How to Flatten Your Classroom and Encourage Authentic Writing Through Blogging

This piece originally appeared on EdSurge on December 16, 2016 located here.
How to Flatten Your Classroom and Encourage Authentic Writing Through Blogging

My ten-year-old daughter is on the autism spectrum. When we met for her annual review this year, one of her goals revolved around her learning how to extend her writing. I cringed. Last year, I’d bought a marble composition notebook, and I told her that we would write every day. It was like pulling teeth. She just didn’t want to do it.

This year, I was determined that I would come up with a plan that would both encourage her to want to write—and allow me to keep my sanity. The answer was so simple that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it sooner. She would create her own blog!

In conversations with teachers, I frequently encourage classroom and student blogging because of the numerous benefits. Why did it take me so long to come to this conclusion for her?

“Camryn’s World” was an instant success. Although it wasn’t the easiest idea to implement (I mean, it still required reading and writing during her break!), she was quickly encouraged by the comments that she received from former teachers, friends and family, in addition to members of my PLN.

But Why Blog?

Well, for starters—it might help better prepare students for assessment.

With the newest addition to our South Carolina state standardized tests, where I work, our writing assessment has transitioned to utilizing the Text Dependent Analysis (TDA) model. In the TDA model, students are asked questions that encourage them to develop answers based on specific evidence within a reading passage and demonstrate their ability to interpret the meaning behind that evidence. Many students do not do well with this model because they don’t have the background knowledge to effectively answer these complex questions. Building a global classroom where students connect with students from all over can assist with them being exposed to situations and/or environments that are different from the one in which they live. And one way to do that? By blogging.

Blogging is unbelievably powerful for reasons beyond that, as well, as French teacher Sylvia Duckworth explains in “Top 10 Reasons for Students to Blog.” For example, I initially began student blogging to connect them with students in other places, who were alike (yet different) from them. My previous school was tiny, in an extremely small town, and having students connect with other classrooms in other states and countries was powerful.

Throughout my career, I spent 14 years as an ELA teacher. (Currently, I’m an instructional technology coordinator for a school district.) Back at the beginning, I chose ELA as my content focus because I am a voracious reader, and I wanted to share my love of reading with every child that I came into contact with. The reading and vocabulary instruction came easy to me. But the writing…. not so much. Teaching writing is a laborious task. It is an individual process, and it takes so much time to provide feedback to students. Imagine if you teach one hundred students a year? It almost becomes an impossible task if you’re tackling it alone. Hence, here’s my advice on how to bring blogging into your classroom.

Where Do I Start?

First, create a blog—and then show students how to do it. I’ve primarily used Edublogs and Kidblog for student blogging. Edublogs hosts the Student Blogging Challenge twice a year, which assists students and classrooms in getting their blogs off the ground. It provides the opportunity to connect student bloggers with a global audience while supporting teachers with their classroom blogging.

Next, connecting. I initially began connecting with other classrooms through the Quadblogging experience. With Quadblogging, you’re assigned as a group of four. Each week, one of the classes is the “focus class” while the other classes comment on that blog. We also participated in the Global Read Aloud yearly, where we connected with classrooms in North Carolina, Kentucky, and Texas. Students had conversations about their thoughts and predictions on a chosen book, as well as what the average sixth grader’s experience looks like in those other states. As an added bonus, “buddies” began providing constructive criticism to each other, and students became a little more attentive when it came posting publicly. Peer feedback is powerful, so it should come as no surprise that my gentle reminders about following proper grammar rules were reinforced when their Kansas buddy says, “Hey man! You should always capitalize ‘I’ when it’s alone.” It’s a win-win.

And then, there’s feedback. How many times have we attempted to use the peer editing model, and all students did was give it a cursory glance and say, ”Looks good to me”? Linda Yollis and her third graders provide great examples of how to comment on someone else’s blog post, and that’s what I used as our model for “peer feedback.” Students were expected to:

  • Share something they liked,
  • Share something that could be improved upon,
  • Make a connection, and
  • Ask a question that might allow the writer to extend their piece.

When You’re Ready for the Next Challenge: More Feedback with Blogging Buddies

Seeing how much of a difference blogging made in my student’s writing encouraged me to create a full blogging buddies program within the classes and our grade. I decided to do this for two reasons. First, it was obvious that the peer feedback worked, and simultaneously, it helped to put an additional eye on the work before I got to it—thus dealing with some of those basic grammar issues so I could focus on the content.

As a final note, I made it a point to share students’ blogs with their parents and other family members. Students were tickled pink when they received a comment—from family members, from the principal, and even from other educators. Comments like, “Excellent job in stating your ideas… you’ve definitely given me something to think about” made them so proud. They realized that their words mattered.

Trust me, it wasn’t all unicorns and glitter with my students… nor with my daughter! But, I have seen growth. People are reading my daughter’s words and responding, and it has made a world of difference. It made a world of difference with my students, and I truly believe that it will make a world of difference for your students, too.

How to Manage the 4 Types of Teachers You Meet in Professional Development

This piece originally appeared on EdSurge on June 6, 2016 located here.

In my heart, I will always be a middle school English Language Arts teacher. As I continue this path as a district administrator, I want to hold close to my heart the plight of the teacher: what it’s like to have to work all day with children and then go home and work on lessons, assessments, grading, etc. What it’s like to sit for hours in professional development sessions and be bored because you already know it or frustrated because it’s way over your head or not relevant to your grade level or content area.

So in my role, I find that it is imperative to provide Professional Learning (PL) opportunities that are relevant, on-going, and effective. In the article, I’m going to highlight the types of educators that we may encounter and ways to provide PL that is beneficial for all.

In a book titled “Crossing the Chasm” (1991, revised 1999 and 2014), Geoffrey A. Moore focuses on marketing strategies for technology start up companies, but I find the idea can also be applied to teachers integrating technology in the classroom.

Source: Smart Insights

The Lagger

“I don’t like technology. Technology doesn’t like me. It’s too much. Kids don’t need to play games, they need to learn.” These are the ones that you have to drag kicking and screaming to classroom technology integration. Everything was fine before, so why do they need to change?

The Solution: First and always – talk about the why. Talk to them about how everything we do is to prepare our students to be productive citizens in their society and how we do them a disservice by not providing them with access to tools that will assist our children in doing just that. Take things sloooooooowly. These teachers benefit from sessions that are either one-on-one or small group. Encourage baby steps and be realistic in expectations. Talk to them about things they can do to make things easier in their life in general. For example: talk to them about using a grading app to help them score multiple choice assessments, Google Drive for organizing and having constant access to files, or using a gamified formative assessment tool (Kahoot!, Quizizz, Socrative, Quizlet Live, etc.) that will allow them to gain immediate feedback to quickly differentiate students’ needs. In your conversation, have them choose one tool and allow them to develop that tool until they feel completely comfortable.

The Majority

“I see the merits in some technology. I use it when I can ‘fit it in’.” These teachers know how to handle the basics, but aren’t very comfortable going much further.

The Solution: Find a way to consistently share tools that are fairly easy to implement. Introduce them to a tool, have them use it with their students, reconvene to discuss the process and adjustments. When I was still a Teacher Leader, I initiated “Tech Tuesdays”. With my principal’s support, I met with our faculty once a month and introduced them tools that fell under a specific category. Throughout that month, teachers practiced with the tool and shared examples of student usage with the administrative staff and me. We ‘gamified’ this process, so that they could earn points and rewards for taking the leap – they absolutely loved it! For those teachers that were still a bit apprehensive, they scheduled 1-on-1 time with me to meet and flesh out their concerns and make tweaks.

Early Adopters

“I just saw Amy use this awesome tool in her classroom. I’m going to go home this weekend and figure out how to implement it with my students!” Your early adopters jump right on a tool or resource as soon as they see it being successful somewhere else. They are always looking for ways to provide better opportunities for their students with technology.

The Solution: Share, share share! You want the early adopters to be visible to other teachers so they can see tools working. Sometimes the adopters become so focused on tools that they don’t take time to invite other teachers into their practice. That’s where you come in.

I was an early adopter in my district, and I’m doing my best to share lessons from that time. This year, I sent out a weekly “Tech Tidbits” newsletter to everyone in our district, co-hosted a weekly podcast (#dcsdtransforms) and created a Remind group where I shared tips, tricks, & resources. You also want to provide them with opportunities to explore. Your Early Adopters love a challenge. I created a challenge site for Digital Learning Day in addition to providing incentives for teachers who participated in challenges that I shared via Remind texts.

Also, provide the experiences for them to become facilitators. Those opportunities alone assist in making them stronger technology leaders. Encourage them to participate in outside professional development opportunities. Have them engage in activities that will purposefully allow them to learn and grow.


Early Adopter: “Hey! Have you heard of the tool _________?” Innovator: “Yes! My students LOVE that tool, we’ve been using it for a few months now!” Nothing gets past your Innovators! They are first on the cuff of….well everything! They often spend a great deal of time, energy and creativity on developing new ideas and gadgets. And they love to talk about them.

The Solution:Provide them with the support and publicity for their ideas. Invite these teachers to be partners in designing projects. Allow them the space to fail and learn from it when new things don’t work. Provide them opportunities to travel and learn information from innovators across the world. Send them to ISTE and other featured technology conferences. If they’re not connected, strongly encourage them to be. Allow them to spend time with other innovators whenever possible. This year we initiated the DCSD Digital Transformation Academy. I met with those teachers monthly and we explored technology tools, resources, and strategies for effective technology integration. They became their school technology leaders. It was so exciting to see them grow in confidence and pedagogy.

Appreciate the Differences

Each of these personalities has its strengths and its weaknesses. It is extremely important to know which one you’re addressing and which strategies work best with them. Also, consider which group will yield the biggest returns at your school and focus the majority of your energy there. If you carefully and deliberately mold your Innovators and Early Adopters, think of how many other teachers you’ll reach just by empowering them to be leaders on their team, or in their departments or schools. And always, always, always bring it back to the reason we do any of this: for our kids. Each one, reach one, teach one.

#dcsdtransforms episode 74: We’re moving to one to one (Carla gets stuck)

Hello Loyal Listeners! So sorry about our mishap last week when we kinda sorta skipped a week and didn’t tell anyone. It was, let’s just say crazy – but that is no excuse! And we do apologize for letting you down last week. This week, we are bringing you information on the Hour of Code, and our shout-outs are going out to everyone participating in the DCSD Goose Chase for the Hour of Code. If you are listening when this episode is released, it’s not too late to sign up for the Hour of Code and participate in the Goose Chase for some great prizes! Thanks for joining us! Next week (12/14/17) will be our annual Christmas special, so please be on the lookout for that episode!