“The object we call a book is not the real book, but its seed or potential, like a music score. It exists fully only in the act of being read; and its real home is inside the head of the reader, where the seed germinates and the symphony resounds.” — Rebecca Solnit
[cc image by flikr user: web4camguy ]
I’ve been blogging in one form or another since 2001. I started my first blog as a place to publish playlists for my weekly radio show on KUCI. A few years later I started a music blog called 3hive.com with a few college buddies. We were one of the first music blogs and for a while we were regularly reaching 80K readers a month.
So once I started teaching, it was only natural for me to use this technology in the classroom. Two years ago, before I had read or researched anything about 20% Time Projects, my senior English classes were using blogs as a way to demonstrate their learning in their classroom, and their DIY or Do It Yourself learning. (I gave them time to study and learn whatever they wanted; they just had to track it on their blogs.) This is the blog I used to communicate with my students during this project.
Then my former 5th grade classmate, master teacher, mentor and education rival, David Theriault, started a really great blogging project called Re:Framed with his Sophomore Honors classes this last semester. This week he updated his post on student blogging with student feedback and a reflection. Based on the success of his project and the fact that I will inherit many of his students next year in my AP English Language classes, I’m going to continue the Re:Framed project. Of course I’m going to change the name. While I like the name Re:Framed, the idea is too neat and linear for me, like everything needs to be confined by four walls or barriers. I want to promote a more fluid or marbling concept to my project, so I’m going with Re:Mixed. (Speaking of remixing, have you heard the Beastles yet?)
So while Theriault and I collaborate and scheme together a lot, I thought I’d make this brainstorm more public. I want to respond to his reflection and hopefully offer a helpful perspective to some of the issues he faced with student blogging this year:
[borrowed and modified from toothpastefordinner.com]
PROBLEM: Writing deadline/schedule
You’ve pretty much nailed the solution here. Stick with a solid deadline. I also teach print and broadcast journalism at our school and deadlines are not only crucial to each class, they’re an integral college, career, and life skill to practice and learn.
PROBLEM: Pinterest was the WORST way to spend your time promoting your site.
I learned many important marketing concepts while working for a small record label before I began my teaching career, and one big one is this: go to where your audience is. I just read today at Spin Sucks how this is still the case. Moms and brides-to-be are the ones using Pinterest the most. Don’t waste your time there. I’d argue Twitter isn’t a very useful platform for high school students either, not yet at least. Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram is the Holy Trinity of virtual high school hangouts. Promote your blogs there.
PROBLEM: I need to do a better job teaching students how to develop and explore an idea.
Mr. Theriault, you already model this very well. Have your students study your blog posts where you literally use a book, film, or album to frame your thoughts. Another thing to do is study and practice the rhetorical modes and encourage students to use 3 to 5 different modes in each post. Knowledge of the rhetorical modes will help students consider and explore their ideas in different ways.
PROBLEM: I need to make sure that every group member has the power and ability to use WordPress well.
It sounds as if your students watched as you walked them through the steps of starting up their WordPress blogs on the overhead. They need to be watching and doing at the same time. Schedule a couple days in the computer lab to launch their blogs. I’d also suggest using a checklist of things to do on their blog (ie: find a picture, post a picture, make it a feature picture, etc) and let them work at their own pace. When your blog-savvy students finish their checklist, they could back you up and help train their peers.
PROBLEM: Failing to teach a big idea
I definitely suggest training them to find their own big idea. Reflecting on this year, I need to teach students how to read subtext, an idea an author is exploring without talking about that idea directly. It’s all about inference. You could also suggest students follow other big idea blogger types like our faves: Austin Kleon or Brain Pickings. Or if you wanted students to share a big idea, what about starting the week of with a common reading or writing prompt, like those from Luke Neff?
[cc image by Telstar Logistics]
PROBLEM: I need a regular blogging workshop time.
My father who teaches 5th grade gave me some great teaching advice early on in my teaching career, advice I’ll never forget and that I always turn to: the more you (the teacher) do, the less they (the students) learn. My suggestion here? Assign different WordPress, blogging, or other social media tools and techniques to each group and have them train the rest of the class.
CONCEPT TO THINK ABOUT: Some students said that I should require all students to follow each others’ blogs.
I remember you telling me that you’d rather follow more people than be followed by them on Twitter. I think the same applies to student blogs. Just because they follow each other doesn’t mean they have to agree with or even read each others blogs. I imagine these blogs to be an extension of the classroom. Don’t we expect students to respectfully listen to each other during discussions? Following each others’ blogs is a respectful form of listening. Whether or not they reply is up to them.
Speaking of replying, did you offer an award to the best conversationalist? The student who made the most helpful or insightful comments on other blogs? I think this is key.
CONCEPT TO THINK ABOUT: I really like the idea of a YouTube channel and an iTunes U channel for the blogs.
How very 21st century of you! I whole-heartedly agree. These are the skills our students need, but it takes A LOT of time to train them to use audio and video effectively. Trust me. I spend an entire week before school begins training my incoming video production students and it takes them a good semester of daily practice before those skills begin to sink in. Imagine how much more we could accomplish if we weren’t worried about standardized testing!
Parting thoughts: I’ve been thinking about using blogging in the classroom a lot while reading Thomas and Brown’s A New Culture of Learning. Blogging is a big part of this new culture and a perfect way for English classes to participate in this way of learning. I think the way you incorporated a sense of competition and sport in the classroom is a key to your blogging’s effectiveness and something I’d like to explore further.
Talk about a blast from the past. Audrey Smilley, a band whose music I reviewed early in my college career, contacted me out of the blue last week about an upcoming reunion show. They just completed a modest Kickstarter campaign to fund the digitization and remastering of their original recordings. Hoping to get a bit of press about their reunion show, the band contacted the paper I used to write for, Student Review, who in turn contacted me for my perspective some 22 years later.
Reviewing my review, my perspective is this: I’ve come a long way as a writer. That’s to be expected. Writing for the Student Review was the first time I’d ever written for a real audience. Or at least a wider audience. Teachers, friends, girlfriends had all read my essays, letters and notes, but the Student Review published me first. (They’ve published many better writers. Trust me, I’m nothing special.)
It’s much easier to have your work widely read and viewed these days through blogging and social media, but having your work combed over by an editor ups your game exponentially. Sure people may read your work on a blog, but they’ll consume it quickly and may not even read the whole piece. Very few of those readers will comment on the quality of your work, offer suggestions for improvement, push you to write better, more effectively.
That is why if a student wants to write, or just wants to improve their writing, they should join up with their campus newspaper pronto, post haste. Working with editors and deadlines are crucial components to a writing education.
Writing for a school newspaper also provides ample opportunities for networking. You’ll meet and work with a wide variety of people on campus and in the community. My career in the radio, then record business, correlated directly to my experience with the Student Review.
It should be obvious why and how much I love my job: teaching writing and journalism to high school students. I didn’t get involved with my school paper until college, so I missed out on a few key years of writing instruction and a chance to rub shoulders with people I probably should have rubbed shoulders with.
A couple side notes:
The first tip I’d give to my younger self: use stronger verbs. It’s not until paragraphs two and three that I use verbs like yield and surface, which aren’t even all that strong. And the title is begging for a verb that would actually draw people into the review. “Audrey Smilley Reviewed”? Yeah, so what?
The first tip I’d give the band: don’t send half your members to another state to promote your music. Stuff everyone in a van and hit the road.
Yes, I reviewed a cassette tape. This was 1991 folks.
How to Be an Explorer of the World:
1. Always be looking. (Notice the ground beneath your feet.)
2. Consider everything alive and animate.
3. Everything is interesting. Look closer.
4. Alter your course often.
5. Observe for long durations (and short ones).
6. Notice the stories going on around you.
7. Make patterns. Make connections.
8. Document your findings (field notes) in a variety of ways.
9. Incorporate indeterminacy.
10. Observe movement.
11. Create a personal dialogue with your environment. Talk to it.
12. Trace things to their origins.
13. Use all of the senses in your investigations.