“Sitting in a computer lab writing silently on a class blog is like standing right next to someone and sending them a text message.” People do it all the time, but that doesn’t make it a good idea. This point had honestly never occurred to me until it was pointed out to me recently by Dan Maas, the Chief Information Officer of Littleton Public Schools, but it has given an unexpected new direction to my ongoing teacher research project.
Toward the end of last year PSD finally unblocked some of the previously filtered blogging sites, including my personal favorite—blogger—which has opened the door for me to set up a new class blog project this year. My plan is to set up a class discussion centered on the themes of To Kill a Mockingbird. I will have three sections of 9th Grade Pre-AP students who are all currently reading the book and can’t wait to see what they come up with. I will post a link to the page as soon as I get it set up.
As always I plan to run the discussion synchronously (which means that all the students will be in class communicating through the blog at the same time) rather than asynchronously (which means that they would post as homework, over a period of a few weeks). The major difference is that I want to add a new wrinkle, one that honestly had never occurred to me before.
I have written on this blog before about the benefits of “silent discussions” an idea that I borrowed from an AP curriculum I taught at my former school (developed by Nate Hoffman) and adapted for use with a class blog rather than big sheets of butcher paper. But my EDUC 709 seminar recently had a visit from an amazing technology in education innovator, Dan Maas, and he gave me some food for thought.
He described a different type of synchronous blogging in which the blog supplements an active classroom discussion, so that the teacher is vocally engaging the students about the different subjects at the same time that they are furiously hammering out their typed responses. Essentially what this creates is a class discussion with so much more opportunity for student voices to enter the conversation. Rather than waiting impatiently, hand slowly going numb while the conversation plods on, a student can add his or her two cents without any wait, before he forgets, and before the conversation moves on and makes her comment seem irrelevant.
Interestingly I had a student come up to me after a recent, very active, face to face class discussion and he complained that several times he had ideas but that by the time I got around to calling on him the conversation had moved on and so his voice had never been heard. I keep track of which students I have called on so that I am sure to spread the input around, and bring in as many student voices as possible, but this is a difficult issue to overcome—unless you can set up a not-so-silent synchronous class blog with active in-class discussion at the same time. Sounds good to me, anyway, so that’s the plan. I’ll be sure to let you know how it works out.