Challenge: If you chose to accept it…

Like most educators, during the final months of the year, I reflect on what I can do differently next year to improve. What changes can I make that will improve the quality of the time I spend with my students. I ask myself, what went well and what made an impact?

As a lover of technology, I already have plans for projects I want to do next year. During this reflect and review process, I am constantly doing checks in balances in my head – asking, “Is this going to be meaningful to my students, or do I want to do this just because I can?” I think we’ve all struggled with this dilemma, especially in the beginning as we worked to figure out and integrate the technologies that really worked for us. Fortunately, I quickly learned to make sure everything has a purpose and is meaningful to my kids.

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Choosing My Challenges
Each year, I challenge myself to think beyond lesson plans, to find ways to empower my students so they are both confident and prepared for jobs that are not yet created.  By this I mean they must believe in themselves and their ability to meet any challenge.  Part of my own preparation involves getting as much of the “beginning of the year stuff” done before summer starts so I can spend those months catching up on reading, trying new educational “toys,” and collaborating with my Twitter PLN.

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Blogging as a Tool for Growth
My students have been blogging for three years now. I absolutely love seeing their love of writing come alive as a result of the blogging process. They not only get to share their feelings, thoughts and eventually stories with their friends, but learn from other students blogging hundreds, even thousands of miles away as well. Blogging gives students an authentic global audience and encourages them to keep communicating. It is through blogging that students become authors with an audience. Instead of writing on their thoughts on paper and stuffing the results in a notebook to get crumbled up and eventually thrown away, they are writing to and for others, sharing their work in a safe way where even the quietest, shyest student has a voice and all the voices are equal. No one student’s blog is louder than another. Blogging creates an equal playing field for students to gain confidence and discover who they are. My students love checking their blogs daily for comments from students in their class as well as students we’ve met with on Twitter or Skype.

Make It Real
Seeing students’ faces when they get their first comment from a student in another state or a completely different continent is wonderful. From a teacher’s point of view, it is so rewarding when students finally write in complete sentences, or use quotation marks or whatever else we might be studying in our writer’s workshop. Blogging provides authenticity for students. I always challenge my students to write from the heart, to write what is real and what is happening to them. It doesn’t have to be spelled perfectly or have the correct number of commas. Learning to communicate through writing is a process. What better way to facilitate the process than by letting students collaborate while sharing in their learning?  It becomes real for them when another child makes a comment and tells them to “please add more details,” or “check your punctuation.” As the teacher, you are thinking, “See I told you.” Students are more likely to listen to their peers, even if they are sitting in another classroom 8,000 miles away.

Jumpstarting Our Blogging

Looking back over last year, I realized how important connecting with other students had been to the success of our blogging. Although we started blogging in September, my students really didn’t get as excited about it till they were able to connect with others outside our classroom. I wanted to find a way to make that excitement and enthusiasm happen sooner. EnterJena Ball and her Not Perfect Hat Club book. The latest in the CritterKin series of books about a goofy pack of mixed breed mutts, the book uses storytelling and related projects to help students understand that perfect is not an option and that everyone is special. Following the adventures of Newton, a purebred golden retriever who failed in the show ring, children are encouraged to discover what makes them unique.

I approached Jena with the idea of creating a blogging challenge around her book, along with optional Skype and Twitter visits with Jena at the end of the challenge. Another goal we identified for the project was to connect teachers and classrooms with one another so they could Skype and share their blogs.  It didn’t take long for the Not Perfect Hat Club Blog It Challenge to take shape!

So fellow educators. I challenge you, just as I challenge my students, to blog. Blog about what has motivated you to begin blogging with your students. Blog about why being not perfect is such an important lesson for our students. Blog about how the imperfections in our students are what make them so special.  Let’s make this blogging challenge about finding and celebrating what makes each of us special, or as Jena likes to say, “Let’s give every kid a place to hang a hat!”

P.S. Please consider supporting the NPHCBlogIt Challenge by contributing a post of your own. You can learn more about what to do and get guiding questions here: http://nphcblogit.com/?p=123

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