Bing Miller, The 21st Century School House, writes,
If there’s nothing else I’ve discovered this year during my web 2.0 journey it’s that we, as teachers, have to be just as willing to learn as we expect our students to be. How can we promote 21st Century learning if we don’t model it? What I’ve seemed to discover is that there’s limitless possibilities on how these digital tools can be used. We need to experiment and implement.
How true this is! Unfortunately it becomes quite frustrating or down heartening when some teachers state quite plainly and loudly that they can see no point in blogs or wikis ….. !
Bing was reflecting on a workshop he had recently taken with a group of teachers. I found his comments on the conversations which emerged from the workshop really interesting as they touched on things that I have been wondering as I attempt to get my students more involved in writing posts for their blogs. I am putting the bulk of his comments here for my own reference and also in response to comments to my own questions regarding student blogging. The important thing about the whole topic is that we are prepared to get students involved, and continue to experiment and implement!
What about grammatical and spelling mistakes? The kids still make them, just like they do on old fashioned paper. However, I haven’t seen too much “text-speak” in their writing, using u for you and other common abbreviations. The reality is that the students know everyone is reading (theoretically). Just like any student writing, there are endless possibilities for mini-lessons. What’s great is that the student writing is easy to access for use in a future lesson, whether it’s cutting and pasting it into another form or simply sending the students back to the postings with a task that requires them to re-read, revise or re-think what they or their classmates wrote.
What about commenting on student work?
As far as I know, there’s not a way to do it like we are used to the old-fashioned way, the way many teachers envision it: taking out the red pen. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it will open some of the teachers up to looking at the student’s writing more holistically at first, instead of instinctively tracking down errors. Maybe it will encourage students to write more, eliminating the fear that whatever they do will just come back marked up and looking like Sonny Corleone at a Long Island tollbooth.
But how can we as teachers provide constructive feedback so they can learn and improve?
I agree that having students post comments on a blog limits what the teacher can do when you compare it to traditional in-class essay writing. For me, it has meant I’ve looked at the comment writing as more of a place to “deposit” homework. It is by no means the only place students write. In fact, it has forced me to constantly rethink what I ask the students to do so that they are reinforced that what they write is not simply being checked off and ignored. I take their ideas and incorporate them into class discussions. I’ve projected their words onto the SMART Board as part of class lessons. From a teacher’s perspective, I think I’ve done a better job at that most basic of pedagogical requirements: making learning relevant to the students and connecting new knowledge to prior knowledge. There’s limitless possibilities in how the technology is useful in this area. Konrad Glogowski, for example, offers an nnovative way to “comment on” and assess his students’ work on their blogs. What he describes is more like conversations with the student writers as a way to encourage their growth. Isn’t that where we should be striving as teachers?
How do students revise their writing?
They can’t change their comments. However, there’s nothing says they can’t take their comments and use them as part of another, longer, more formal writing assignment. This is where the limit of using the comment section lies. And this is where more discussion and experimentation needs to take place in the classroom. Discussions about providing students the means in the class to set up their own blog, link to one another, post regularly as part of class. Use the comment section to respond directly to a student’s writing. This might address some of the feedback issues raised in an earlier post. Again, there’s limitless possibilities on how to move in this direction.
But how do we tackle the larger issue of using blogging to improve student writing?
That’s the big question. And that’s where many edubloggers spent a lot of time discussing and exploring. It takes time. It takes initiative. Ideally, it should not be done in isolation.
So what’s next?
That’s an important question. Ideally, I’d like to get my students set up with their own blogs. With individual student blogs, some of the questions regarding individual teacher feedback and collaboration can be addressed. It’s not easy and it requires some planning ahead thinking. We as teachers need to be experts (of sorts) using this technology or else we run the risk that what we do in the classroom will be nothing more than playing around with cool stuff. Ms. Sigman and Clay Burrell have recently addressed this issue. In a recent post, Ms. Sigman says “In other words we can teach in a very techno-rich environment, but unless we put the tools in their [the students’] hands and teach them not only how to use them but how to learn the skills themselves what we teach in class will be irrelevant to their lives.” I agree. It can’t be in isolation and the purpose of blogging, or using wikis, or any other web 2.0 application can’t simply be to just use it. Otherwise, we run the risk of making the use of some of these powerful applications seem like nothing more than things that are used only in a classroom, like writing a five-paragraph essay. The skills behind them have to extend beyond the classroom. As with anything in education, that growth and that learning starts with the teachers. It’s no secret that we have to be willing to grow and learn along with our students.
Here’s where I think I’m echoing the general sentiment of what I’ve been reading these last several months. Patrick Higgins, in discussing virtual schools, says it quite succinctly but right on the nose: “Teaching will be different, and this will happen
very soon. Teaching will require that we are risk-takers, savvy, and cavalier. Teaching will be different, or it will be irrelevant.”
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