During the fall of 2010, I replaced reading logs required of the independent reading piece of the curriculum and instituted a blogging wiki. I had visions of real and meaningful conversations about their reading and total student investment in creating a published piece in which students would take pride. The results were...to use the words of my 20-year-old son..."Meh." A non-descript word for non-impressive results. Here is a screen shot of one student's weekly blog (and by the way, this student is considered gifted and is in our honors English course this semester):
Not exactly the deep thinking and student investment I was hoping to see. The discussions were worse.
Ug. Still, there were enough glimpses of good stuff that I felt encouraged to continue (well, perhaps it was the lack of any good alternative). However, I knew I had to make some changes if I wanted to see changes in the work...
Change 1: Dedicate more class time to blogging. Now, those teachers out there appreciate what an agonizing decision this is. For one, I risk not covering all the necessary pieces of the 18 week curriculum, which is already a tight fit. Secondly, this means "hogging" one computer lab for 5 hours of the day each Friday. Again, I risk injury from those irate teachers who see the schedule and say, "Olson has the lab EVERY FRIDAY for these hours?" Frightening.
Change 2: Step up the expectations of what content will be in the blog. I worried about making it "my" assignment, and tried to afford as much student choice as possible. I always had provided writing prompts and had given suggestions as to what could be done to enhance the blog, but left it an open-ended assignment with great leeway. Well, those days are over. I now require 5 elements in each blog: 1, a catchy title; 2, an appropriate image that fits the blog; 3, appropriate credit for the image; 4, a hyperlink; and 5, complete, well-constructed sentences full of the author's voice.
Change 3: Add required response content Again, worry about infringing on student choice took a back seat to pushing students to work toward quality work.
Change 4: Add a "sister" school with whom we share blogs. Now, this requirement exists only in my World Literature class, but this now looks like a vital piece.
These changes have made a differences. I now am finding many insightful and thoughtful blogs...not everyone, but many more than I did in the past. Check out these screen shots from this semester:
The discussion threads have been stronger, too. Again, a screen shot.
As you can see, I do try to comment on every blog and try to role model insightful comments and thinking. I am helped with this by an excellent collaborating teacher who will respond to one of the sections. She does a fantastic job encouraging students and modeling insightful comments. Together we hope to encourage our students to grow as readers, writers, and thinkers.
I am seeing even more promising results in my World Literature class. Instead of using a Wiki, I instead use Blogger. World Lit is a senior elective which I teach only once each day, and I felt I could better teach all the options of Blogger more effectively with this smaller group. Also, it is easier to read and manage a smaller number of links to all the different blogs. (The Wiki works well for a larger group for all the pages are together and muh more easily managed.)
Here is a screen shot of one of the World Lit blogs followed by the comment stream.
I am encouraged by the connections to other pieces of literature and the connections to others' comments in the stream. Three of the comments in this stream are from students in our "sister" class. I am hopeful my students begin to enjoy sharing their thoughts and having others read and respond. BTW...I require that my students read and respond to all of the blogs of our sister class and at least 2 of our classmates. I just find more success establishing high expectations of their time and involvement in this process.
So, I plan on continuing this work with blogs. The English 3B is done with their independent reading piece now, but I plan on using the blog as a way to reflect on the week's learning as we move on to research papers and other units. I'm not sure where this will lead, but I'm sure I will learn.
Hopefully, my students will learn, too. And hopefully, they will the remember these times of conversations about literature and learning about life. I'm always full of hope.