Introducing students to blogging (using Mahara)

For years I was reluctant to try blogging with my students — I could not think of a cause to do it in school nor did I think the students could be able to write texts which would be good enough to be published without much interaction of myself. I want to report my experience with 13-14 year old boys and girls.

“Blogging” for a selected audience

Instead of thinking to blog publicly (from the beginning) I tried a different approach which makes perfect sense, is very easy to handle and avoids the considerations above altogether: I use Mahara blogs which are, as a default, only visible to a limited user group, not publicly at all but e.g. just for classmates.

This way the students not only are not shy at all but they want their mates to see what they have written: a goal which could not be accomplished the traditional way by asking someone to read aloud. Even the more reluctant, timid students are willing to write something.

It is clear to me that the step going public would be not so steep from here: I think the students will know what rules or considerations would be necessary to do this. But at the time of writing I enjoy the energy coming from them, their joy to write.

What to write — lowering the threshold

Now writing the first blog entry seems to be the hardest so I decided to give detailed instructions for each entry, planning to use the last 10 minutes of each lesson to be reserved for writing.

The first exercise was to write a text consisting of eleven words only (“Elfchen” in German), a recipe so easy to be followed that no-one even asked how to do it. They should write about themselves, the poem-like text being a description of them, their home, their living or their state of mind.

For the next lessons I have collected 15 other instructions (which will be reported here). By selecting them from a book even I myself got an urge to write…

Surprises

Having this setup ideas came almost automatically to my mind: we are reading a book and after a very thrilling chapter I stopped and asked them to write the next chapter/episode. I was really impressed how some of the students not only had a good sense of where to the story or the characters could develop but also got the specific sound of the authors writing quite well.

And when asked to write own texts they immediately asked if they could write in their own language, their dialect (which is very different from written German :-). I could not be happier about this…

To be continued: what worked and what not!

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