on blogging with the sevvies …


photoSo as it turns out, blogging with seventh graders is HARD!

I’ve been blogging for so long that it doesn’t occur to me how complicated a task blogging actually is. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really excited about blogging with my sevvies, but the issues that have come up as a result of our foray into blogging has made me more sure than ever that schools need to be blogging with kids.

Hurdle #1: Our first hurdle was just getting our blogs launched and set up with the privacy and access settings appropriate for our school’s policies.  We originally set our sevvie blogs up as private blogs shared only with other members of the class.  To accomplish this feat, each person in the class had to be invited to everyone else’s blog, then each member of the class had to accept each invitation via email.  If that wasn’t enough fun for a day, our email system in it’s seemingly random excellence would decide that some of the Blogger invitations were legitimate mail while other invitations were junk mail. As you might imagine, it was not a hugely, wonderfully fun process.

Hurdle #2: Once my students’ blogs were up and running, I discovered that private blogs do not have RSS feeds that I could subscribe to.  This was a deal killer.  There is a point where the law of diminishing returns comes into play and not being able to subscribe to my kids’ blogs was a tipping point for me–no RSS, no blogging.  After a bit of discussion and some cajoling I got the okay to make my students’ blogs public, but not findable by search engines and not added to Blogger lists.  Basically, my students’ blogs are technically public, but virtually private and they’ll really only be located if someone is given the URL which is actually SO much better in the event that we want mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, or some other special friend or relative to find our blogs.

Hurdle #3: Twelve-year-old digital natives are strangers in their own lands. When you login to Blogger, project the posting page on the screen at the front of the room and tell a room full of sevvies, “You are going to write your first post. Write about anything school appropriate you are excited to share with me and the rest of the class.  Be sure to give your post a good title that will make people want to read your post,” you get a surprisingly high number of post in your RSS reader called, “Untitled.”  Yes, you must explicitly tell a sizable minority of a group of seventh graders to put the title of their blog post in the field labeled, “Title.” They had titles in their posts, but they just centered them at the top of the page in the same way that they would have in a world processing document.  My bad. Lesson learned. Really, why would they have known any different?

Hurdle #4: Blog posts deserve images, right? As our course lays the foundation for technology, I feel a responsibility to teach kids how to blog appropriately which includes the ethical use of images.  My simple solution that turned out to be not very simple was to teach them to use Wylio.com to search for copyright friendly images and get embed code that included all of the necessary attribution and licensing information for the image.  The hiccup in my wonderful plan, however, was that Wylio seemingly got overwhelmed by an entire class of seventh graders searching for just the right image of a musical instrument or dog. Previous lessons allowed my kids to deal with the html embed code with little problem, but most of the kids suffered the scourge that is the spinning arrow while one waits for a page that never loads.  We’re going to branch out to Creative Commons search and Google Advanced Image Search, but there are only so many minutes in a class period and I other stuff I have to get through besides blogging.

Hurdle #5: Be clear with your vocabulary. Even after doing this for twelve years, there are times when sevvies do things that catch me completely off guard.  When given the direction to write a blog post, two of my fifteen students in the class actually went through the process of setting up an entire new blog.  Now please understand, it’s not like I’m sitting at the back of the room reading this month’s issue of Fast Company on my iPad.  While they’re writing, I’m usually walking around and trouble-shooting with individual kids.  Sometimes, though, by the time I get to someone, the new blog has already been created.

Where Are We and Where Do We Go From Here?

In spite of feeling like I had paper cuts on my eyeballs after class, I’m really am excited that after years of wanting to blog with kids, I’ve finally gotten blogging off the ground … And a few of my colleagues on our seventh grade team are coming along as well!!!

  1. All of my kids have their blogs in place and their settings are good to go.
  2. After consulting with my librarian partner in crime, I’ve decided that expecting them to comply with copyright friendliness for their images just now might be a little too much to chew on.  Therefore, I’m just going to allow my kids post images they find to their blogs for now.  We talk extensively about copyright and fair use in the next unit in our course and the policy for posting images and the expectation for copyright friendliness will evolve when my kids have a better understanding of the why and of how to find copyright friendly material.  I think that’s a reasonable approach for someone who is twelve.
  3. I think I’d like to start having my kids begin to post and comment about their online lives. “Share a great school-appropriate video and write a post about why you think it might be of interest to other seventh graders.” “Share a news related article the you’ve come across online and post your thoughts about it.”
  4. We’ll have to build in, I think, an incentive (or maybe a requirement to start) for commenting thoughtfully on the posts of others.
  5. In time, I’ll introduce them to RSS feeds and readers so they can begin to think about how they can manage the flow of information in their lives.

So that’s where I am in the adventure that is blogging with sevvies.  It’s made me crazy at times, but it’s a good crazy.  And, like most things, it’ll certainly be a lot easier to introduce to kids the next time around.

What have the rest of you out there been doing with blogging?

Update: I’ve just started reading my sevvies’ blogs. Vicious rabbits, learning to play the clarinet, lots of sports … Yes, this is why it’s great to have kids blog.  I’ve learned more about some of these kids’ lives outside of class than I have all semester. Yes, this is worth it!!!


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