Cicero’s Kids was a class blog maintained by my honor students. The blog uses WordPress as its platform. WordPress allowed me to give students varying permissions. They could write posts and make comments on posts, but these comments and posts wouldn’t appear on the web until I approved them. WordPress is easy for students to use, allowing them to compose their posts with a simple editing bar as well as add video and pictures to their posts.
A Solution to a Need
Learning is more than the state mandated standards. It’s also about the tangents you take while learning about those standards. It’s the random questions that go along with the subjects. It’s about finding possible solutions to mysteries.
I have many standards I need to teach over the year. Unfortunately, this gives my students little time to reflect on what they’re learning or where their thoughts might go (the tangents). I need a venue that allows students to explore their thoughts. I teach social science. I want to encourage my kids to reflect on the scope of human interactions with the world. However, I don’t have this time to spend in the classroom.
The solution is a class blog. Cicero’s Kids is a place where they reflect on what they’ve learned, what’s happening in society around them, and ask creative questions. It’s completed outside the classroom, on their own time, and builds into their latent social curiosities.
Conceptually, I really liked the idea behind Cicero’s Kids. I field tested the blog with a few chosen students and worked out a few kinks. However, after opening the blog to the entire class, I quickly discovered a number of difficulties.
Blog writing is a relatively new style of writing. It can be argumentative and thoughtful, however it is not lengthy. Paragraphs are short. Large blocks of text don’t work well with online writing. It that way, blog writing is similar to newspapers. I gave my students guidelines and expected them to do well.
What I got was a combination of text messaging and boring book reports.
My students would write posts that summarized what they learned in the class that day. I would get 30 posts on the Industrial Revolution, each reading like a texted wikipedia article. Absolutely no creative writing was involved, much less questioning. This wasn’t the kind of thinking I wanted.
Now part of this may be because of the way school works for them. In eighth grade, they’re taught there is “one” answer to every question and one way of doing things. They complained that they “didn’t know what to write about”. I gave them too much freedom. They didn’t like thinking up questions. They wanted a formula for creativity.
I didn’t have a formula for creativity (who does?). But I did have to make some changes. The first was I modeled a number of different posts that served as examples for the type of writing I was looking for. I then gave them different organizational styles to change up their writing. For example, I would say “Try writing in Chronological Order, but start at the end and switch to the beginning”. And finally, I gave them a more detailed rubric to understand what type of post would earn the highest grade.
Slowly (and I believe this project is a process), their writing has improved. I’ve taken to pointing out the beginnings of certain tangents (i.e. “Obama wants to extend the school year”) as possible subjects to write about. The students themselves have started to recognize “blog questions” that come up in the news, at school, or in their lives.
A final note about WordPress. The blogging platform is enjoyed by all my students. They particularly like the fact that they can post video and images.