It is important at various points throughout the blogging year to introduce new elements to the blogging experience in order to keep students engaged and level up their understanding of blogging as well as their writing skills.

Reading and Responding to Others Students' Posts

A crucial part of being a member of the blogosphere is building community with other bloggers. Students do this by reading and commenting on each other's posts, but also by reading widely among their peers to engage in a conversation through blogging. Thus, they can learn new ways of approaching writing and blogging for an audience -- from each other. Once students have posted a couple of different blogs, their free post can be something that "jumps off" from something they've read. In this way, students learn new strategies as writers from one another as well as continue a discussion of ideas that can cross class boundaries. Similar to a discussion board, this has even more power to engage because the topics are student-generated. Students are also validated as writers when others build from their posts in some way. The cross-pollination that results helps the students understand the relationships of writer and audience on a deeper level. Their writing and blogging suddenly begins to matter in a new way.

Susan does this by giving the following instructions for the first free post:

Blog Post #4: Free "Inspired" Post

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Image Credit: J.K. Rowling quote, Edutopia.

Your fourth blog post is a “free post,” but with a catch: you need to use another blog post from my two classes as in inspiration or jumping off point for your own. There are many ways others’ posts can inspire you:
  • You can respond directly to the blogger’s ideas.
  • You can write about a similar or related topic.
  • You can borrow writing strategies, style, or structure that you admire.
  • You can write the same type or genre of post, but on a totally different topic.
  • You can take a running leap from one little point or turn of phrase.

However you respond to another blogger’s post, you must give that blog credit in some way. If that credit does not naturally work into your post, you can always include an “acknowledgement” at the end. Be sure to include the blogger’s first name (only), the title of the post, and a link.

As usual, you should share your thoughts and observations the best way you know how. You should also include an image (your own, copyright free, Creative Commons, or with permission) and a credit for that image, at least one link (but more if that makes sense), and tags. Your tags for this post are the following: Your name, your inspiration’s name, free_post, and any other topics you deem appropriate. Also, indicate the correct “category” (class period) that applies to you.

I will share more ways to find photos and images next week!

Read and have fun!

More Steam
After students have been blogging a while, they may begin to run out of ideas for something to write about. Even if they have held on to their initial brainstorming list of possible topics, it may be time to generate a new list of blogging prompts. The students themselves are a great resource here, and you can bet that their ideas will have significant resonance with their peers. As you crowd-source ideas with your students, you may also want to have them find blogs that provide good prompts for use in the future. Here's one such list from Susan's class.

When Evaluation Can Work for You!

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It is important to ask students to hold off from evaluating each other's posts until they have gained some expertise as bloggers and some practice with conversing civilly online. This gives you time to create a safe positive space that uses professional discourse online to support emerging writers. It also allows you to break students of the habit of nit-picking at grammar or editing issues, which they have learned to do as "peer editors" in their English classes. This paves the way for a deeper experience of engaging one another in ideas. Thus, as we approach the commenting process early on, we ask students NOT to critique each other's posts and NOT to offer what we call "teacher comments" that suggest any kind of evaluation of the writing, not even "Good job!" Instead students asked to engage meaningfully with the content of the post -- as we would expect them to do in the "real" world.

However, after a year of blogging together, the students have read widely among the blogs posted by their peers, and they have seen real growth in their own writing, even felt it happening. They are itching to comment in an evaluative way. So, the end of their blogging year is a good way for them to summarize what they have learned about writing a good blog post and use their criteria to choose the bests posts in your community. (See Susan's "Bloggy Awards" instructions and results.)