Friday, December 5, 2014

Powerful Connections

It is my lunch hour...okay, half hour. I am standing here nearly in tears and a bit at a loss for words. Just a few minutes ago, the bell rang and my tenth graders hurriedly shelved their Chromebooks and scuttled down to lunch. Today was our #HavPassion research day, the one day each week that my students have to work on their independent inquiry projects. They had 90 minutes. And now that I have a moment to reflect on those 90 minutes, I am in awe.

In 90 minutes, my students not only blogged the introductory posts to their research and shared a video pitch of their project, but they connected. Really connected. As part of our #HavPassion project, I have been encouraging students to develop their own personal learning networks by engaging other researchers and bloggers. As part of helping to foster those connections, I've reached out to a few other teachers who are also blogging with their students. My students will be reading and commenting on the blogs of other students who are completing similar 20% time / Genius Hour projects. But some of the most important connections are not those that you can plan for; they just happen.

A fellow Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project (PAWLP) teacher, Brian Kelley shot me a quick email yesterday after I shared a link to my students' blogs.  He was contemplating opening up his classroom blog for others to comment on his students' writing.  Would it be okay for his students to respond to my students' blogs? Yes! Would we respond to his? Of course. And so today in class, I posted the web address for Mr. Kelley's 8th grade writers.  I'm not going to lie, I was a little nervous. How would my high school writers respond to his middle school writers? How would his students respond to mine?

When my students logged into their blogs this morning, I heard an audible wave crescendo around the room. "I have 55 views on this post!" "Ms. Ward, I have 11 comments!" "Holy cow, people are reading my work!"  And then my students started to respond to Mr. Kelley's writers.

Julia, an eighth grader in Mr. Kelley's class, wrote about her struggles with blogging, with coming up with topics.  And my students responded, honestly, with empathy, and with encouragement.

This is the power of having students compose for real readers. This is the power of connection!

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