It started with a conversation with Deb Kuhr, the middle school English teacher. She told me that the 7th graders were reading The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton and would be using the book to focus on the element of character. Did I have any ideas for technology integration? I thought of the idea of having the students blog "in character."
From there we really worked together as we developed and taught the project. One challenge that arose early on was the school's content filter which blocks most of the popular blogging sites. In searching for an online home for our blogs I revisited a site I had learned about years ago, Think.com. There are pros and cons to using this site. Think.com is a very safe site; in order to get an account you must have an educational affiliation. No one can enter the site unless they have an account. Teachers must approve image content. There is a lengthy list of banned words. Although Think.com boasts members from around the world, and you can invite other schools to join you in your project, the interaction I have seen is pretty superficial.
Since a large part of blogging is reading the blogs of others and leaving comments, we added the requirement that the characters must read and interact with others' character blogs in character. Because of the nature of Think.com you can't leave "stickies" or comments on project pages. However, you can add an interactive element to your page, such as a message board. So, we had the students use these elements for interaction.
All in all, I judge this project a huge success. I think the students really learned from putting themselves into the mind of the character and extending their thoughts about the novel. We even had a blog for Bob, a character that died early in the novel, called "Bob's Blog from Beyond." I know that they were motivated by the activity; they found blogging fun and enjoyed having a think.com account. They all created Think.com home pages as well, a page they could create as themselves (as opposed to their character from The Outsiders). I was impressed by the quality of the work. We are now in the second year of this project, and it is again going well. As with any unit, it is easier the second time around -- all of the planning is finished, we know what to expect, and it is just a matter of doing it.
What I think could make this project better in the future would be interaction with other students who are also reading The Outsiders or at least a chance for a more public audience to read their blogs. I think that I would like to try a different blogging site next year, maybe class blogmeister or edublogs. Any suggestions? It would have to be a "safe" site. If you would like a copy of the rubric we used, leave a comment here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are some pictures of Mrs. Kuhr's bulletin board from last year's blogs. She had each student print out one or two favorite entries and create an artistic representation of their character.