It’s been a crazy month. Crazy. Why? Because both I and my students have been participating in the Slice of Life Challenge dreamed up by the amazing ladies at Two Writing Teachers. To sum it up: write everyday, comment on other people’s writing every day. Sounds easy enough but writing my own posts, commenting on adult blogs in my community, facilitating student writing, commenting on student blogs, it’s all gotten a bit overwhelming. Fun and exciting but overwhelming. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned.
- The community benefit far outweighs the stress of the thing. I “schoolified” the challenge by telling the students they HAD to write every day. I just knew that the kids who really needed to write every day wouldn’t if I made it optional. It’s been hard but as the month has gone on I’ve seen them dig deep and get creative. Their posts range from creative to silly to heartfelt truths about their lives. I have witnessed students who hate to write blossom at the idea of an audience or getting to write about whatever they want, even Minecraft. I have seen friendships rekindled over posts and comments. I’ve learned things about my students home lives and private worlds. (Like what they are really talking about when they line up for lunch-mostly being very silly.) I’ve seen students strengths and challenges amplified and addressed through the online posting format. We are together because we write together. They are begging for it to go on and on. So it’s worth me getting up at 4am to play catch up.
- Students love getting comments but not giving them. We’ve been surveying the kids every week about this process. Most of them agree it’s great to get comments but hard to give them. Normally I do 10 minutes of nonfiction choice reading in the morning but this month we’ve set that time aside for reading and commenting. It helps to have a fresh mind and fingers for those comments. I also set up commenting circles. Small rotating groups of students who comment on each others blogs each week. This way everyone is sure to get some comments on their writing.
- Be organized! I have 31 kids. 31. That’s 31 blogs to read and comment on every day. I just can’t. So a detailed spreadsheet of whose is posting when and which kids I’ve commented on is key. I try to give each kid three comments a week, more if I can. But my spreadsheet helps me see who I’ve already commented on and who needs comments.
- The less a kid writes, the more they need comments. In the real world you pretty only much get comments on a blog if people have something to say. I’ve found that kids who are losing steam or are struggling or just aren’t “into it” need comments to keep going. If I see a kid is starting to falter I go in and comment on every single post for a week. I remind them, there is an audience and we are interested in you. It almost always gets them going again.
- Not everything should go on the blog. We made the kids special slice of life notebooks for this month. This way they can write at home if they don’t have a computer and can keep ideas for slices. Some slices need to stay or go in those notebooks. My students have a lot going on in their lives. I never want to discourage them from writing truthfully about their world. But this year I’ve had some students go through some really personal things. Events that shouldn’t and some that can’t be shared publicly. It’s been a great learning opportunity for both of us and I’ve been able to have important and honest conversations with students about the types of things we post for the whole wide world to see.
These are just a few lessons and I’m sure there are more to come. Many, many more! I’m also thinking about next year and what I want to change or do to support my students and myself.
- Get more parent involvement. I sent out the information but we haven’t had as many comments from families as I was hoping.
- Set up a buddy system with one or two other classes. As much as we try to comment on other classes it gets hard. I’d like to have a clear partner so that we can work on getting kids to comment on each others work and maybe even do a little brainstorming together.
- Expand my support board. I used QR codes on a bulletin board so students could quick link to examples and ideas. I plan on archiving these and making more with student examples (I only had mine to work from this year) to post next year. My students love to go to the board for inspiration and ideas.
Now my biggest challenge is archiving. Although my student’s blogs will be there for a long long time, I want them to have something tangible to take at the end of the year. Something real to put in their hands. I’m working on an idea….stay tuned! I’m also thinking of some kind of collaborative resource for teachers. Maybe a website or live binder with mentor slices?