“For me? There’s a comment for me?” asked an eager five-year-old in my classroom, eyes aglow. I assured him that the comment was indeed for him and read it aloud to he and his classmates, pointing to each word on the Smartboard as I did so. He beamed as I read aloud, marveling at the fact that what he had posted on his blog was valuable enough to provoke a response from someone he had never met.
Ensuring All Students Receive Comments
When my students begin blogging each September, I ensure that they ALL begin getting comments as soon as possible. I hold a parent night and show the parents how to comment. I enlist the help of students who were in my classroom in previous years. Sometimes I have put out a plea on Twitter using the hashtag #comments4kids. I know how encouraging those comments can be, and I want all of my students to have that experience as soon as possible—to feel that rush of acknowledgement a first comment elicits.
Learning to Comment Ourselves
Soon after, I begin teaching my students how to leave comments themselves. With pre-readers and writers, this is a lengthy process! Sometimes we begin by going to the blog of someone who has just left a comment for us. Sometimes we begin by going to the blog of another classroom that is linked from our classroom blog. Wherever and whenever we begin, we always comment together as a group. (With pre readers and writers, this is not just good pedagodgy, it is a necessity!)
We start by talking about the comments we have received, how they made us feel and what was good about them. We want to be able to mimic the best of other people’s comments to us. Almost always, the students want to start by saying “I like your blog”. To help the students to stay on track, and to encourage them to think beyond this over-used phrase, we make an anchor chart to help us remember our discussion. (I first heard the term “anchor chart” from the Two Sisters. It refers to a chart that records a process or strategy and is created WITH the students in their own words. It is then posted in the classroom for the students to use as a reference.)
To be honest, although this chart is made up by and with my grade one students each year, it does not change a lot from school year to school year. A good comment is still a good comment. Linda Yollis’ students have done some great work explaining how third graders comment, but for my pre and emerging writers, these steps seem to work best. Besides teaching them to comment, they reinforce other concepts my students are just learning.
- Say something nice. What specifically did you like about the post? What made you smile?
- Make a connection. What did it remind you of? Does it make you think of something you know or have done? Something you saw in a book or on a video? Understanding and making connections is a skill five and six year olds are just beginning to learn.
- Ask a question. What do you wonder? What did the writer not include that you wish had been in the article? Understanding the difference between something you tell and something you ask is difficult for most six-year-olds. Including a question helps them to learn what a question is and how to think about someone’s ideas beyond their own.
- Re-read your comment. This is a vital skill for commenters of any age. As the students realized how often they needed to change something we had written to make it better, we added this step at the end of our chart.
We follow this pattern pretty closely together for months as they learn the literacy skills necessary to comment on their own. The first independent student comments are often written from home. This year, the first student to comment on the blogs of his peers decided to be “fair” and left a comment for every other child in the class! I make a big deal about these comments, and as with every other comment we receive, we read them aloud together. After one or two students have written comments, the others start to want to do it as well!
It is usually near the end of our grade one year when I will actually officially ask all of the students to try making a comment on the blog of their choice. At first, I ask them to show me the comment before they click “submit”, but when they have shown me that they can do this independently, I let them comment on any of the blogs that are linked from our classroom blog, knowing that if there was ever anything inappropriate (to my knowledge there never has been), the teachers we are linked with would contact me. For students whose spelling skills are still developing, I stay close by and if necessary will write an editor’s note in brackets after their comment, in the same way I do with their blog postings.
Do they all follow the pattern that we have practiced together? No. It is a long journey. Learning to comment when you are an emerging writer does take a long time, but learning to read and to write also takes a long time. To me the result—a student who is beginning to understand how to interact with others in a social media situation—is worth the long journey.