Do As I Say or As I Do? Making Blogging Matter
I’m reflecting on this thing we call blogging. Why do I do it– what do I expect to get out of it? What am I writing about? Does it matter? To whom? What do I want this blog to look like– how does it represent me? (If you can think of any, please add them in the comments.)
I’m thinking about this because I’d been thinking about giving my blog a facelift. I’d been working on writing about technologies and the teaching of English. I’d been reading a book, Digital Tools in Urban Schools: Mediating a Remix of Learning*. Then,
The teachers in the school I was reading about didn’t assign anything they themselves wouldn’t, didn’t, do.
ask require my students to blog. I lay out criteria for them that doesn’t follow a typical rubric format– columns and boxes, like the one below–and I do not assign specific topics. Instead, I ask them to grapple with their experiences as learners, teachers, and the ideas they are encountering in their reading. I haven’t asked them to think formally about the questions above. Why would I? I haven’t asked them of myself. This is strange, given that I always start teaching how to give feedback in a writing workshop by sharing my own writing first. But I didn’t make the connection until my moment of POW.
In his book, Digital Tools in Urban Schools: Mediating a Remix of Learning*, Jabari Mahiri describes how a team of teachers learned to weave technologies into their teaching. Podcasting, Youth Radio projects, digital journalism– teachers started on these curricular journeys by learning about tools like Photoshop, GarageBand, Second Life for Teens, and more.
The additional challenge they faced was that their school was an urban continuation high school, an alternative path to graduation where students were assigned, often because of significant behavior problems or chronic absenteeism. Spoiler alert: the teachers used the technologies to create active, relevant learning experiences and it made a positive difference in how the kids felt about learning. Plus, their achievement improved.
The most compelling aspect of the book for me are the principles that guided the teachers’ pedagogy. Developed by the Center for Research in Education, Diversity, and Excellence, the standards gave the teachers an important foundation for rethinking their teaching. The standards:
(1) joint productive activity among teachers and students; (2) language and literacy development across academic disciplines; (3) connecting academic content to students’ prior knowledge and experiences; (4) using challenging, complex tasks for learning; and (5) engaging students in planned, goal-directed dialogues called instructional conversations [Tharp et al. 2001] (Mahari. 2008. p. 13).
That first one: joint productive activity meant that teachers were making things alongside students– virtual worlds, photo essays, etc. I like to believe that thinking is a form of making– the making of new understandings, for example. My students consistently say that making blog posts is an important part of their learning, about teaching writing, about their own writing, about learning itself.
I think it can matter more.
It seems we spend a lot of time asking students to think about their “digital footprint.” I’ve never liked that idea. When you’re out blazing a trail in the woods, you’re not spending time looking where you’ve been. You’re looking ahead, planning where you want to go next. I like to think about the question, “what do you want your digital persona to be?” That way, the focus turns to building something positive, not being afraid.
So. I am thinking about pushing myself with my blogging. About how I want to use it as a way to explore writing and practice my own, all kinds of it. About what it means to think in public. To publish.
I am thinking my questions for myself are good things to ask students, about themselves and because they should matter to their students.
I think they are questions that can make a difference.
*Read it online for free!
Images: CC0 Creative Commons via https://pixabay.com
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