Saturday, March 28, 2009

Blogging Works - We Proved It

I've used blogs with my classes, especially juniors, for three years now. I have told them each year that it was a good idea. I have modeled blogging with my own blog here, but they have never bought in and really experienced the various advantages until now.

I started my new unit on Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms with a new mission: extend discussion beyond the classroom to the blogs. Every year I am frustrated by not enough time to really discuss all of the great topics and writing developed in this novel. I am also really stepping back this year and have developed a class environment in which students direct and choose topics, not just me all the time. While I have skills to review and concepts to cover, I don't need to be the one who picks the direction of the discussion every day. My students have great ideas, passion, and interest in their reading, so I'm the last one who wants to get in the way of that.

I began a previous unit with a new blogging concept. Instead of writing a traditional reading log (reflect on the pages that you just finished before we have class tomorrow), I asked students to choose one or two quotations from the reading to comment on. This, I think, made the assignment more personal and interesting for the students. Reading each others' ideas also became more relevant. While some students had benefited from reading blogs written by more skilled readers, many students didn't comment on each others' work. Writing about a particular reading passage also lead to ideas which would quickly become outdated and irrelevant. Why look back at any earlier blog when we'd progressed in our class discussions?

For A Farewell to Arms, we started with a lottery. Everyone chose a name of a junior and selected a second junior to follow. Besides choosing a quote to reflect on, students also read and commented on two classmates' blogs. The first effect: students talked about blogs during class, their own and their classmates'.

When it was all said and done, I asked them to grade themselves with these directions:

I structured the blog assigned for A Farewell to Arms in a different way, so I would like to structure the grading of that differently as well.
The purpose of the blogs was to:
  • help you further your understanding of the main ideas of the novel,
  • give you practice in composing effective written communications,
  • give you more opportunity to share your ideas beyond class time, and
  • give you more immediate feedback to help you refine your ideas about each reading assignment.
Wow! That’s a lot. So, how did you do? Here’s where you respond to the following questions to help me assess how well you accomplished the above goals through blogging. (If your answer is not 100% yes, then please explain)
  • Did you write a blog post for each reading assignment?
  • Did you write each one quickly or thoughtfully?
  • Did you comment on your assigned classmates’ blogs faithfully?
  • Did you discover or clarify ideas through writing blogs yourself, reading others’ blogs, and commenting?
  • Who were the classmates who commented most often on your blog?
  • Who was the classmate whose comments helped you to develop your own ideas about the novel?
  • Did you ever bring up a blog post during class, yours or a classmates?
  • Did Robin ever comment on your blog and what did you think about that? *
  • What was most valuable to you about blogging with this novel?
  • What grade did you earn on this assignment? (review the 4 goals at the top)
* One of Dean Shareski's students who volunteered to comment on my student blogs as part of her college course.

The final result. Great learning and the majority of students took this opportunity to share and discover new things about the novel that they were interested in for themselves.

Here is a partial list of some responses to number 9:
  • Writing about things that we didn’t necessarily cover in depth during class.
  • I enjoyed discussing our blog posts in class and debating over which ideas we thought were the most correct. I thought that it was fun to comment and read other people’s blogs, but what I enjoyed the most was discussing our comments in class.
  • The commenting, because it forced us to see what our other classmates were thinking and then we could receive a different insight
  • The most valuable thing about blogging this book, to me, was seeing everybody’s reactions to the book. I know not everybody would like it, and I enjoyed reading what people who liked the book had to say. It helped me understand it too.
  • The most valuable thing about blogging this book, to me, was seeing everybody’s reactions to the book. I know not everybody would like it, and I enjoyed reading what people who liked the book had to say. It helped me understand it too.
  • I was able to voice my opinions on the book easier.
  • The most valuable thing was probably the studying I can do from it.
Sigh. I love my students and my school for allowing this kind of experimentation.

8 comments:

SCMorgan said...

And this gives me hope after writing what I did today:)
So glad you asked them to reflect. I plan to do the same with mine after Frankenstein....

Mr. Evans said...

The ability to "have a voice" in the class kept jumping out at me. Therefore, the blog provided the voice a place to be heard on their terms. Neat

Jen da Conceicao said...

I just sent a link to the post to the English teachers I work with. Your idea of using quotes, and connecting students, was really great. I'm hoping it inspires some other teachers to use blogs.

J. Clark Evans said...

Thanks. Let me know if this works for you.

Andy said...

I'm planning on incorporating blogging in my classroom. Although there are numerous challenges to this, both administrative and logistical, I'm open to any material or expertise you are able to share.

J. Clark Evans said...

Hi, Andy. I've had my ups and downs with blogging. Mostly, I've been persistent and my students are finally starting to appreciate the various rewards. They are seeing it less as an added task and more part of the reflective, learning process. I'd be glad to talk with you more about it. You can email me at jcewde@gmail.com.

UndrcoverAngel4life said...

K. Lee said.....I really enjoyed reading on how you get students to blog on what they read. I believe this is the new wave into the 21st Century for students to learn how to use blogging correctly and seriously. It is great pedagogy.

UndrcoverAngel4life said...

K. Lee said.....I really enjoyed reading on how you get students to blog on what they read. I believe this is the new wave into the 21st Century for students to learn how to use blogging correctly and seriously. It is great pedagogy.