Sunday, November 27, 2011

Hunger Games Blog-Out!

As I wrote about in my last post, my students and I have spent the majority of our learning time this year engaged with the Hunger Games. With the second half of the novel, students mainly spent class time either reading it, writing about it, or talking about it.  They kept an ongoing double entry journal in their daybook that they would write in each day, responding to events in the text as they read.

Every Thursday, students would build off of what they had written in their double-entry journals in an extended piece  published to their blogs during our weekly Hunger Games Blog-Out.  My requirement for the blog post was deliberately broad, so as not to stifle student creativity, ownership, and the opportunity writing with meaning. I only asked that students write blog posts that were thoughtful and focused primarily on their response to the text, rather than simply retelling what had happened.   I've linked a few of my student's posts herehere, and here.

Friday, for the second part of our Blog-Out, students would read and respond to the posts written by their classmates, writing comments that spoke back to the ideas of the author or other commenters about evens from the Hunger Games.  With about 15 minutes left on our commenting days, students would complete this brief reflection/self-assessment I made on a Google Form and posted to my classroom blog; it focused on both their writing and the ideas they encountered written by others.

We pretty much followed this routine of reading and writing, blogging-out and commenting for six weeks, as we read the second half of the Hunger Games. It went incredibly well, with students coming to look forward to both having the space and time to compose their thoughts, and receive responses from their classmates.
Browsing student blogs and  comments
 via Flipboard on a Friday Blog Out

This commenting time gave students the opportunity to learn and practice something that I always have trouble teaching....responding to writing.  The comments students left for each other spoke to the ideas within writing, not the writing itself.  Only rarely would a student leave a comment saying something like, "you need to add more detail," or "you misspelled a lot of words."  Because of the nature of the Blog-Out assignment, with it being response-based around a common text, it was natural for students to write comments that served to converse with others' ideas.   Honestly, I didn't foresee our blog commenting time having this affect, but I'm excited that it had.  It will definitely ease the creation of the larger-scale writing community we will be building as we enter into our writing workshop in the near future.

I also found that responding to each others ideas, Students' attitude toward writing changed dramatically over this time, as well.  Many of the posts written at first were minimal, clearly written to get over with.  But as the process progressed, students writing became more about clearly articulating a position with a clear audience in mind. Students were writing for their own purposes, rather than mine.  They began to see that their writing didn't have to be a certain way, that it was their thoughts and thinking that mattered and doing so they formed a deeper connection to and understanding of the book.

We finished the book and had discussions of it in students' reading groups.  The conversations went well, but this didn't feel like the right place to end the unit. From reading students blog posts and listening in on their conversations, it was clear that students had and/or were forming deeper understandings of events from the text.  They needed the opportunity to develop and share these ideas, and for it I designed a final project.  One that incorporated students' blogs and let them take their creativity beyond text alone.  One that empowered them to use digital tools to create something awesome.

I'll write about this final digital project and share some of my students' work in my next post.