Student blogs and student voice

Wednesday night has become my favorite night of the week.

Yes, better than Friday night or Saturday night. Because Wednesday night is when my Inbox fills up with the latest batch of blog posts from my 5th grade students.

Giving all of my students their own blog this year has been incredible. I require that my students post at least once a week, due on Thursday so we can edit and post them by Friday. (Though many students post 2 or 3 entries each week.) So, on Wednesday night I know I get to sit down and read through a beautiful array of ideas, words, and personalities. It is the highlight of my week, work or otherwise.

I have tried to emphasize that these are their blogs, and they can therefore write about whatever they would like. And they do. I read posts about serious topics – like girls’ education rights, volunteering at a local children’s hospital, and Ramadan. These are submitted alongside lighthearted posts about what to do if you are bored, reviews of YouTube skits, and rants against holiday shopping.

And each post not only has a unique topic, but a unique student voice as well. Some are flowing and eloquent, probing for understanding about topics like human meanness and inequality. Others are short and direct, stating bluntly why Minecraft is “awesome!!!”, using the bare minimum of necessary vocabulary.

This is what I love about the blogs, but also what I sometimes struggle with. I want my students to feel that this is their space to express their ideas and their personality. But I also feel the urge to make them edit for correct punctuation or expand on their ideas by adding elaboration and details. It’s sometimes hard to know when to let their real, eleven year-old voice be on full display, and when to help them polish and refine that voice. I love the individuality and quirkiness of their writing, warts and all, but is that what we should be displaying for the world to see?

Student Blogs

What is authentic “student voice”?

Will they develop poor writing habits if I don’t have them fix every “mistake”? Will their parents be embarrassed if there are glaring punctuation errors in their posts? And, on the other side, will the students lose their excitement and sense of ownership if the blogs become an exercise in revision and editing? Will it still be their voice if I have them reword and elaborate ideas that make perfect sense to them and their peers? If I hold them accountable for correct spelling, punctuation, and detailed elaboration on more formal writing assignments, do I need to do the same on their blogs?

A few recent posts by educators I greatly admire have gotten me thinking about this more than usual lately.

Let’s advocate for student voice, but not fake ones. Our students do have a voice. Most of them are childlike, full of childlike ideas and most aren’t as eloquent as adults because they aren’t adults. –Dean Shareski

Dean Shareski has an excellent post, Fake and Real Student Voice, that brings up interesting precautions about using “student voice” to further adult agendas. He especially highlights how the current viral video for the toy GoldieBlox is a misrepresentation of “child voice.” Gary Stager expands on these ideas in his post Voice is Cheap.

I’m not concerned that my students’ blogs are being manipulated by me (or other adults) for a larger agenda. But I do wonder if it isn’t still a slight misrepresentation if their posts have gone through several revisions before being published. I can say I have them polish their posts for the sake of helping them become better writers but, to be honest, I’m also considering how their posts reflect on me as their teacher. If there are mistakes present, will my administrators, peers, or parents question my instruction?

These are just a few of the things I’ve been thinking about the last few weeks as I read my students’ amazing, imperfect, honest writings.

I’d love to hear what others think; should student blog posts feature polished, revised writing, or is it more beneficial to let them blog in their own words, with their own idiosyncrasies and “mistakes”?

Either way, I can’t wait for Wednesday night, for the next batch of beautiful ideas and words to fill up my Inbox.

3 thoughts on “Student blogs and student voice

  1. Excellent thoughts — and strongly expressed. It is a complicated question, with good points on both sides, as you suggested.

    I must admit that I always insisted that students polish their blog posts before posting, but these were 8th and 9th graders who could have been expected to know the right rules of punctuation and clarity.

    I do think, though, that there is something to be said for having 5th graders present clear and correct writing on their public blogs. Let me give a couple of reasons:

    1) All the students know when writing is unclear or incorrect, so allowing kids to post unedited writing might open them to possible behind-the-back ridicule by their peers.
    2) Insisting that they polish their writing before posting might give them the feeling that you trust that they CAN polish their writing — that you believe in them and in their ability to reach great achievements in writing. It’s like a coach who tells his players that he expects excellence because he knows they CAN be excellent.
    3) Insisting on polished blog posts might give your class a reputation in the school, and among your blog partners, as a “top” class. I realize being a top class is not the main goal of education, but making kids feel genuinely proud of their blogs is something worth working for.

    Good luck as you make a decision on this complex question!

    • I admire your honesty in your reflection on your students’ blogging. It does get tricky sometimes to find the right balance. As I teach English as a foreign language, my students’ learning goals are somewhat different from yours. Also, I teach in high school, so my bloggers are already 16 years old. I have noticed that the majority of them are really keen to receive feedback on their drafts and then improve and edit them before publishing. As Hamilton commented above, I think this helps alleviate the possible fear of embarrassment in front of their peers. And of course, it’s a very efficient way to keep learning and improving their English skills. Another benefit of teacher feedback for EFL students is making them more interculturally aware plus more thoughtful in expressing their opinions in general, especially as we have our blogs publicly viewable online. Wishing you and your students lots of fun and great learning experiences with blogging!

  2. Peer editors – authentic ones that are responding to other student’s blogs makes it authentic for me. It’s purposeful specific feedback and really authentic. Conventions for published writing a la Blog text form would be collaboratively established and agreed upon. If your learning climate is established and all are valued in your community of learners all peer feedback would be user friendly. Have been there and done that in grades 5 – 8 with great student buy in.

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