Are comments the ‘cherry on top’ or essential?

Just over 2 years ago I wrote a post about blog commenting.


Recently I have had a number of conversations with teachers about blogging, some long term bloggers, others newcomers.  The subject of comments always comes up.  When I wrote my previous post, Bev Novak, said the “comments are the cherry on top” of her blogging experience. Other readers admitted to lurking and seldom commenting.  In general though, there was an understanding that comments are important in the blogging process – the feedback and interaction with readers an integral element.

Our school has worked hard over the past few years to encourage class blogs.  Our starting point has always been to connect to our parent community – open our classroom walls so to speak.  Our teachers have also worked at global connections through Quadblogs and by connecting with community experts etc.  We publicise our blog posts through emails to our parents and by Twitter to our broader networks.

In the recent discussions we have remarked at how hard it is to actually elicit comments from our readers.  Once again we acknowledge that we do have an audience, our visitor statistics prove this but the two way conversations are few and in fact disappointing.  We have heard anecdotally that many readers still lack confidence in commenting. Worries stem from not knowing what to say, to seeming over-eager, to favouring one class/student blog over another.

I believe it is still in the mindset of many that they do not have anything to offer or fear exposing themselves as a learner too!  I still strongly believe that the process of creating a class or personal blog is extremely worthwhile and I actively encourage many teachers to begin this pathway.  One of the ‘benefits’ I cite when talking to teachers about blogs is the fact that you create an audience for your work and comments are the mechanism for feedback from that audience.   I understand a class teachers disenchantment with the process if they are receiving little or no feedback.

There obviously remains much work to be done to build the communication culture with our students, their parents and the wider community.    On reflection, this is not really surprising as although blogging seems old news to many of us, it is still early days for many.  We need to be creative in ways to elicit feedback, continue asking questions, use polls etc but not give up.  We also need to continue to teach commenting skills, embed this communication into our practice.   Once again much inspiration in this area can be found from Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano, in particular her recent posts on Making Blogging Visible.  This is a snippet from a wonderful infographic (click picture to see the full graphic).

Screenshot 2013-11-24 14.36.37

Should the [Publish] button be replaced by [Share] ?

Trying to catch up with the ETMOOC recordings and listening in on Dean Shareski’s session on Sharing=Accountability.   Much is resonating with me and I am seeing connections to my experience.  I think over the past few years I have accepted or found a need and interest in sharing what I learn.

Dean made a point about some re-thinking about the concept of publishing.  

“The [Publish] button should be replaced by [Share]”.  

 I have had a discussion recently about publishing student work on their blogs. Should we publish only ‘perfect, final drafts’ error free or should we allow their first efforts to be seen?  It became obvious to me – that we need to re-define [Publishing] and Dean’s [Share] option sits well.

Previously when we published it was our finished product, the result of a writing and editing process.  This was necessary and preferred as the printed results were set in stone (all-be-it ink in paper) .  Web 2 has altered the way we can go through the editing process, we can now [share] our unfinished thoughts, elicit feedback and constantly edit and re-edit.  

Clicking [Publish] does not mean we are finished working, finished thinking but simply exposing our process. Whereas, publishing, once referred to the final process in an exhaustive editing process.  

This brings me back to my previous post about why people shy away from blogging.  Our expectation that what we publish is perfect.  There is a concern amongst teachers of young students that we are weakening the conventions if we allow less than perfect writing to be published, that we are modelling poorly and I can understand that, but I feel that  the benefits of exposing our first attempts and our process  outweigh this risk.   Some re-thinking about how we view what we read on-line, how we evaluate it and what we expect of it may be required.  What do you think?

To edit or not to edit? – That is the question

I have spent a lot of time recently viewing student blogs.  I also work with students who have their own KidBlog accounts.  They are really enjoying the comments and the connected feeling they get when they receive comments on their posts.  The interactivity is heart warming.  Children really do seem to like to read other children’s writing.

Obviously, our students are not all precision writers or word perfect scholars and there are often errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar.  I have seen a few conversations between teachers on the question of editing student work. This is how I see the debate so far ..

Complete teacher edit before publish Child controlled edit before publish
For Against For Against
Children see that correct conventions must be followed for publishing Stifle enthusiasm Children are given ownership of the written material Teaching opportunity may be lost
Readers can easily take in content without having to decipher incorrect spelling and grammar Takes away children’s ownership of work Children learn from experience that poorly edited posts are not received as well Poor conventions are displayed to other readers
Correct conventions are displayed to readers Slows down process as requires adult intervention Displays ‘true’ image of child’s ability – more accurate portfolio Importance of conventions is diminished
Children are modeled proofreading and editing skills Children learn editing and proofreading skills

I am a fence sitter on this issue at the moment, I can see merit in both sides of this argument.  I admit to cringing when I see posts and comments that have so many errors they are difficult to understand.  I wince when the Shift Key is ignored and comments come in chat format.  I have iterated and re-iterated the importance of correct conventions with limited success.  I also admit to editing many posts and comments before approving them.

On the other side, I love the interaction I see and do not want to stifle that in any way.

What do you think????  I am sure there are other elements to consider.

No contest – a good week of kid-blogging

Scenario 1

The scene : First week back at school in an Australian classroom after a long summer break.  Class of 10/11 year olds.  Students asked to get out their diaries and write about their holidays.  They write, then perhaps the teacher reads it and responds with an encouraging comment and maybe a sticker.    The book returns to the child’s desk.  The writing is never read again.

Scenario 2

comments4kidsThe scene : First week back at school in an Australian classroom after a long summer break.  Class of 10/11 year olds.  Students asked to write a blog post highlighting how they think their holiday may be different to those of children in other parts of the world.  The posts are published and the teacher sends out one Tweet using the #comments4kids hashtag.   The students receive instant feedback – within 1 hour there are lovely comments from Alabama – a teacher who comments and promises to show his students when they are at  school the next day (assuming the snow does not close the school)    In the following days, more comments come in from teachers and  students in Hawaii, Vermont and Pennsylvannia.  They are sharing their experiences of summer, of Christmas and later on, of sports too.    The class considers good commenting skills so that they can reply to their comments and then reciprocate to their readers.  Cybersafety is discussed to ascertain the amount of information to include.   An atlas is brought out – where exactly are Alabama, Pennsylvannia, Vermont  by the way they ask? (they seemed to know where Hawaii is)

Which is the more meaningful exercise ?  No points for guessing my preference !

Thanks again to #comments4kids for a great week of blogging/writing/learning !!

Commenting on blogs – more questions than answers

Source Flickr cc
Source Flickr cc

Okay, so we have encouraged our students and teachers to join the blogging community.  They are being creative and enthusiastic (see my previous posts and the blogroll for wonderful examples).  We have learned the amazing value of Twitter as a publicist for new blog posts.  The power of the #comment4kids hashtag is phenomenal.   The feed from that tag is constant with pleas for comments on student blogs.    The Blogging Challenge currently underway has accelerated these demands.   All good, as the people who follow these tags are happy to help – we realise the value of comments and providing feedback.  So ….

It does make me wonder : Why do so many people read blogs and NOT comment? I see blogging as a two-way process and whilst admitting to not commenting on every blog I visit, I certainly try to respond whenever the subject is relevant and I have something to offer, and often comment on student blogs (it only takes a few seconds).   When reading student blogs, I try to encourage them but question them about their writing matter.      I have a gut feeling  (totally statistically unsupported and gleaned purely  from my anecdotal experiences)  that many readers do not comment.   Are they lacking in confidence that their opinion or reaction is not valid?  Do they think writers do not need reinforcement or challenging?  I hope not, as, in that case, we are missing out on the conversation – the true bonus of this medium.   Perhaps commenting is not as important as I think it is.

I saw a recent tweet asking for blogging buddies and I think this is a brilliant idea.   The buddy process should ensure that all posts are read and responded to – as I have said before – we all need feedback!  However, the audience needs to be beyond a few buddies – we need the broader challenge, otherwise we may as well be swapping our spiral notebooks with the neighbouring classroom.

It also makes me wonder: Is there an etiquette or protocol for reacting to comments? Recently, members of my household heeded the call to comment on student blogs – questions were being asked that we had the knowledge and experience to answer.   Almost 10 days later and some comments are still not appearing (awaiting moderation) and others remain unanswered.  I ask the question : Is there a protocol for responding to comments?
My old-fashioned etiquette has me thinking that some reaction is preferred and actually required.   Is this anachronistic?   I was trained in old school – sending  written replies to written invitations, written notes of thanks after an event etc – I realise as communication mediums have changed, so too will these traditions, but are any worthy of persisting with?

Is it reasonable to expect that someone who blogs, will visit their blog regularly?  Perhaps this is the natural process of attrition – an unattended blog will fade way as the interest from both blogger and readers dwindle.  That two-way process is required to keep it alive.    This also raises the issue of subscribing to comment feeds – do most bloggers and readers care if they get a reaction?

It also makes me wonder:    How will this enthusiasm be captured and prolonged? I know that blogging is relatively new (according to the Wikipedia they began in 1999 whilst not becoming commonplace till 2004) – so it is still evolving – a relative newcomer, a work in progress.  The Twitter stream is constantly introducing new teacher and student blogs, so I anecdotally suggest that the growth is currently strong.    Will the list of student blogs requesting comments grow to an untenable extent?  In reality, this should not happen if all bloggers assume the responsibility to comment on other blogs as well.

Dean Shareski in his recent K-12 Online 2010 conference presentation – ‘Sharing : the moral imperative’,  suggests that we have an obligation to share our practice – I think this should apply to all bloggers – student and teachers and to posting as well as commenting.

Do you agree?  Are comments important to you ?   (my daughter has already pointed out the irony of me getting no response)

PS Here are a few resources to use when teaching students to comment on blogs (Thank you to the authors)

  1. Mrs. Yollis’s classroom
  2. Integrating technology in the Primary Classroom – Kathleen McGeady