In a guest post for Creative Blogs, David Mitchell explains why teaching children to comment effectively on class blogs is at least as important as writing stories in the first place.
I’ve been on a mission for 4 years now to bring blogging to as many teachers and pupils as possible. In fact, I’ve devoted my professional life to this. If I’m being really honest, I’ve devoted much of my personal life to this aim too. One of the ways in which I try to engage teachers is by inspiring them with real stories of transformational learning through writing for a genuine audience. There are a number of ways in which your pupils will know that they have an audience wider than just you. Firstly, you can use a revolving globe on your blog from Revolvermaps.com. This is a visual representation that instantly shows who’s visiting. You can also have a flag counter from Flagcounter.com. This tracks the visitors and collects the flags of the nations that have visited your class blog. These two sites are probably the finest resources out there for a class blogger – I’d even go as far as saying that they are essential if your class blog is to succeed!
However, there is a forgotten element of class blogging. People talk about them, people ask for them and children love them, BUT too many teachers overlook the potential of COMMENTS as formative assessment. Too often they think the point of blogging is in publishing the story without realising that the important bit comes after. So why do comments have such potential?
- Comments are public! Because of the public nature of comments, your pupils are more likely to apply suggestions made within a comment. In fact, they are more likely to reply and show that they have understood the request made within a comment.
- Comments can be from anyone! You may think that you are the ‘be all and end all’ in your classroom. But I’m sorry to break this to you… you’re not! I recall a boy in my Year 6 class. He struggled to use capital letters and full stops in his writing. It seemed as if whenever he wrote, he couldn’t write and use punctuation at the same time! During the middle of the year, he wrote a blog post about Manchester United beating Bolton Wanderers and posted it on the class blog. He had tried really hard with some vocabulary but it didn’t have a single mark of punctuation within it. I still published the blog post. Within a number of hours, he had a comment from someone in Australia. It was a really encouraging comment about not getting too sad about the state of Bolton Wanderers, but the last line was crucial: ‘You might want to think about using full stops and capital letters. It would really help the reader!’
From that moment, this boy not only began to start using capital letters and full stops, he started using commas, speech marks and exclamation marks too! When I asked him about why he hadn’t listened to any of my feedback and had seemingly acted upon a visitor’s comment, he told me exactly what was on his mind.
‘You’re not real Mr. Mitchell – You’re just a teacher! You always tell me about my full stops. BUT Mr. Gilbert is real! He gave up his spare time to help me!’
Although I was disappointed to hear about how much impact I was having here, I took it! Our pupils know us very well. We spend too long spitting from the margins at them regurgitating the same old targets for them. So much so, our impact diminishes over time.
- Comments can be replied to. Under a blog post, if this is taught well, you will see a stream of comments and replies showing a transparent look into the world of improving writing. Take a look at the “conversation” between Julia and Tegan on this blogpost: http://6d2012.highlawnprimary.net/2013/03/27/dear-lilly/
So, comments from other people can pack an amazing punch. But the answer to maximising the impact of that punch is right before your eyes… the pupils themselves!
Training your pupils to leave quality comments is the one thing that you can do to bring impact to your class blog on a daily basis. Comments from your pupils can be the bread and butter that happens each day. If you follow this framework, you’ll start to see some impact pretty quickly.
Every time your students leave a comment, encourage them to use the 1,2,3 of commenting:
- One: Say something positive “I really like how you have tried to use some powerful verbs in your writing. It helps bring it to life.”
- Two: Ask a question By asking a question, you are encouraging a reply and you are engaging the author. “Your writing makes me think that you may have read some Michael Morpurgo books. Which story inspired you to write this?
- Three: Suggest an improvement “To make this even better, you could change the way you opened the final sentence. Can you think of an adverb that would work? Leave a comment with some ideas.”
In this blog post by a Year 4 class at Boughton Leigh Junior School in Rugby, you can see the beginnings of effective 1 2 3 commenting:
Although in its infancy, you can see how this could develop over time so that by the time these children are in Year 6, they will be encouraging, questioning and suggesting effectively!
So, the secret is out… peer comments, easy as 1 2 3!