Ten Tips for Creating an Electronic SOLSC for Your Students

A Note from Stacey:  I recently asked teachers who’ve led an blog-based Slice of Life Story Challenge, or SOLSC, with their students to share their expertise with me.  After all, I’ve only led a notebook-based Challenge with my students.  Two teachers, Amanda Cornwell  and Beth Scanlon, volunteered to write guest posts about their experiences about leading an online version of the SOLSC with their students.  This Sunday, Amanda will give you ten suggestions to get your students ready to blog in time for the SOLSC.  Next Sunday, Beth will share her experiences with you.  I hope both of their guest posts will inspire you to help your students go online to participate in our first Classroom SOLSC, which begins on March 1st.

Feel free to leave questions for Amanda by leaving a comment on this post.

Some of prizes Amanda offered her students who sliced for the entire month. Her mom's friend  made these journals, which are works of art!

Some of prizes Amanda offered her students who sliced for the entire month. Her mom’s friend made these journals, which are works of art!

It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since I participated in my first Slice of Life Story Challenge.  Having participated as part of a test-run with classroom blogging, I’ve never done it solely on my own.  Rather, I’ve always been writing alongside my students.  This year, I hope, will be no different despite a few changes such as returning to a full-time teaching position which meant letting go of enrichment programs like “Tech Tuesdays” which is what I called my weekly blogging work with students.  No matter, I am still optimistic that interested students will participate and good things will happen!

If you’re considering offering an SOLSC blogging challenge for your students, I’ve complied the list below which consists of a few key ideas I learned the hard way and some possible changes I’ve considered making with my middle school students.

  1. Background

If you’re thinking about having students blog their way through a Slice of Life Story Challenge, it helps if you yourself are comfortable with blogging.  Personally, I set up each of their blogs and subscribed to them in my Google Reader. This took a lot of work upfront, but was worth it when they started writing!

  1. Safety First!

Back when I was blogging as part of our English 7 class, I was sure to get the support of my building administrator and my students’ parents.  I used fully public blogs and spent a great deal of time discussing the expectations of students regarding posts, comments, etc.

  1. Blogging Bootcamp!

Take the time to lay a great foundation and understanding of the platform you choose to use.  I went with http://www.edublogs.com and spent 5 straight days in the computer lab giving kids the chance to get comfortable and familiar with their new digital spaces!

  1. What IS a Slice of Life?

With my students, I shared the information available at here at Two Writing Teachers.  To begin thinking about the challenge, I brought in loaves of homemade banana bread and explained that while a person certainly could eat the entire loaf in one sitting it wouldn’t be the best idea.  If we had just a slice it would be enough to satisfy us, and likely leave us hungry for more.  Little by little, the slices would add up!  You might also use the idea of photo mosaics – each picture is made up of smaller individual pictures.

  1. Start Small and Honor Growth!

Give students the opportunity to start a daily writing challenge that spans a week or so, to generate excitement enthusiasm.  It might help to do this early in the year and build from there.  Another part of the month-long challenge that helps keep students encouraged is having a goal of say 27-31 posts.  We want to encourage a post every day, but if they miss just one that’s enough to make some students feel like they can’t recover and then they give up.

  1. Offer Writing Invitations!

A few students were uncertain about how they could write a Slice of Life post for 31 days!  When I started the challenge, I shared a few different slices of my own with students.  Two Writing Teachers have also offered great lists and word clouds of different topics for writers to consider.  We also talked about not only varying the topic, but the genre as well.

  1. Teach Commenting!

We had several discussions about what makes a good comment and how to express your true ideas in a way that honors the writer’s effort and experience, and your thoughts/feelings about the work.  I also tried to have a system in place to each student has readers and responders.  This might mean having a system in place such as assigning writing groups or partners to read and comment on posts.  Perhaps there are parents who would like to read and respond to certain groups of students as well.  I tried to share the importance of comments for bloggers and how we love that interaction and feedback!

  1. Celebrate!

Throughout the challenge, I would share certain student posts with the class to encourage them and let them know they were doing a great job!  In addition to the commenting, this was a powerful motivator.  Students who posted every single day were invited to a final celebration which included a picnic at a local park where we read aloud our favorite post.  I also printed certificates of completion for each student.  They were signed by both me and our building principal.

  1. Offer Prizes?!

Some students need more than the satisfaction of writing to keep them motivated throughout this challenge.  As such, you might consider offering prizes.  The first year, I held weekly drawings for students who wrote at least 3 days that week and they were able to pick little prizes.  Last year, however, I left out the weekly drawings which were time-consuming and hard to manage.  Instead, I opted for higher quality end-of-challenge prizes and shared student posts with the class on a weekly basis.  This made a difference in a positive way and kept the focus on writing instead of the prizes.

  1. Write WITH them!

Too often, I find myself being in front of the classroom leading a lesson.  Throughout this challenge, I was beside my students.  Commiserating about how hard it was to get in a post the day of the big dance or sharing in the excitement and sadness and confusion and hope they offered up in their own slices.  Students were commenting on my pieces in ways that showed they saw me as a fellow writer.  Above all, writing WITH them and doing the challenge myself is the best part of this experience!

Amanda Cornwell teaches seventh and eighth grade English Language Arts in Portland, Michigan where her husband, Garth, also teaches science.  She has been affiliated with the Lake Michigan Writing Project in Grand Rapids, MI since 2005.  Amanda loves reading, writing, and photography.  She is blessed to have two beautiful children ~ Calder (5) and Seneca (4).