Before I can turn them loose on the internet there's so much to set-up and for them to learn. Safety, writing skills, reading skills and researching...not to mention just knowing something that's worthwhile enough to publish!!!
I start off with blogging on the board in my room. This week's prompt was for them to compare the hurricane of Katrina with Irene. Irene was fresh in their minds and they had just learned how to follow the progress of a hurricane using the National Hurricane Center and a map of the Atlantic Ocean.
Each student wrote up 5 comparisons they could make. Then in small groups, they read everyone's individual work and wrote a summary that paraphrased all the ideas of the individuals they'd read. Now that's not an easy skill to acquire. I used a strategy that Stephanie Harvey explains her book, "Strategies that Work; 2nd edition".
What I thought was especially helpful she explains in the section called paraphrasing to summarize expository text. Here she shows how to use a bracket (a new word for my 6th graders). You bracket off a section of the article an then re-write it in my words in the margin. Writing in the margin might seem like it would crowd student writing too much....and I'd have to agree. But that seemed to be a good thing as I went through it. By not giving them too much space, it forces them to use fewer words.
The Harvey strategy shows how to model it and then have students use sticky notes to summarize the next passage part. Using the letter "S" for summarize and the gist (another new word for my 6th graders). And here's the real strength of the strategy....you have them work with their stickies in a two-column format. 6th graders really struggle with knowing what fun to know and what's the most important things they should remember. It's deciphering what's "the essence" and "rich details". Using that 2-column strategy on big poster paper, student groups began their work to summarize the comparisons.
It's not a finished product. But it is the beginning of a long journey in improving writing skills in my science class. High quality posts go along with this whole notion. If you can't summarize what someone has says, it will be difficult to write a quality response. I believe by taking the time to do this interium step, students will have enough scaffolding in their writing process to do the scientific thinking.
Each group then wrote their "best" summarization on a sentence strip or piece of construction paper we posted on the board. They got better and better throughout the day as later classes could see the models of work from the previous hours. Next week, each of them will have to start writing a response to the summarized post.
I'm planning on starting off with a small audience of readers. I'm experimenting with something called Quad Blogging. Learned about this from one of my PLPeeps....Kathleen Morris @kathleen_morris and her co-teacher Kelly Jordan @ kellyjordan82. They have already done some of this kind of blogging with great success. Both master bloggers extraordinare!!! In this strategy, 4 classrooms partner to read and respond to each other's work. It provides a safer way to introduce students to blogging, gives them a built-in audience and they meet kids from all over the world. That starts for us once the Southern Hemispherers get back from their break in mid-October. I'm super excited but realize I have so far to go before I'm ready to actually do the blogging.
Sigh.....so much to learn but it's fun and they are busting at the seams to get online to blog about what they are learning.