Back in January of 2017, a small group of 9 of my 4th grade students and I met to talk about maybe starting a newspaper club or something that would impact our school in a positive way. After some discussion about going paperless to save the environment, I proposed blogging.
I’d never done it before, and I really wasn’t completely sure what it was, but I thought it would be a good learning opportunity to experiment with, to discover something new with my students. And I knew that at the very least, we would have fun learning together. I heard of this website for kids called Kidblog off of a post on Twitter, and after some research, I knew at least that it was safe for kids. It is a blogging website, specifically designed and created for students.
I decided to let my small group of students lead this adventure. We met during lunch in our classroom, and my only requirements were that everyone in the group participates and everyone is respectful to each other. That was it. They were going to be the leaders of this experiment, and they were more than excited about it. They worked through all of the brainstorming, planning, goal setting, problem solving, and experimenting. I was simply there to help them along the way. If it worked out okay, we would then introduce it to the rest of the class. Once we got started, it caught on like wildfire.
Something Fantastical (Really Good Things)
I really don’t know how or where to begin to explain how fantastical this experience has been for my students and myself, as a teacher. It was like the “teaching” baton that I carried for years had been handed over to my students, and they took and ran off with it. Things began to happen that I did not expect, and they were all good things… really good things. My students were given an opportunity to explore and experiment. They were given a freedom they never completely had before, the freedom to write what they wanted, using technology. It was not a teacher directed assignment. It was freedom from the confines of assignment.
They worked together to problem solve, to figure out how to do things. It was not easy. That was the cool part, because even though it wasn’t easy, they took it on with the most passionate and intentional focus. They were learning so much, so fast. It was like watching firework, after firework go off, and all I had to do was be there to watch them fly. After a short time, I noticed an amazing shift in the environment. My students began to teach me. I was there, now, working with them, like a partner. We were figuring things out together. We alternated teaching each other how to work the intricacies of the website. It was like we were all competing on who would figure it out first. That was fun.
Hour of Blog
We needed more time for this new writing adventure, so I began an after school program called, Hour of Blog. It launched us even further into this project. We met twice a week, without fail, for about three months. On those special days, I had between 14-18 of my students in my classroom after school, blogging until 4:30pm. Those who couldn’t come worked it in as much as possible during the day. Writers blossomed. Kids, who were never interested in writing, became intrigued by it all, mesmerized by the choice and possibilities.
Guiding Each Other
We guided each other through the process. They took ownership of it in a way I had never seen before in my 11 years of teaching. It felt like we tapped into something that I could only describe as stars exploding. We were all excited, and they used this new excitement for learning. They learned to help each other; they learned to be kind, thoughtful, and respectful to one another. They experienced firsthand and directly why those things were important. They began building a community within a class that had been together for years, but still divided in many ways. This brought them together. It empowered them. They shared their hearts, and some, their souls writing on this site. I learned more about them than I would have ever been able to, in a regular classroom environment. We became a part of each other.
They were now teaching each other things that they were learning in the classroom, things they were learning from each other, from the teacher, and completely on their own. They were integrating the things that they loved into this project. It was all so powerful. It was organic, but also organized, focused, and beautifully chaotic. This growth continuously engaged them in communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, character building, and citizenship. They celebrated works of writing; they celebrated each other’s abilities and strengths. They were leading their own learning at full force.
The teaching came directly and indirectly, and sometimes simply by reflecting on things they noticed. Their goal was that every blog would include a message or a lesson, one that they learned or wanted others to learn. They began to push their learning outside the walls of the classroom. Learning became addictive. Some students blogged early in the morning, before school started, others during the school day, and some at home. On one occasion, a teacher mentioned to me that minutes after taking the STAAR Writing test, one of my students, who tested outside of my classroom, wanted to continue to write. She said that he worked hard that morning and was completely spent, yet he requested blank paper. He told her he needed to draft his next blog. The learning became an endless opportunity for growth, not only for them, but for me as well. And I didn’t only learn to become a better teacher, and they didn’t only learn to become better students. We were learning to be better people, better humans. This was a movement, not a project. It changed us, it changed me.
Bumps in the Road
My students have been blogging for about four months now. It is such a short period of time for all of this growth, I know. At times it felt like we were learning a hundred miles per hour. Our story sounds almost like we had no bumps in the road. We did. It took a while, but we did have to address issues, small ones, but it was important for me to make clear that our freedoms required responsibility to do the right thing. We needed to regroup a couple of times as a class, to review our goals, and remind ourselves that our writing on this site was not a personal diary. And there were maybe one or two kids who made some poor choices. This is where I took advantage of my ability to block people from the site… lessons learned for all of us.
End of Year
We close the year with everyone blogging, and that’s a really good thing. We have developed some powerful writers this year. As of today, my 36 students have written over 740 blogs. Our website is private, so even though they can access it online anywhere, it’s not public for all to see. My students are only 9 and 10 years old, and my job is to protect them, so it will remain a private website. As long as I keep my account open with Kidblog, my students will be able to continue to blog into the summer, even as they move on to 5th grade and beyond. My students, my bloggers, I discovered, are some amazing human beings. They are ready to take on the world, and they will.
My heart is filled with bittersweet memories of our journey into blogging. I’ve learned to blog myself in the process, and my goal is to blog more in the future. I think my students expect that of me now. Even if they don’t, it’s now a goal of mine. I’m novice to this world of blogging, and sometimes it’s quite terrifying, but as one of my students once wrote, “Fear is your enemy, so you must learn to fight it...” (Vogal, Ari. “Fear” Kidblog May 2017). Because of what I learned from her blog, I will practice more pushing my fears aside to take on new adventures. This experience has brought us closer than I have ever been with a group of students. It will be difficult to let them go. They will forever have a special place in my heart. We had a great adventure, together.
Check out my Kidblog.org webinar... Yes, I learned to do that too in this amazing process.
Just click on the link: http://bit.ly/2thQgEf
Listen in on some of my brave students reading some blogs "live" on our local radio station, KEOS 89.1 FM, on May 26th, 2017.
Click on the following link:
Marina Rodriguez is a California native, living and teaching in Texas, and a National Writing Project, Heart of Texas Writing Project, Teacher Consultant.