I think it's important that I find a solid way to justify my project, because the fact is that a lot of people either don't understand, or misunderstand, blogging and therefore don't see how it's relevant to teaching English. With the help of my colleague, Jason Malone, who is working on the same project here at the CSU Writing Project Advanced Institute, I think I've come up with some preliminary reasons for bringing blogging into the classroom.
One of the things that I've noticed as we read teacher research from a number of different sources, is that often t-r is heavy on the "what" (id est, what a teacher did, what the results were, etc.) but light on the why and how. Often, I think, the why and how are the questions that are most pressing for those of us who are in the trenches, trying to find ways to engage kids, so I don't want to give them short shrift.
The key question that I'm asking here is, "What can I do in a class blog discussion that I cannot do in a traditional (i.e. tech free) classroom?" I don't want to ignore technology, but I don't want to bring it in to my classroom before asking why?
Is there really an advantage to putting class notes on Power Point, or is it really just a glorified chalk board masquerading as technology in the classroom? I think that the answer is that it depends on how the teacher is using the technology, and why. A well-created Power Point can be powerful (who would have guessed that a PP presentation would become Al Gore's improbable foray into the film industry?) but if we're just using a smart board so that we can type our notes instead of writing them on the board, what is technology bringing to the table that is unique?
The first reason that I offer is a nod to Malone, and is a major factor in his pursuit of this topic. It is definitely something that I want to explore down the road, and I think that as far as justifications for blogging go, it's about as good as it gets. (BTW, for those of you who don't know, Jason Malone has been instrumental in opening up the blogosphere for the students and teachers of PSD, which has been closed to them up until now--nice work Jason!)
1. Blogs open up the potential for global communication in the classroom. In his "Theories of Knowledge" class, Jason is planning to set up a blog in which his kids can not only communicate with members of the other sections of his class, but also with kids taking the same class in ISRAEL. What an incredibly mind-expanding experience that could be. Imagine kids from Ft. Collins, Colorado, talking to kids in Tel Aviv about the theories and justifications for warfare!
2. On a slightly less impressive scale, I am planning to open up discussion between students in different sections of my own classes and also kids from different grade levels. My hope is to have my sophomores write prompts for my freshmen to respond to, and have the sophomores assess their responses. I think that it is generally true that the best way to master something is to teach it to someone else. How else can you generate that kind of interaction between grade levels so easily and efficiently?
3. I believe that the format itself opens up opportunities for student expression and critical thinking. Many kids are self-conscious and unwilling to raise a hand and contribute to a whole-class discussion, and even in a small group find it difficult to freely express themselves. Possibly in journal writing they can find that outlet, but unfortunately I am often the only audience for student journals--their peers don't usually read them. The blog gives students a forum in which they can express their true opinions in a relatively anonymous setting, when the "gaze" of the classroom is not on them.
4. The simple fact that blogs are published on a world wide network is also interesting. Someone from the other side of the world can see what my students wrote this spring in their class blog. This means two things--one, that they are engaged in public writing, which is, I believe, vastly superior to an essay written for the teacher alone in terms of teaching writing for an audience. But also, don't forget that blogs allow students to give each other feedback, and to get feedback from others. It's a great opportunity to put some sentences into the stream of public consciousness and see what comes back. (BTW, thanks, Cam, for engaging my students on the blog, when I develop the year-long blog next year those kinds of interactions will be invaluable for my students).
5. Need I mention that students are developing and/or cultivating computer skills, which are already one of the most highly marketable skills of the twenty-first century? Kids who don't have computer access at home are given the opportunity to gain important computer literacy, and those who are comfortable with the computer are given the chance to hone their skills in a focused way, with carefully directed activities and structured assessment. (I'd like to add my own voice to the cacophony calling for a "digital intelligence" among the multiple intelligences).
6. One last thing that I think is important was brought up during my "researcher's chair" opportunity to share at the CSU Writing Project Advanced Institute. I think that there is an advantage to having that "publish" button. Students can write, and then self-edit, before posting. I always do this, and I encourage my kids to as well--it could potentially mean that the blog comments will be significantly more developed than those brought up in our "live" discussions, and that kids will learn important revision skills by practicing them. Also, some of us just need that extra minute to look at our words before we send them out there to be digested by the group.
It's a new forum, and a new opportunity for kids to think critically in a format that was simply not available to us just five years ago.