One question that pops up in my conversations with people whenever I highlight the blogging I do with my 5th graders is that of safety and commitment. How to keep them safe while online, how to prevent cyber bullying and also how to get them invested so it is not just another chore on their massive to do lists. While approaches differ, this is what has worked well for me.
- Open it up to the world. One huge fear people have when they have their students blog is opening up the blog to the world but those global connections are exactly what make blogging such a phenomenal experience for everyone. If I had a private blog I wouldn't have to teach the students much, it is the vast possibility of the unknown that forces us to really think about how we present ourselves to the world and how we conduct ourselves.
- Stay on as moderator. While this may be an "oh duh" comment just leaving you as moderator of both comments and posts and then doing your job (reading everything) is a huge deterrent to anything. Comments don't just slip through. Posts have the right tone and students present themselves well. And I have only once in my 2 years of student blogging had to intervene in a post. That's with more than 1,600 students posts.
- Prepare, prepare, prepare. I don't just set up their blog and let them do it, we prepare through many steps. We learn about safety and we approach it like any other skill; one we must develop in order to fully understand it. But it goes deeper than safety, we have to get to the "why" of blogging, otherwise it will just be another demand from the teacher.
- Treat it with reverence. Blogging is not an automatic right in my classroom. It is something the students learn about, build toward and ultimately have to prove that they are mature enough to handle. We discuss how much of a privilege it is throughout the year which means the students get that this is important. They know they represent our school district on our blog and that adds weight.
- Have conduct rules. Just like in any other situation we talk about what good commenting, good posting, and good conversational skills are. Students know that their sense of humor can be taken out of context and that they need to represent at all times. So we discuss how to engage in a dialogue without hurting others and we talk about how to offer appropriate feedback as well.
- Revisit. I say this all the time, just like in any other big life lessons, how to blog appropriately, safely and well is not a beginning of the year lesson, it is an all the time lesson. And you need to make the time for it.
- Build community. Blogging is only really successful if you have the trust of the students. We use our blog to discuss happenings in our classroom, do curriculum, but also to write about big issues that affect the students. If they didn't trust me and their audience, my kids wouldn't bare their hearts like they do. Asking a 10 year old to tell them how they really feel about your classroom can be viewed as a trick question, one asked to get them into trouble, so before you get to those big questions, the foundation of honesty, reflection, and trust has to be present in the physical world.
- Walk the walk. I blog extensively and I share it with my students. I talk about what my take aways are from blogging and why it is a necessary part of my growth as a teacher. I do not hide what I blog about and I even highlight some posts that revolve around my students. I show how I comment, build relationships and respond appropriately. I am right there with my students, doing the same thing they do, sharing the experience.
- Listen. I have students suggest topics, I have them give me feedback, and I let them blog about whatever they want. All of that adds their passion to it and that is why they keep blogging even now when school is out and they are on summer vacation. They still have stories to tell and people to connect with.