-class time to blogging each week. Friday blogging days are really fun. We use them to punctuate the work we are doing in our main writing study.
- Assign due date ranges for blog posts in advance. Last year our school schedule gave each class period an extra 30-minute chunk of learning time every 10 days or so. This funny quirk created a natural due date for our blogs. So, every ten days my students turned in drafts of blogs. I took a few days to give them feedback, and then we’d use class time (on Fridays) to revise, share with writing groups, and post.This rhythm allowed us to progress in our main writing study without long, distracting pauses — students knew exactly when blogs were due, when they’d have class time to work on them, when they should be working on them at home, etc.
- Expose students to even more genres.
Below is a chart showing the genres my 8th graders blogged in during the second semester last year.
Every other due date, students were invited to write in a genre that isn’t part of the 8th grade curriculum, one that we wouldn’t have had time to pursue otherwise. During these rotations (in red), students worked independently to read mentor texts in this blogging-friendly genre, create (and share with me) noticings, and write blogs that were influenced by this independent study. Here is a sample handout for one of these blogging tasks.
- Give students choice that links their blogs to familiar genres.
Every other due date, students have a free choice blog. In the free choice rotation, students are asked to choose from one of the main genres we have studied so far that year — or to identify, study, and explore a wholly new genre. As the year progresses, as do our studies, the choices multiply.
5. Keep your blogging mentor texts standards HIGH.
I’m not going to lie: it can be challenging to find authentic blog content that is also richly crafted. So I expanded my options and pulled from really great digital writing – writing that wasn’t necessarily housed on someone’s blog but that would be a great fit for a blog (highly visual, experimental in form). For example, during the Critical Review blogging task, students studied these mentor texts:
- Lego City Undercover Review from ign.com (video game review)
- The Warden’s Daughter: A Girl Grows Up in the Prison Her Father Runs from nytimes.com (book review)
- Restaurant Review: The Fancy Biscuit Rises to the Challenge from richmond.com
- Best Fitbit 2017 from wareable.com (product review)
I think only one of them came from an actual blog, but all of them helped inspire and guide my students to great blog writing.
- Give students copious opportunities to blog together, share together, and publish together.
Once you get rolling, and students have sufficient content (about three posts), consider creating a Google Form/Spreadsheet that displays every students’ blog URL, and build time into your schedule to allow them to read and comment on their colleagues’ blogs – just like real bloggers do. Consider teaching them how to link to others’ blogs within their own blog to forge connections across the blogosphere.
I’ve always loved the idea of having an overarching writing project that sustains us throughout a school year — something as regular as Kelly Gallagher’s Article of the Week, but something that also builds and becomes richer as the year goes on. Last year, this was blogging for us.
In a future post, I’ll write about how our blogging practice lead to the creation of writing portfolios that students submitted at the end of each semester. I’ll just say now that having a stockpile of blog posts made the creation of digital writing portfolios that much more engaging for my students. In Weebly, we were able to add non-blogging pages to display their writing from the year, while keeping their blogs front and center as an extra rich layer for the parents, teachers, and peers who read them!
How have you integrated blogging into your classroom? Find me on Twitter @allisonmarchett.