Confession #1: I learned to blog from a thirteen year old.
Okay, I admit it. I learned to blog from one of my thirteen-year-old students. This is ironic on many levels, and we’ll start with the fact that I am supposed to be the teacher. Also, it seems I take my IT advice from a student who, in the not-so-distant past, insisted on eschewing the computer and instead wrote her papers on an old-fashioned typewriter. One day, she even brought the forty-pound clunker to class. While I loved hearing the nostalgic click, click of the keys as she waxed poetic, if you’re old enough you may remember one has to press firmly when typing on a manual. Thus, as she typed, the table shook mercilessly. Needless to say, SHE was able to write that day, but no one else in the group got a thing done. That’s when I developed a new rule I didn’t know I needed: No typewriters at writing group. (Lesson: You can actually create writer’s block from being shaken. Who knew?)
Confession #2: I was wrong. Blogs do not belong in the category of virtual pets.
My overall opinion about electronic media is that it usually makes a writing teacher’s job harder. I remember when the biggest electronic “problems” I had to overcome were that students watched too much television and played video games. (“They have no imagination! They don’t know how to construct a plot!”) Oh, those were the days. Now children have cell phones, e-mail, virtual on-line pets they are very concerned with feeding, Facebook pages, My Space, texting, and Twitter. All of this translates to the literal rewiring of the brain for constant self-interruption and a dependence on technology for tasks I frankly believe the brain should be responsible for. And don’t get me started on the search and replace computer thesaurus…or the prevailing view that complete sentences are optional and misspellings are cute. U no?
But, ah, the blog is so refreshing. Real writing happens on blogs. Themes and opinions are developed on blogs. Creativity, a concern with presentation and audience, wordsmithing…oh, thank you, thank you. Finally, technology I can work with.
Confession #3: Blogs can make a teacher’s job easier.
Here are some of the benefits of using blogs as a potential tool when teaching writing:
1. Blogs allow for tremendous flexibility: Blogs can be used by individual writers or by groups of writers. I’ve assigned students to develop individual research blogs and, oh, the results! For group creative writing, a group blog became the container for a fictional world developed by five writers in five voices. The result? We have an 80-page collaborative manuscript. Group poetry blogs, personal journal blogs, informational blogs, opinion-related blogs…it’s an endless universe of blogosphere potential.
2. Blogs give teachers instant access: I no longer have to wait until a writer brings her notebook for me to read over; nor do I have to keep it to review. As a teacher or parent, blogs give one immediate access to kids’ writing work; I can check what my students have been working on at any time during the week.
3. Blogs allow for interactive feedback: The ability to comment on a blog is pure beauty! I assign each student to read their classmates’ blogs and make an insightful comment to their peer. They also give feedback about what subtopic they would like the next writing installment to cover. Each writer not only gets a good pulse on their readers’ interests and questions, they understand their work is interactive and has an impact on others.
4. Blogs build audience awareness and purpose into writing: It can be hard to convince kids they actually have an audience or purpose for their work beyond the teacher. (Yes, I try to tell them how very important my opinion is, but for some reason they often don’t believe me.) A lack of purpose or sense of audience makes writing feel boring and meaningless. Blogs change that. When kids see their work appear on the computer screen, they have a deep sensory experience of the power and effect of their words. They experience writing in its most potent form — as a way to communicate and define one’s self and ideas to an audience. I’m not talking three pieces of notebook paper stacked on a teacher’s desk type of audience. That’s old school. Potentially they could be heard globally. Wow, now that’s a lot to think about.
And so I end this piece with an Ode to Blogs…
Oh, blogs, you give me new hope.
Ideas and images dance across the screen
breathing new life
into dead space
ushering in the click, click, click of possibility.
And by the way, my young blogging instructor has now set up a blog on how to set up a blog. You can check it out at http://howtoblog-spot.blogspot.com/.
~ Ivy Sandz