Thursday, August 5, 2010

Don’t Silence Students. A Resource to Support Students In Developing Their 2.0 Voice

I recently engaged in a mini debate over whether or not students should have the ability to authentically comment in social media. The company I was talking to said their site didn't allow this. Instead students pick approved (aka canned and boring) comments from a drop down menu. This was the decision made because they felt educators and administrators believed students might write comments that were inappropriate.

Well how on earth will that ever change if students aren't commenting in the presence of teachers who can guide and support them on appropriate interaction when engaging in social media. That’s the big deal when it comes to social media. Commenting allows students and readers/viewers to make meaning. Have a conversation. Use their voice. Furthermore, what about the outside world of experts and others who share an interest and passion in student’s work. But, nope, this site was safe which meant one and all is relegated to being Stepford commenters. A further concern was that teachers might not know how to support students in appropriate commenting or have time to teach them. Aaaarrrgh! This is an essential 21st century literacy. Engaging appropriately in social media is exactly the type of real teaching we need to be doing.

So, with this conversation fresh in my mind, fortunately a smile was brought to my face by this tweetweb20classroom The Educational Blogging Wiki:

Phew a breath of fresh air. The link takes you to the wiki of Mrs. Yollis a third grade teacher who, among other things, provides commenting lessons for those interested in having students engage in authentic social media platforms. The heart of the wiki is helping teachers who want to start a blog with their class. The site is a treasure trove of smart information that I've often verbally shared with other educators, but never captured in writing.

Here are some links to the nuggets she shares:

In addition to her great commenting lesson and ideas I just love her advice about Things to Consider. There, she articulates nicely thoughts I agree with (and was just discussing with a group of teachers) about having a class blog rather than student blogs.

From the site...

A class blog? Individual student blogs? What is right for you? I decided that giving every child a blog was not something I wanted to tackle at this point. First of all, I wanted to teach directed lessons about posting, creating images, and composing quality comments. Having a class blog allowed me to direct all my lessons at one site. Controlling the lessons and the publishing allowed me to work at my own pace. If I wanted to publish once a week, I did. If I felt like I wanted to publish more, I felt free to do so. Having several individual blogs to proofread and moderate would have been overwhelming for me.

To me this seemed smart. Before a student should even consider blogging, they need to read and participate in blogging and Mrs. Yollis does a smart job of ensuring students are taking a hard look at this interactive writing format.

Next, she shares an idea I just love! She requires interested students to earn their own blog. How great. I always had an issue with teacher-assigned blogs. What happens after the class? I feel blogs should be student driven. It brings me back to Alan November’s question of “Who Owns the Learning? Here’s What Mrs. Yollis does.

Currently, I allow students to earn their own blog. They can earn their own blog by contributing ideas/writing to groups posts and by demonstrating consistently good commenting skills. Once a child is ready, I let his/her parents set up the Blogger account at home, and I will link the child's blog to our classroom site. The parents must be the administrator and comments must be moderated. If problems arise, I remove the link from our class blog. Allowing children to earn their way to a blog is powerful. They want to be linked to our class blog to increase their readership. In addition, it encourages parents to take an active online role with their child.

Wow. How smart! She just addressed so many issues here. Students own their learning. Parents as partners. Self/parental ownership for moderation. Fantastic!

Thank you to Mrs. Yollis and all the others like her who are helping prepare our children with voices to use them in important ways in school and in life.


  1. Good for you for telling the company what you really wanted! Obviously they had heard from other educators that they wanted a completely "safe" system, and they busily went to work making that product. Maybe at least they will think about offering a choice.

  2. @sylvia martinez, thanks for the kudos. While I completely respect an educators choice to silence students as they are becoming comfortable using web 2.0 technologies, those who already are comfortable should be able to give voices to their students. We need to start teaching and stop blocking. Going the safe route ultimately is not what's best for preparing our students.

  3. This quote pains me beyond belief:

    "A further concern was that teachers might not know how to support students in appropriate commenting or have time to teach them."

    I second the Aaaaaaargggggh! Isn't writing an important part of the curriculum? Why do we limit "writing" to essays? This is an essential part of my provincial curriculum, and I find it very frustrating that a teacher doesn't know how to teach an important skill such as editing for an audience. What a lame excuse!

    Aaaaaaarrrrrrgggggh indeed!

  4. @David, thank you for feeling my frustration. While I do respect that initially a teacher might not feeling comfortable letting his/her students have a voice, I believe that they must work toward changing that and learn how to teach/empower students to be able to communicate effectively regardless of the medium.

  5. great stuff...i had seen that wiki and immediately delicious'd it!! - canned comments = a horrible proposition, and i thought i hd it bad because i have to fight to allow the world to see my students' blog - i have witnessed that when they know the blog is "cocooned" and nobody in "the real world" can red it, they put less into it...(Brian - @_teach4change)

  6. Thanks so much for the post! Educational blogging integrates every aspect of learning (reading, writing, science, math, social studies, music, p.e., technology…) and I hope my wiki will encourage other teachers to start a classroom blog.

    I agree with you that students must develop a 2.0 voice. That development begins with directed lessons about how to be a positive contributor to an online community. Through modeling and practice my third graders are able to compose thoughtful comments that add to the conversation within a post. The comment section is what brings the blog to life. I cannot imagine limiting my students to a pull-down menu of stock comments. That is setting the bar unbelievably low.

    Yes, inappropriate comments will always be a concern for teachers and administrators. However, teaching and practicing the skill of commenting along with activating the comment moderation feature in a blog will ensure that the classroom blog is a positive learning place.

    Thanks, again, for the support! ☺

  7. I couldn't agree more that students need to learn good commenting practices and appropriate online behavior, and they won't learn if they are restricted to a multiple choice list. I am a huge fan of Linda Yollis as a great model for the wonderful work she does with her students on her class blog, her wisdom about commenting as an important skill, and her helpful wiki. I have chosen to give my students their own blogs, but I have also done a lot of scaffolded instruction in proper blogging and commenting behavior before they begin and all along the way. In fact, even though my students are four years older than Linda's, I have shown my students a video of her students explaining best practices:

    Thanks for the great posting, and, of course, the comments that followed :)

  8. Personally I have learnt so much from Linda Yollis about blogging and my students have really benefited from it! Linda's students also modeled excellent commenting skills to my grade 2 students which has been enormously worthwhile.

    I too hope that this post and Linda's wiki will encourage others to start a class blog.

    Thanks for a great post!

    Kathleen McGeady

  9. I just found this great piece about commenting the Youth Voices website. Response to a Video