In this week’s One Thing You Might Try… blog, kindergarten teacher, Dawnavyn James, writes about blogging with her young students and how their self-directed use of the comments feature helped them to connect with each other’s ideas.
How in the World Do I Teach Them to Write?
Virtually teaching twenty-one kindergarteners writing has been one of my greatest challenges. I can see them and help them, but at the same time, I can’t. At least, not in the ways I’m accustomed to in person. I can’t go around from table to table and check in. I can’t pull them one by one to my kidney table and conference with them. I can’t make sure they are holding their pencil correctly. I can’t hear them talking to their peers about their illustrations or hear them reading what they wrote to the person next to them. Instead of focusing on all of the things that I can’t do, I’ve decided to find something that I can do. Something that allows my students to express their ideas through words and illustrations. Something that allows me to give feedback to my students. Something that allows my kindergarteners to collaborate in the writing process like they naturally would in the classroom.
Our Class Blog
Throughout this school year, I’ve used the Seesaw app both to communicate with families and students and to assign work. My favorite thing about Seesaw is that there are a variety of ways for me to assign work and a variety of ways for my kindergarteners to submit their work. They can respond to an assignment using the video, drawing, or photo tool; it all depends on what the assignment requires. Sometimes I am specific about how they should respond to an assignment like telling them to use the video tool to explain a math concept or inviting them to use a tool of their choice (drawing, typing, video, photo upload, or voice recording) to share what they did over the weekend. We can get as creative as we’d like!
One feature of Seesaw that I’ve recently discovered is the class blog! I had read about this feature but didn’t know any educators who used it. While my students were on a break one day, I went to the Seesaw website and inquired about the blog. It was easy to set up and I already had an idea for how we would use it! I created a custom link and a banner that represented our classroom so our blog would feel like us!
A few minutes later, when my students returned from their break to our class meeting, I shared my screen and showed them our new Seesaw blog page and how to get to it. We discussed some of the nitty-gritty details, such as guidelines for publishing to the blog, how to publish to the blog, how I had to approve their work, and how I could publish their work for them.
“So, once you’ve completed an assignment, and you think it’s blog ready, you will press the globe, do you see it at the bottom? You will press that, and it will send your work to me. I will then review it and put it on the blog!”
Expect the Unexpected
Now, there have been times that I have been excited about something in my classroom, shared it with my students, and they have not matched my excitement. With the blog, I wasn’t quite sure if my students would use it. I introduced it as something they could do, something I wanted them to do, but that does not mean that students will always take me up on my invitation.
A few days later, our focus was creating a detailed drawing with one sentence to accompany it. That day, we decided to do our writing on Seesaw instead of in our writing notebooks. We didn’t get to finish our writing during our writing time, so we had to save it to finish later. We finished our morning Zoom session, I assigned them work to do independently and logged off.
A little while later, I was working on plans for the next day when I noticed all of these lesson submissions coming in through Seesaw. I went to look at the assignments and noticed that the majority of my students had completed their writing assignments and about fifteen blog posts were waiting for approval. I went through each student’s assignment, saw that they had a detailed illustration and a sentence to match and approved each post.
Each day before I leave school, I check Seesaw to see if I missed any communication from families, send announcements to students about what to bring to Zoom the next day, and see if any assignments need approval. On this particular day, I decided to check out the blog. To my surprise, there were at least five audio or written (they used emojis to communicate!) comments on each student’s writing piece from that day waiting for approval.
On writing pieces about snowmen, these were a few audio comments left on peer work:
“I really, really, really love it. I really like it because I really like your snowman.”
“Oh, I like your snowman’s hat.”
“I really like your snowman. It looks so good.”
“Wow! Yours is really good.”
When I introduced my students to the blog, I only told them about the posting feature, not the commenting feature. As I listened to their audio comments, I realized that they independently began participating in one of my favorite parts of the writing process—conferencing. The comments they recorded celebrated the work that their peers were doing, highlighted the parts of their peers’ writing that they liked, and each comment was positive. Students also used the comments to compare and contrast their own writing to their peers’ writing. When Mackenzie responded to a friend’s reflection from a book we read she said, “I saw that in the book too!” Even though I hadn’t explicitly taught students how to make comments on each other’s blog posts, they figured it out! Children want to see what their friends are writing, engage with their ideas, and think about what it means for their own writing.
Since starting our class blog, students who previously had no interest in writing or did not see themselves as writers, are motivated to write. Something as simple as hearing positive feedback from their peers gave them confidence and purpose. In these times of virtual interaction, young students are looking for ways to connect to one another, and our blog provided one way for them to do just that.
Now that my class is back in school in our physical classroom, my students and I are back to writing with paper and pencil and now our blog is a wall in the classroom—a place where their writing can be on display and they can hear and see their classmates’ feedback in real time. Going forward, whether we’re in person or online, our class will have a place to share our writing and respond to one another’s writing.
From the Desk of Ms. James
Teaching virtually is a big task. There are so many moving components to making it successful. Whatever that thing is you are struggling with making possible for your students—there’s a way. Sometimes we can provide that for them, but other times, our students find it on their own. Trust your students. They know what’s best.
About the Author
Dawnavyn James is an early childhood and elementary educator. She has taught kindergarten, fifth grade, and all of the grades in between. She graduated from Stephens College with a Bachelor’s of Science in Education. She currently teaches kindergarten for the Columbia Public School District and this is her sixth year of teaching. Dawnavyn also is the creator of The Black History Club (Instagram: the.black.history.club). You can connect with Dawnavyn on Twitter @queedomteachin and on Instagram @queendomteaching.