Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Why is This Working?

This is not the first time that I have taught students how to blog.

For many years, I had my tenth-grade students create blogs for their project-based research projects. We connected with writers and with experts on their topics.  Some students spent hours exploring other blogs, using them as mentors for their own writing, making sure their posts were loaded with images and links to entice readers.  But inevitably, this would be the exception and not the rule. Most of their blogs read like mini-essays, each post written in a typical five-paragraph format.

This semester, something has changed.  But I'm not quite sure how or why.

My seniors have started blogging to reflect on their reading of a "banned book." They selected a book of their choice from the American Library Association's list of challenged books. We will spend the month of March digging into issues of censorship and reader's rights. My students are reading everything from Huckleberry Finn to Looking for Alaska, and although they have only just started their blogging adventures, I'm noticing a difference in the depth and the quality of their reflections.

Take for example this morning.  Cheyenne is reading American Psycho.  She came up to my desk and asked, "I want to include lines from my book in my post, but I'm not really sure how.  The writing is much more dense and dark than I expected."  We got to have a conversation about what she thinks might most benefit her readers, and think through the best approach for including lines.  Should she type up a paragraph from the text, blocking out particular words so as not to offend some readers? Or, should she take a picture of a page in the book and simply post it along with her annotations written on the page?

Madeline just asked, "How should I cite this?"  We've been talking about ensuring that we give credit to the original writers and artists.  Students are including specific passages, evidence, images, and links to other news articles and writers.

So why is this blogging experience working out so much better than earlier years? I need to spend more time reflecting on this question, but my initial thought is that this time around I spent much less time instructing students how to set-up our blogs and much more time pointing out what good bloggers do.  We looked at more examples than I had in year's past, and I started the first week by having my students comment on one another's first posts.  In doing so, not only did they receive feedback on their writing, but they also had an opportunity to explore how their peers had designed their online spaces.

In short, I spent less time on instructions and more time on having students get hands-on with writing.

And here's how their looking so far.  We would love your feedback on their blogs!  Simply hover over the images below to access links to my students' blogs.

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