In preparation for doing progress reports I had my kids go back through all of their posts on our blog and their pieces in Google Docs and select the three pieces they felt were the best examples for the marking period. Each student completed a reflection sheet explaining where I could find the pieces, why they selected they selected them, how they have improved their writing this marking period, and a goal for the next. This weekend I sat down to grade all of their choices, and it has been an amazing learning experience for me.
Reason number one to get kids blogging? The sheer amount of writing that all of my students have completed is pretty incredible. Doing things the "old way" I was lucky to have the required three writing pieces at the end of each marking period. By allowing my students the freedom to write whenever and about whatever they wanted, with the exception of two assigned pieces per marking period, the writing practice has increased dramatically. Like I tell my kids every day, you would never expect to be a professional ball player without practice. Why would we expect writers to be any different?
Having an authentic audience has also caused my students to think more about their purpose. They aren't just writing because they "have to" for a grade. They realize that they are writing because they are communicating their ideas with other people, and I see them going back over their posts to make sure that everything is just right before they click that "Submit for Approval" button. Does that mean every post is edited to a polished perfection? Absolutely not. But my kids are recognizing that without editing others will not be able to read and respond, and everybody wants to be the person who logs in and finds comments on their blogs each morning.
The third reason is more about me than the kids, and it's the one that's been the most unexpected today. When faced with 22 students x 4 writing pieces per student (their 3 picks and our required marking period writing sample) my first thought was, "How am I ever going to grade 88 writing pieces today?" (Yes. I admit it. I am Chapter President of Procrastinators Anonymous. I prefer to say I work better under pressure.) But today has been different. I'm not reading 22 versions of the same 3 writing pieces. Sure, the kids selected some of the same assignments, but each and every child has given me some sort of twist. Not only have I read the 4 pieces needed for progress reports, I've spent the time going back and reading most of the posts on their blogs and their Google stories. The growth that my kids have shown is fantastic, and they recognized it when they shared how they have improved on their reflection sheets. In addition to the growth they've already made, each student also was able to give me a meaningful goal that they would like to work on to improve their writing during the third marking period.
I knew that getting my kids blogging would make writing more fun for them, but I wasn't sure what else it would mean to them. Now I see that they have taken their roles as real writers very seriously. They are all working very hard to learn the skills they need to communicate effectively with our newfound audience. So thank you - to everybody who reads this blog and reads and comments to my kids, THANK YOU! You have made a difference to my kids and have helped them see that writing is something more than just a skill we need for our PSSA tests.
Now, to put all of that into 1300 words or less on each child's progress report...