In a recent post, I sketched out a polemic against blogging in the classroom. In response, Will posted a really great comment which echoed the devil's advocate in my head as I wrote the original post:
I think the big difference is there is an expectation that EVERY one of us learn to write. We don't expect everyone to dance or draw. But we do expect all of our students to achieve some level of mastery in written language. Now, whether they learn that through using paper or through blogging is really no that important, unless you believe, as I do, that publication in its many forms is going to become more and more a part of what we do in our jobs. The audiences may be limited and focused on narrow topics, but as it becomes easier to share and collaborate in this way, I think we need to think seriously about asking our students to become comfortable sharing their words in more public ways. That's why I think Barbara has all of her students blog, so they can experience it and be ready for a more open audience if that's required.Doug responded to Will:
The main question that I would ask about the issue of engagement, though, is in what ways are we supporting their efforts? For those students who are reluctant, how can teachers build the confidence and enthusiasm necessary to participate in a social practice that some might see as threatening, or even irrelevant.Doug's comment raised another issue for me: If I have a classroom where every student can produce a coherent paragraph, of course I want them to publish it to a wider audience. However, what about students whose writing is far below grade level? I'm thinking high schoolers who write at below a middle school level. Couldn't forcing that student to publish: a) increase resistance from the student, who is already embarrassed enough at his writing ability and b) open up the student to ridicule from a larger public audience? One of the most important qualities of a classroom for struggling students is that it is a safe space where they feel okay making mistakes. The Internet can never provide this safety.
I think there are now two threads lurking within my original post, both of which I'd like to pursue:
- What are reasons not to blog with students? I think the reasons to blog have been pretty well established. Clarence has a recent post that really shows how the power of producing work for a public audience can positively influence students. And the comments on Nancy's post asking teachers why they blog with their students belong in some sort of blogging hall of fame. However, a rigorous examination requires us to examine the other side.
- If not blogs...what? Clarence asked this as a rhetorical question, however, I think its something that seriously needs to be considered. For one thing, many (and likely the majority) of teachers cannot blog with their students either because they do not have the equipment available to them or because of filters within schools (as of now, I cannot access my blog as the school I will be teaching at next fall). I think it's important to find tools that can work for all students, even those on the losing side of the digital divide. Also, blogging is a large time commitment, which by definition means other things will be pushed aside for it. What do we risk losing? I think we need to address the questions raised by Tom Hoffman in a great recent post where he asked us to "Think of some of the best teachers you ever had. ... do you really believe that whatever improvisational, symphonic magic those teachers conjured with their minds and mouths and their whole personalities suddenly wouldn’t work in the 21st century?" I'd add, what would these teachers have given up if they spent more time teaching technology?