Helping others develop voice is not unlike developing our own. We need to remember that students need opportunity and time to really hone the skills to fine-tune their opinions and writing tone.
The more varied chances we give to them, the more they can try on new voices and/or ideas to see which fits best.
Although trial and error doesn't sound precise, it is just one way for a student to really find comfort in the voice they share while they discover for themselves.
In addition to opportunity, students need chances to develop confidence as writers so that taking risks isn't as scary as it can be. In our classrooms, we must promote risk-taking behavior for growth as a part of learning.
Mistakes or errors must be greeted with a celebration the same way successes are, particularly with older students. They have been taught to fear being wrong and therefore no longer feel able to take these essential first steps to try.
Remember that it is easier to avoid than it is to be wrong, but if we can change the dynamic in our spaces, to one where not being right isn't a bad thing, then we have a greater chance at success.
Given the personal element of writing and the expectations of a routine, we need to allow students space to really test their own boundaries without judgment from us, themselves or their peers. The best way to start doing this is to model the behavior ourselves.
If we publicly take risks, are open about them and then share when it doesn't go right, then we can talk through how that "failure" actually cleared the way for eventual successes. Let this be the strategy taken when helping kids take this leap.
Lastly, we can't forget the creative element. Blogs are a space for students to express themselves openly and freely. Depending on the purpose of how we are using them in school, we should also promote the use of them outside of school.
Whether it's fanfiction or poetry, a space to be filled with original student thought can never be a bad idea.
Here are some tips you can share with your students:
Being a proficient writer takes time: practice, practice, practice. Teachers should provide students specific, on-going feedback to help students improve their writing. With each draft, the teacher should offer relevant effective feedback that will allow students to work on specific skills.
Just because you are a proficient writer doesn't mean others will enjoy reading your writing; this takes time too. Proficient doesn't always mean engaging (refer to the first bullet)
All writing has value, even bad writing... maybe especially bad writing because it is a starting point and that is often the hardest place.
If you don't know how to start, just start writing whatever comes to mind without the burden of worrying if it makes sense - that will come later. Sometimes a brainstorm works well too in a notebook if you can't jump right to the writing on the blog.
Revision isn't a suggestion, it's a necessity - sometimes writing the same thing three different ways or more offers perspective, this perspective provides choice to the writer later for what best suits the finished piece.
It's okay if even finished writing isn't perfect. Perfect is a writing myth. All writing can always stand to be improved, so when a piece feels finished, it probably is for now and that's what matters most. Ask yourself, "Does this piece communicate the message I intended? Are all questions answered about what I've written about?" If the answers are yes, it's done.
Mistakes will happen on blogs - it's okay, we're all human and we all mistakes. It's even okay to leave the mistake up there unless it's offensive. Students can always revise drafts or published posts later if errors are found. It's all a learning process.
Developing voice is an essential part of what makes blogging so special. Each blog offers a person the place to really hone something unique and important to them.
How can we further help students develop their voices?
This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog Work in Progress in October 2014