Friday, January 27, 2012

Make it Real to Make it Matter

So we began the fourth grade blogging unit lessons on Monday.  Some kids were excited, some were nervous, and many were confused.  What would they blog about?  Who would read their blog?  Would the whole world get to see it?  They settled down enough for us to go through our blog overview lessons and our two internet safety and responsibility lessons over the next several days.  They even played along during the third lesson when we asked them to write simulated respectful blog posts about scenarios like these:
  • You want to write a blog post about your most recent math test, which you finished before anyone else and answered all of the problems correctly.  How can you write this AND be respectful of your classmates who did not finish as quickly or as well?  What would you write?
  • You want to write a blog post about a group project that you recently participated in, but you don’t think that everyone in your group contributed equally.  You are proud of the work you did.  What would you write?
There's nothing wrong with these scenarios, except that they were scenarios, not real and immediate.  While some of the students have actually experienced these situations and my choose to blog about them when they get underway next week, the kids all knew that this wasn't for real.   The blog posts they wrote in this practice session were generally vague, overly polite, and forced.

But things took a turn for the beautiful on Thursday when we taught the lesson on how to write good comments on a blog.  We showed strong and weak examples of comments and discussed the "rules" of blogging, which we adapted from Grammar Girl's blogging rules.  And then...and this is when things got good...we showed them Mrs. Emerick's real blog post and asked the kids to write real comments to her.  Mrs. Emerick amazed her class with her blog about helping the dogs at the animal shelter where she volunteers find homes.  The kids were moved by the pictures of the dogs and by the stories Mrs. Emerick told them about the dogs.  They wrote heartfelt comments about how her blog made them think about their own dogs who have passed away, about how they wished she had included more stories about the dogs on the blog, and about how they'd like to come help her at the shelter.  Their comments were respectful and thoughtful and sincere.   We were amazed by how well they responded when they were writing to a real person (and even more importantly, to their teacher) for a real purpose. 

Students see right through simulations and role-plays.  What they need are more opportunities to put the skills we teach them to use for real, about things they really care about, and for real audiences.


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