Class Blogging Reflection Part II – My Role

There’s been a nice run of posts on the roll of the teacher in students blogging at The Daily Grind, Random Thoughts, and Blog of Proximal Development. I’ve been waiting to respond to them so I could relate this to my reflections on my students’ blogs.

I wrote in my last real post that I think my students blogs are going well in the sense that they are a public space where they share and express their thoughts about their final projects. However, I am not happy with the lack of critical thought and discourse. I’ve been thinking about how I can change my role in the blogs to better encourage the third goal of the blogs.

To this point, I have stayed mostly out of the way of my students (I have only commented when students have asked me a direct question). I have done this because I wanted my students to establish their blogs as their space, not an extension of the classroom (as much as I would like to try and make my classroom a student-centered space, it is still a classroom in school).

This leads me to Mr. McNamar. He recently posted an excellent reflection on his first year of blogging in class and came up some questions which frame the internal conflicts I’m facing right now:

  • Should the teacher post on the classroom blog?
  • Should the teacher interact, through comments, on the classroom blog?
  • Should posts be graded, if so, what should the criteria be?
  • Should blogging in the classroom be held to the same standards as essay writing, or should we give into the text-message culture?

All the questions speak to the tensions between this being a controlled, teacher-directed space as opposed to a dynamic, student-controled space. If I regularly post and comment, grade every post, and hold the writing to ‘essay standards,’ then the blog will certainly become ‘just another assignment,’ though there is a better chance I’ll be able to help my students write (and think?) on a higher level. On the other hand, if I do not comment or post, if posts aren’t graded, and if students write in whatever form they are most comfortable, there is a chance that the blogs will not just be another assignment, though the level of discourse will almost definitely stay where it is now.

These questions, directly or indirectly, have been addressed by many others.

Matt Johnson commented:

But in furthering my theme of expanding the writing skills of students, I would encourage you to require adherence to standard English. Using the text-message English that is now becoming common place detracts from the ability to formulate reasoned and lucid responses on the fly.

I think Matt has a valid point when trying to work specifically on formal writing skills. However, I think doing this comes at a very high price – mandating a certain type of discourse I think automatically makes it a teacher controlled space. As long as my role is playing “language police,” a much higher emphasis in some students minds will be on writing properly as opposed to sharing ideas, building knowledge, and thinking critically.

Ivy, who is a student in online graduate courses, commented:

I don’t think that posts themselves should be graded — as it turns the blog into an assignment just like any other assignment, which is something you seem to want to avoid — but participation in the blog can be graded. For me, in my classes, it is required that I “make a substantial daily contribution to classroom discussion”. “Substantial” is highly subjective, but it’s that subjectivity that prompts the class to really think about their posts and comments so that they will, hopefully, qualify.

I think she hits some things right on the nail. However, I am hesitant to trust the subjectivity of “Substantial.” I think it may work well with graduate students, but I am not as confident it will work with 9th graders. What does ‘substantial’ blog participation look like? Is it just thoughtful posts? Is it responding to other ideas in others’ blogs? Is it commenting on many blogs? I am not really sure at this point.

Nancy McKeand posted:

If we are truly committed to student-centered classrooms, we have to get out of the way. But I think that teachers can post as an equal member of the learning community.

I think she is 100% right in that we need to get out of the way to have a truly student-centered classroom (or blogosphere). One area I’ve struggled with tremendously this year is in trying to become an equal member of the learning community. I’m sure a lot of people would say that this is not possible with 9th graders, but I refuse to accept that. However, at least three different students wrote to me in reflections throughout the year something to the extent of “if you want to be our equal, we’re going to treat you like we treat our peers, which isn’t always good.” What can be done to get around this attitude that certain students have?

Nancy also had a great post on grading blogs:

I think it should be graded in a portfolio format where students choose their “best” posts. It seems obvious that the student who writes more would have more to choose from and would, therefore, be likely to produce a better portfolio. That would seem to cover the question of frequency and content and, to a large degree, subject matter, as well.

I just think this is a fantastic idea that I will steal. I told my students when giving the assignment that they would be graded for their blogs on “effort and thoughtfulness.” I can grade the effort in a straight – Did you respond to all prompts – manner. I like the idea of students picking their 2 or 3 best posts to be graded for thoughtfulness.

Finally, I love the ideas Konrad Glogowski expressed for how to interact with the students’ blogs with out directly entering their space. He described how he doesn’t post in students’ blogs, but instead discusses student posts on his own blogs:

I use my blog to direct traffic, to let my students know that I also go online, that I do read their work – not because I am interested in marking it but because I am genuinely interested in what they have to say. I direct the cognitive traffic of my class blogosphere by using my own blog to post links to student entries and write about similarities and differences in their ideas. I sometimes see my work as that of an aggregator. I do not produce ideas, I just “catch” them as they move around in the ever-expanding web of thoughts.

I think it may be too late for me to establish this because I have already established this blog as something separate from the class. However, the next time I use blogging in class, I think I’ll use this idea and have a class blog where I am the author, and use thi
s primarily to reflect and respond to students’ postings.

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