I know, another teacher writing about student blogs?
It’s true that edtech folks have been praising the power of blogs for students for several years, Michael Drennan’s excellent work and Susan Davis’s justifications not least among them. Many colleges now require their students to keep blogs of their coursework or experiences and have so for years. It’s easy enough to find tools for creating them, like KidBlog or EduBlogs, planning for them, or even assessing them: Tim Horgan’s rubric is excellent and Mark Sample’s simple approach is effective. More, there are plenty of contests and scholarships available for students who blog well.
So why write more? A few reasons: I want to offer my reflection on student writing and accountability; I want to emphasize the fifth stage of the writing process and its implications; I wish to explore the neglected topic of blog promotion; and I want to relate some of my experiences with writing transformations through blog writing.
In brief, though, I see no reason to ever abandon the process of student blogs (though I will explore vlogging in the future!).
As blogs are publicly published works by students, the stakes for everyone involved in the writing process (instructor included) go up. Gone are the days when a paper was quietly turned in at a desk and just as quietly returned privately several periods later. The teacher and student shared a powerful or shameful or forgettable experience of writing and no one ever knew more; and this happened throughout the year with hundreds of students.
Now, however, the student knows that her writing will be read by people more important to her than a mere teacher: family and friends and, worse, strangers will see her words and ideas and even have the chance to comment or rate the work! As a consequence, the writing itself becomes more focused and thoughtful. Ever have those papers where you think, “Gosh, if he had just spent one more round of revision and proofreading, this could be solid work?” 90% of them? Me, too. While that will never go away entirely, the student blogs I read seldom are fraught with simple errors.
A Process Note: I should mention here that my student blogs are always the final stage of the writing process. Students have already taken their work through 2-3 drafts through online peer review and classroom workshops. Once the students have scored their peer’s work as 80% or better, we call the paper “Publishable” and therefore ready to be posted. If it scores lower, they continue to revise until it reaches that stage.
As important, the student blog is a measure of accountability for the instructor, as well. What is the quality of work being produced in our classrooms? The blog demands that we are seen by other students, by our colleagues, by our administrators, by the parents, and even by a broader sometimes-critical public as credible producers of literacy. (Equally, parents can see clearly when/what their child is not producing!) This level of transparency was never before available (or even desirable) in earlier generations of my teaching career.
This implies too, then, that teachers have demonstrable evidence for administrative evaluations of their work as producers of authentic learning. In my own case, I am measuring student growth across a year of blog posts. (Do Selma’s March posts show marked improvement over those from October? I have all of them before me to see.) Am I seeing a collective class-wide improvement in rubric scores across time? Do I have evidence of student composition literacy? Do I have evidence of students employing technology? Of course.
A Process Note: As students employ the same writing rubrics across the year and are using the same rubric as I am for peer evaluation, quantifying these changes is easier. I can keep track of these scores through a gradebook, but students can also track their own progress by graphing their scores.
Additionally, I should point out that one of the four blogs I maintain is purely of teacher-written models of writing for each assignment. Therefore I model appropriate blog etiquette for students, that the process is real, that the assignments are credible, and (often enough) what a solid piece of writing looks like. I also post links to other student-written works which are solid.
Accountability or transparency in our work is a worthy goal, and one teachers need not fear if we see it as a process towards improving our craft and student literacy and not merely a place of judgment or criticism. But it’s also notable—for me, anyway—that any trepidation we might feel in engaging public projects like these is similar to (but probably more limited than) the anxiety felt by students in doing so.
And empathy is a quality of good teaching.
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A few sample student blog entries from this year’s junior classes: