Category Archives: Thinkpiece

Thinkpiece #3 – Writing to learn

Barbara Ganley continues to inspire me. Her post, Responding to & Evaluationg Writing is so timely. I’ve had “writing on my mind” for one of my thinkpieces for some time.  She is headed to a Faculty Writing Retreat where she will be leading a discussion on how they respond to student writing across the curriculum including evaluating the work. She will then follow this post with one outlining how and when she responds to writing in her classes and how she evaluates writing. I can’t wait! Her post yesterday though raised questions for her group. She wants to see how they respond.

This post made me think about the discussions I’ve had about writing with my elementary students. I use the Six Traits of Writing and build the blogging experiences around that framework. I did this with The Write Weblog and that worked well. They culminated all they had learned in their final PowerPoint presentation called The Blooming Bloggers Show. They did a superb job. I’m thinking though that this year I need to build in questions similar to Barbara’s early in the year. Get the kids thinking about this process. Here’s how I may adapt some of her questions to apply to the writing the kids will be doing on their blogs. Also, the great links she provided gave me a springboard for questions I’d like to ask.  Here goes!

  • Think of a time when a teacher responding to your writing that made you really put forth effort to improve it. Can you give details so that we understand better what it was that motivated you? On the other hand, can you remember a time when you wished the teacher had stepped back and resisted giving you feedback. Try to explain why it would have been better if the teacher had waited to help.
  • Who do you like to comment on your writing? Why did you make these choices?
  • What specific types of comments would be helpful for you in regard to your writing?
  • If you were going to comment on one of your peer’s posts what would you say to help the writer develop skill and confidence? You might want to address your comment around one of the six traits.
  • How does writing help you learn? What kinds of writing would you enjoy using to help you learn?
  • Think about times when teachers have given you a writing prompt in class. Is this helpful? Why or why not? Would it be helpful for students to create writing prompts for each other?

Elementary students don’t get much time to reflect on these types of questions. At first it is quite hard for them but I am convinced we need to promote those conversations. We can do it through the curriculum they are studying each day.
The last question above made me think about writing prompts that may help them with curriculum and assignments in class. I think the first step is to get them to write about what they were expected to learn from an assignment. Then maybe have them get in small groups and check to see if they are all on the same page. Just clarifying this in their minds really seems to help. Then extend this. Why learn this? What do they already know? What do they want to know?
A follow-up could be to talk/write about the steps they took to work on the assignment, any problems they had, how they tried to overcome the problem, what worked well and what strategies helped them the most. Then see if they have any feedback they want or would like to give.

I plan to continue thinking about “good questions” for mini writing activities that may help us understand what’s going on inside our students’ heads as they write. Blogs are good spaces to get kids writing to learn!

Points to ponder read here and there on Barbara’s links (mostly on the Middlebury’s Teaching Resources page): (which is a great resource you need to explore)

  • Recognition of growth as a writer and thinker is facilitated by documentation. 
  • To become better writers we must all read our own work critically.  We will comment on each other’s writing to achieve this goal.
  • Has the writer made the subject worth reading about?
  • Have you learned something about writing so far? What do you consider most beneficial? Least?
  • Use informal writing techniques (freewrites, responses, field notes, postings): writing to learn.
  • Publish good writing. It’s infectious.
  • Share the pleasure. 


Thinkpiece # 2 – Classroom dynamics for building a blogging learning community

I have a strong belief in the abilities of children. They are so much smarter than people give them credit. They love challenges and so often rise to the occasion and add their own understandings to the pool of knowledge. In the process they give us much to think about and learn. The best lessons come from the children themselves. We need to really listen to what they have to say. I am going to really focus on doing a better job here. I’m thinking along the line of maybe creating “Quotes from Children” and publishing them on my blog. It could come from their conversations, their blogs or their comments. I like this idea. My listening “ears” are on!

Children need to feel valued and safe to take risks in their thinking and writing. We need to honor their ideas. Their learning needs to be celebrated daily. We have to build a classroom climate that fosters this. The climate we build around the use of blogs in our classrooms is the cornerstone for a successful blogging learning experience.

An atmosphere that promotes and give-and-take between student and teacher, student and student, and also a give-and-take between the student, teacher, and those responding outside the classroom. Students need to feel free to write what they are really thinking but it is the teacher’s responsibility to guide them in responsible writing. We have to enter the process and counsel students on how to blog responsibly while maintaining their unique voice. Standards that you wish to follow as a group should be addressed. We talk about blogging in public spaces and how you need to use appropriate language, respectful dialogue, supportive comments, and how to be constructive without hurting someone’s feelings.

I use my class blog to be a springboard for classroom discussions prior to the students’ actual getting down to working on their blogs.

Here are a few samples of blog posts that I wrote. One of the strategies that has worked for me when blogging in the elementary schools is to share my post with students at the beginning of each session. I try to briefly summarize our previous session and enthusiastically point them to further heights. I try to model that type of blogging for them. I want to continue this.

Dare to Be Different

Boys and girls, you are something else! I like our brief discussion time before we head to the lab. It gives us a chance to talk and make connections to our learning. You are improving so much on your communication skills. REMEMBER, it is OK to be LOUD! You will not hear that from too many teachers so take advantage! Speak clearly, speak distinctly and SPEAK with conviction! It’s OK if your opinion is different. Dare to be different! That’s what keeps us engaged and learning. Toss those ideas out and we will have great discussions. All this will help us when we write on our weblogs.

Comment quality is going up!

I was really proud of all of you at Thursday’s session. You have really “bumped up” the quality of your comments and are truly helping each other. Editing is hard work but you just rolled up your sleeves and went right to work. Having to really think about another person’s writing other than your own is helpful for your own writing. It gets you thinking about lots of ways you can improve. That’s what we are striving to accomplish. So, congrats on the quality of your comments – much more important than quantity. Yeah, I know you like quantity, too. I hear you! We’ll work on getting a good mix of both.

I post these excerpts because I want to do more of this with my upcoming project. This thinkpiece will be my reminder.

I also refer to their blogs a lot in the class blog like my reference here to Ashley’s post.

Spill the Beans!!!!!!!!

beansAshley posted about Spill the Beans and she has gotten lots of comments about her writing. Why she is the first one to hear from author Pat Street. Wow! I’m going to have Ashley read Pat Street’s comment so everyone can enjoy it.

Now we all know that the meaning of spill the beans is to give away a secret to someone who is not supposed to know it. Pat Street shared the origin of “letting the cat out of the bag” but was not sure of the origin of “spill the beans”.

I checked in our favorite dictionary, the Scholastic Dictionary of Idioms by Marvin Terban. Here it is straight from the book:

A popular theory about the origin of this idiom goes back to the ancient Greeks and their secret societies. People voted you into these clubs by putting a white bean or a black bean into a jar (white = yes; black = no). The beans were supposed to be counted in secret, but if somebody accidentally (or purposefully) knocked over the jar and spilled the beans, the secret vote would be revealed. Another theory holds that this is an example of American slang from the early 1900s that combined two old words, “spill” (meaning “talk,” from the 1500s) and “beans” (meaning “information,” from the 1200s), into a new phrase.

See how much we learn by blogging!

This year I am going to try to build in more time fostering this aspect. I am going to continue this but work at building in time to have the students comment more on each other’s posts and make connections to them. Classroom dynamics are crucial cornerstones for building a blogging learning community!

Thinkpiece #1 – Reflection

Thinkpiece #1

Reflection by the students is an important piece of blogging. Letting them write their way into their own understandings and letting them discover answers to the questions they need to ask. They need a lot of help with this at the elementary level. The high school students I worked with last year could have used this even more. They have not been asked to do much in this area except at a very superficial level.

So, how do you teach reflection? I think you teach it by modeling it. I want to do a better job of that this year. I need to do more thinking aloud for them, blog more about this piece on the class blog, and develop better questions for them to ponder. I think if I pair them from time to time where they can pass ideas back and forth and talk about how they are learning will help.

Asking students to communicate the results of their thinking is difficult for them, both out loud or writing it. I need to work in times for this. They need the practice to learn to be clear, convincing and even precise. I need to discuss the meanings of the words that go along with reflection.
Hmmm, maybe start with what did you learn this week? How did you learn it? Did it mean anything to you? Why or why not? What would help you understand it better? How might you apply this learning? Can you make a connection to what you learned? Did it make something else you learned come into your mind? Did it clarify anything you had wondered about in the past? Is there anything else you might like to learn about this topic? Supposeyou had to teach this to a younger student? Could you write a description of how you would do this?

Now I am just brainstorming some possible questions. Maybe the students themselves could add to this list, call it something like “our reflection questions” or “reflect specs”.

A reflection is really a strategy for learning. We need to foster more reflection in our classrooms. Let them be creative, off the wall, branch out with their thoughts. Students need to think aboout what they are doing so they can use this information for future decisions.

We need more conversations, both verbally and on blogs. Maybe I could have short prompts that they respond to by picking one of the questions above. I’m throwing out quite a list. Of course, I would not use them all at one time.
I want them to use blogging to help them explore, clarify, and think a little deeper about the ideas and concepts they learn in their classrooms. We might need to use podcasts at the beginning to let them just talk together about what they have learned.

Now I have to work at creating the environment where they feel free to respond openly. They have to honor each other’s thinking and build together.

I know I won’t have time to do this as much as I want but I’m hoping I can model it so the teacher will be interested in continuing it when she can in other moments in the classroom, or better yet, let them blog!

This is a question I have used in the past with kids.

  • What was going on inside your head when you were thinking about that?

At first, they look at me like I have lost my mind. They have not been asked such a question before. However, I’ve found that it leads me down a road where I can really assist them in clarifying what is going on inside their heads. I need more questions that I can think about to help them reflect about their learning.
Now I am just letting it flow without trying to make this a polished product. Can you add to the list? What are your thoughts?  Have you done this in other areas than blogging in your classrooms? Any suggestions are MOST welcome!