Young bloggers leading teachers into the future

Students respond to chance to interact with book authors, gather readers of their works from around the world.
Written by ZDNET Editors, Contributor

USA Today looks at school blogging projects in middle schools, profiling a school in Liberty, Mo., where students are blogging about a book with its author, and San Rafael, Calif., where a class has joined in.

About 300 eighth-graders at South Valley Junior High in Liberty, Mo., are blogging this fall about Guerrilla Season, a book about a 15-year-old living in Civil War-era Missouri. The book's author, Pat Hughes, is joining in the online discussion from her home in Philadelphia.

"I love being able to communicate with the author because it makes me feel like I can ask anything," says Amy Lostroh, 13. "Most books you read you have to guess how the author named the characters, why they chose to write about the topic or what inspired them."

Teacher Eric Langhorst says the blog gets kids more involved in the class, allows them to interact with an author, and connects their schoolwork to the larger world.

"The blog has been a great way to get quieter students more involved in the class. "It gives them a chance to voice their opinion, even if they're not a kid who raises their hand a lot."

"It's a way for them to be able to communicate with the author about things that puzzle them or that they're excited about," adds Hughes. Not only does she respond directly to students' inquiries, she also has been posting her own questions and even recorded a podcast for students to listen to.

Blogging even works for younger kids, says Cathy Greenwald, technology specialist at Willowdale Elementary School in Omaha.

She says her first-graders take the writing process more seriously when it is going to be posted on a blog. "It's the real world to the students," she says. Greenwald says that with students this young, she has them write out what they want to say, then both kids and teacher edit it together and the teacher types it into the computer. The students can then decide whether they want to illustrate or add photos, poems or audio.

Most exciting for students is getting readers from as far away as China. "It helps get them excited about writing," Greenwald says.

Darrell Walery, director of technology for the Consolidated High School District 230 in suburban Chicago, says one of the biggest obstacles to getting started is teacher training. "A lot of teachers don't even know what MySpace is," he adds.

And of course administrators are concerned about what middle and high schoolers are saying. Are they posting revealing photos or reporting on drug or alcohol use? And of course there's the concern about predator contact.

"The concern from the administrative side is what blogging is opening up," says Walery. "What do we need to do to make sure that proper content is being posted? Let's make sure we are going to use this in the right way."
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