I have found success with engaging students in reading and writing via blogging.
Reading and writing are social activities that allow us to communicate with others. When we write something, we always have an audience in mind, even if it's ourselves. However, most of the time, students write for other people, and it's even cooler if those other people were more than just their teacher or their peers sitting next to them.
This is why I have had success engaging even reluctant readers and writers in blogging.
One of the hooks I often use is the world map widget that I have on my blog. This map allows a blogger to track the visitors and their locations. When I show this to students, they are often fascinated by how the written word can reach distances that are truly on the other side of the planet.
I have helped a number of students start their own blog, and one of the first things I help them set up is this world widget. Once they have this widget, I get them to write up a blog post. Many of the kids are so excited to publish their post that they rush to their world widget to see if anyone visits - only to see nothing happen.
The problem is that publishing a blog post and waiting for visitors is like hitch-hiking in the Sahara -- no one knows you're there.
This is why it helps for the teacher to be a part of some kind of network. While there is no one right tool to tap into a network of connected people, I have found Twitter to be an excellent companion to blogging.
Once a student publishes a post, I then hop on Twitter and post a Tweet to the hashtag #comments4kids. After I do this, watching their world widget becomes a whole lot more fun!
One of the first times I did this, I had a student who blogged about wanting to get an Iguana, but wanted to ask others for their advice about Iguana's -- when I tweeted his post, he watched his world widget and shouted "someone from France is reading my post!" His smile was from ear to ear. This was a very reluctant reader and writer authentically engaged in reading and writing. Because these red dots kept showing up on the world map, our discussion turned into a geography lesson. When the kids themselves are asking the question, "where's Estonia?" you know you are doing something right.
Do I count how many visits they get on their blog? No.
Have I established a complex algorithm that combines their visits to comment ration? No.
Do I use a rubric that allows me to generate pre & post measurements that allow me to quantify the value added? No.
So how do I know this stuff is successful? If my students show a desire to go on reading and writing through blogging when class is over, then I know I'm on the right track. Where there is interest achievement tends to follow.
No testsandgrades required.
For more on how powerful comments for kids can be, read Kathy Cassidy's post It's Never "Just a Comment".