Thinking & Writing Wrinkles Bloggers

This was my second weblog project with students. I worked with a group of fifth grade elementary students from J.H. House Elementary School in Conyers, GA. It was the 2003-2004 school year. I had a class blog, Thinking & Writing Wrinkles & individual student blogs.

The premise for this weblog project was that weblogs could be used as an effective tool to foster cooperative learning between native English-speaking students and ESL (English as a Second Language) fifth-grade students. Providing opportunities for increased social, academic, and technological participation facilitates the process by which ESL students can more quickly and efficiently develop their communicative language skills. The native English-speaking students also enhance their language skills and have the opportunity to practice helping others with skills they have already internalized. Cooperative learning improves language achievement and interaction between the two groups of students. Students of different ethnic backgrounds have much to learn from each other.

One of the students could speak no English when the year began. Other ESL students translated what we were doing and what we were talking about. He would share his thoughts with us and a student would help him translate the thoughts to English. He would blog the translation himself, after our discussions. As the year progressed, he became more and more independent and ended up being one of the “helpers” for other ESL students in the group.

I used Manila software and began with the students contributing to the class weblog. After a few weeks, they created their own weblogs. I shared the project through a class weblog with posting to other educational webloggers. The other educators read the thoughts expressed and, in turn, added their own. My students entered these discussions and were really amazed that other people were so interested in what they were writing and learning. This led to incredible dialogue between both students and teachers. Students began to be motivated to write more and believed they had something important to say.They did! Receiving feedback from others on the comments section of the weblog made them feel valued. When somebody affirmed their thoughts it was encouraging to the students. I used the class weblog as a springboard for class discussions. This gave students ownership of the project.

An example to foster this is an excerpt from a post, “Think Possibilities”.

“I have been reading some very interesting posts from some of my weblogging friends this week. They make me think. In turn, I will then write on my weblog and others begin to think about what I wrote in response to a friend’s post. Sometimes I write about something I have read that makes me want to explore and find out even more about what I think and others think. It’s a great way to learn – it’s real, it’s a way to share and grow with others, and it is an exciting way to learn. Now I have to be motivated, I have to work hard, and I have to really think and write about things of interest to me. What’s great about it is that I am part of a community that really cares about education. You won’t believe what our main focus is in our edublogging community – you guys and all the students from many different states and countries. We view weblogs as a place to give you a voice and we want to oversee that process in ways that will make you good thinkers and continue to develop as good citizens of our world. Writing what you think and writing it well can be one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. What’s even better is that we can have a lot of fun on the journey.”

This type of dialogue, teacher-guidance, problem solving, and peer collaboration enhances the process of using writing to make meaning. Connections begin to emerge from a variety of sources and writing emerges in a way to show what the student knows and how they are thinking.

Lots of language experience type activitities were built into the sessions. We even created a side weblog called “Idioms Are Fun!” This weblog was a place to talk about idioms, their meanings, and their origins. Students wrote sentences, illustrated them, and even wrote stories. The objective was to give the students practice using idioms in a fun way. This helped the ESL students internalize the meanings of expressions, the hidden meanings, not the literal meaning. As different student writings on idioms were highlighted and celebrated in class, the other students would use the comment feature to create their own sentences using the respective idiom. This weblog did not require huge maintenance time and gave the students the needed practice using the English language. They loved sharing idioms, and vocabulary usage soared. They “got a kick” out of learning idioms! This love of language led to an end of year ABC book project, “A Blook on Blogging.” Students brainstormed words that came to their minds about blogging. Then they added idioms to the list. Delightful illustrations were added. Here’s a sample letter:

K-12, keyboards, knowledge, kids, kind

kick up our heels

K-12 stands for kids in kindergarten through 12th grade and we love to blog. People say that young kids can’t blog but we disagree. We write good posts with catchy titles and we bump up our writing by using weblogs. We type away on the keyboards on the computers and gain knowledge as we write. We enjoy getting kind words from people who have read our blogs. When we get to the lab and find that we have bunches of comments, we celebrate by kicking up our heels.

The year ended with quite a “connection”! We heard from Pat Street, an author of idioms, telling the students their work was the cat’s pajamas!