Will Richardson’s article “Publishers, Participants All” in the February 2011 Educational Leadership really struck me this week. We all tell our students and children not to talk to strangers. Safety is paramount whether we’re on the street or online. However, if we really want to get students embedded in a global community of sharing, we need to start depending on the kindness of strangers (Thanks, Tennesse Williams!).
A while ago, I started to do just that by using the Comments4Kids hashtag on Twitter. Wondering what I’m talking about? Well, whenever my students are blogging, I tweet out a message with a direct link to the blog and add a hashtag.
For example, my tweet may read: Read and comment about Flat Ryan’s latest adventure in Germany http://abbotflatstanley.edublogs.org/2010/12/23/flat-ryan-in-germany/ #comments4kids .
What I’m hoping for is that my PLN on Twitter will see this tweet and choose to visit the the link and leave a comment. An added bonus would be if my PLN retweeted my request. If the request is retweeted it has the potential of being read by people outside my PLN who may decide to visit and comment on the blog. There is also the chance that it could be retweeted again. The cycle could continue infinitely, and the “Flat Ryan” author no longer is writing to just his teacher, classmates and me, but anyone who uses Twitter.
Of course, my tweet may not catch the eye or interest of my PLN in the Twitterverse. We’re all busy, right? That means no new visitors to the blog, and Flat Ryan will not be able to have any conversations to extend his learning.
Now, adding the hashtag (#comments4kids) to the tweet takes it to another level… and a new audience. Created by William Chamberlain, here is his original post on the idea. Essentially, you can filter/search Twitter by using a hashtag. People who are interested in commenting on kids’ blogs will follow #comments4kids. Therefore, my tweets requesting comments on a student’s post will not just end up in the vast worldwide sea of tweets, but rather flow into a designated pond that is being fished. Critics may say that we’re putting our students into a possible dangerous situation. Maybe, people who are not teachers and up to “no good” will follow this hashtag? My response is that you still have to teach your students to be safe online. We use generic usernames and don’t share private information. Teach them how to swim, not avoid the water!
I can’t even describe the excitement of my students when they receive comments from around the world. They realize that they have a voice, and it motivates them to write more! And who doesn’t want that?
This whole system works on the idea that if “strangers” comment on your students’ posts, then you need to comment on other students’ posts as well. Hence, a community of sharing grows and flourishes! Want to increase the traffic on your students’ blogs and get them engaged in the learning process? Go here to find out more information on how you can rely on the kindness of strangers.