Tuesday, July 24, 2012

From MUSE: Student blogging: woot!

I just read a great article on student blogging from the Guardian UK, and now I'm strongly considering making blogging a big part of my curriculum next year (and perhaps trying to get the other teachers in the grade on board - perhaps this will even make it easier for them to integrate the new Common Core disciplinary literacy standards!).  

Some concerns I have and my initial thoughts on how to tackle them:

1) Many of my students hate typing.  I have been thinking about this for other reasons as well, and I've almost decided to take some time out of class to teach keyboarding.  What with budget cuts typing/keyboarding classes have gone by the wayside with everything else, and, honestly, it probably didn't even need to be a whole class in the first place.  But I'm thinking a class session on the qwerty keyboard, a couple practice sessions with The quick brown fox, and maybe a quiz or two (a competition?!) would at least get them started.  Heck, we could even read Ella Minnow Pea along with it and work on coming up with even better pangrams.  (Yes, I pulled the book to look that up.  And that made me realize that it really is an excellent book to teach! Censorship! Speech! Epistolary novel!)

2) Many of my students don't have computer access at home.  I think this is also part of a larger problem that I want to tackle early on.  Our students need to work on getting access to technology in order to be equal participants in the working world and in social discourse.  I'm thinking this will require a multi-pronged approach:  1) Working with students at the beginning of the year to ensure that they have a plan for studying (a physical location at home/school/library/coffee shop/etc, a planned time, a planned way to tackle distractions, etc) and a commitment to implement it. 2) Bringing parents in to help implement. 3) Working with families to increase access to technology for all members of the family - whether this means collecting information on community computer classes (or holding them?!?!), library hours, etc., or whether this means working to get cheap computers and reliable home internet access I'm not sure.  I'll keep you posted and share any resources I find on the Community Resources page.

And for those of you worried about putting your kids on the internet, an excerpt from the Guardian:

None of the risks justify avoiding student blogging. Defamatory/provocative remarks are a behavioural issue, not a technological one: don't deprive all of an exciting outlet because of the remote possibility of misuse by a tiny few. Others may worry that student work is too weak. But where better than a blog to show the arc of individual development? Student bloggers are not meant to be the finished article (I'm not sure most professional bloggers are!); what we're looking for is emulation of, and participation in, a global community of discussion, however fledgling their efforts. Plagiarism is, surprisingly, not a problem. I've had one incidence of this all year: a discreet, firmly-worded email explaining copyright law to the student (copied to the parental email) and the post was swiftly amended.
Use of strong language is moot. A2 sociologists this year persuaded me to allow them to use it in political/satirical posts; tellingly, they did so freely early on, but then it fell away - its casual use disempowers it and makes writing appear lazy. Students came to reflect that they should choose words more carefully. "You don't hear Polly Toynbee saying 'What a dick' in her articles, even though she clearly thinks Cameron is one," concluded one perceptive wit, to general agreement. Language is a thorny issue, so I share this story without imposition. Child protection issues are minimal. Teach e-safety once, well, and take firm action when needed - but don't lock kids away from the world. My students were delightedly amazed to discover postgrads in Germany, travellers in South-East Asia and Occupy activists in the US liking, commenting on and following their blogs.
Our first year of use has been rewarding and engaging. I am confident it has enhanced students' enjoyment, writing skill, and university prospects. Our use has been hit-and-miss - but that's what a trial is for, and I go into year two with a clearer idea of the advantages, limitations and required timely guidance in asking students to write for the public forum. Remember what writing is for: to share what we see, think and believe, and invite response. Remember what schools are for: preparation to enter a wide world of possibility. Durrenmatt said: "A writer doesn't solve problems. He allows them to emerge." Who wouldn't want their classroom to look like that?
This post was also published on MUSE '13 

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