Early Choice = Engagement & Excitement

shutterstock_375784555So it’s November, and it may seem odd to see the title “early choice” in a blog post. It’s not early in the year, and yet for an elementary teacher whose students are blogging, it is.

It takes time to get students used to the blogging format, establish procedures, teach digital citizenship, and truly begin to use the blog purposefully. I’ve been blogging with my 5th graders for a few years now, and there are certain things I always like to do in the first few months of school. But we all know that life throws us curve balls and sometimes you have to improvise.

One lesson I always do on Halloween is based on The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, by Chris Van Allsburg. After reading the book to the students, they each choose one story from the book to complete. The story starters all lend themselves to heavy fantasy, which is a genre students don’t get much class time to enjoy in terms of writing.

The day after Halloween, I was unexpectedly out of the classroom (but still in the building) and decided to have the students spend their Language Arts time blogging their stories. (In the past, we had only published these on paper.) The excitement was palpable. Several students asked if I was serious. (“Yes.”) More asked if they could work on it from home. (“Yes!”) A few even asked if they could write more than one installment. (“Yes! Yes!”)

As I read through my student’s stories, I saw them using italics, bold print, and different font sizes, colors, and types of font, all for emphasis. These are things that would not be as easy or evident in regular paper or pencil writing:

I was in a dome made of green leaves and flowers. Then I stepped out and looked up. There were tree houses made of sticks, weeds, and bark. I saw little heads poke out of trees and windows. But there was something odd about the place. There was shimmering dust everywhere. And there seemed to be no end. The land seemed to grow bigger, like there was no end to it.

Giving Students a Reason to Be Excited

The ability to easily add emphasis inspired my students to be more creative and I think, in some cases, to write more. I have students who ended their posts with cliffhangers and promises to the reader that more would be coming. Writing in a digital format ensures them an audience and makes them feel their writing is purposeful, which inspires them to write more, even when it is not an assignment.

Moments like this remind me why I love teaching. It’s easy to become bogged down and overwhelmed by all of the demands on our time these days. But seeing how technology can inspire my students and transform the writing process inspires me to constantly push myself to let go a little more, trust my students, and let them fly.

I have a new post-it note at the bottom of my computer screen now: “Build in more choice.” In a child’s school world of “have to,” choice is freedom. Choice is fun. And from this teacher’s perspective, choice just might be the key to getting my students to new heights.

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University. 

Notes from the Classroom

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