As a former full-time writer, the project of writing a classroom blog holds special interest for me. The challenge: can I instill a passion for writing in my students? And, can I get them to be genuinely motivated to work to make their writing better for themselves and for whoever reads their work?
To start our classroom blog, when we returned to school in January, I told my students that we would be writing a classroom news blog, asked them to choose a “beat,” reviewed how to compose a sentence as well as basic punctuation and capitalization rules, and discussed the basics of Internet safety.
The second week, each student worked on an article about how schools addressed the problem of Silly Bandz in classrooms. We read through a Scholastic News Article about Silly Bandz (gaining fluency practice in the process). Then, each student wrote two paragraphs, one describing the issue, and another about their opinion on schools banning Silly Bandz. After they were off and running with their pre-writing organizers and the rest of the week progressed in the style of a Writer’s Workshop, with conferences, assignments, and publishing on the Web.
As this project has progressed, I’ve noticed a few things:
First, my students were very good at following my directions about what and how to include information describing the Silly Bandz issue. One unforeseen result, their first drafts were dull and lacked real voice. So, on Thursday, as they worked on their second draft, I taught a mini-lesson on how to add themselves into their writing (add their experience with Silly Bandz in the introduction, or come up with a creative solution to the Silly Bandz problem, for example). Then, I required them each to go back and add their voice. Thank goodness they followed my directions on this one too! Their final drafts were much less monotonous.
So far, it’s been pretty easy to differentiate for my students. This week, as they’ve started working on their own “beats” and are reporting on everything from dolphins to the future of cars, I’ve been able to find material that each of my students can work with (videos, podcasts, articles at varying reading levels), which allows them to develop independent work skills and helps them feel real ownership over their work.
As they research, they’re building reading fluency and comprehension skills. They’re constantly going back and rereading their articles to find answers to questions or to refine their information. During our conferences, I ask them to read parts aloud to me, which has been a great way to increase their fluency practice. After they work independently, reading their articles and answering questions on a pre-writing organizer, I review their work to gauge how well they’re understanding what they read.
Finally, the blog, even though its just on our school Intranet, is enough of an external audience of peers and teachers to get them excited about publishing. I’m hoping this enthusiasm will grow as they become more familiar with the technology (this week they spent a lot of time logging on and figuring out how to navigate the site, post comments, etc).
If you want to start your kids on studying news, check out Teaching News Writing from Scholastic.