As the end of the grading period approaches, I pause to reflect on the blogging my AP English Language students have been doing this quarter. Overall, it has been a productive experience: they’ve grown as writers and thinkers, experiencing what it means to enter into conversations with a varied audience on topics that matter to them. The biggest drawback, from a teacher perspective, has been a management one—how to assess (heck—how even to read) the sheer volume of writing they’ve pproduced. For English teachers, this isn’t a new challenge. Grading writing is no easy task. Grading writing online presents even bigger challenges.
Using Google Reader to View All Blogs From One Location
Grading Student Blogs
As for assessing the blogs, working with the students, we designed rubric: Blogging Writer’s Checklist. Our focus was on learning to write arguments that synthesize information from other sources—a key skill assessed on the AP English Language exam. I recently wrote a post explaining how blogging is akin to writing a synthesis essay. My plan was to use the rubric to grade each of the students’ six blog posts, holding writing conferences with each student on at least two of their posts. In these conferences, I printed out their post, marked it up, and discussed with the students major strengths and weaknesses, offering ideas for improvement, and helping students target specific areas on which they needed to focus. The problem: I didn’t budget class time wisely to allow adequate time for these conferences. In hindsight, I now realize that forty-eight writing conferences might be a bit overzealous. Grading 138 posts might also be overzealous, considering this is not the only writing I’m grading.
Making Adjustments to Handle the Paper Load
How can I improve my management of my students’ blogging?
Utilize peer revision. Next quarter, I’ll have students print out at least two of their blog posts and conduct in-class peer revision sessions with a partner. I’ll design a hand-out, giving students specific tasks to guide their sessions.
Let students choose which posts they want me to grade. Rather than grading every single post, I’ll allow students to choose their best work for me to grade. In a nine week grading period, I could require students to publish five posts (about one every two weeks). Every three weeks, students could choose which posts they want me to grade. Grading three posts from each student over the nine-week grading period would be much more manageable.
Group students in learning communities to monitor and encourage each other. To avoid my having to read every single post, I’ll create eight groups of three, requiring group members to read and comment on all the posts written by members of their group. I have a wonderful group of kids, and I haven’t worried at all about them posting inappropriate content. However, we do have to be careful about the comments. I have had a couple kids get spam comments that linked to sites with inappropriate photos. We’ve discussed the need to monitor comments closely and to delete any inappropriate ones.
Hold student-led writing conferences. I’ll require each student to initiate one writing conference with me by the end of the fifth week. Students will choose what writing—either a rough draft or a finished piece—to bring to the conference. I will create a hand-out that requires them to mark up the piece and to reflect on strengths and weaknesses before coming to the conference. These changes will hopefully improve the blogging experience for us all.
Driving More Readers to Students’ Blogs
The other modification I’m planning will hopefully keep students enthused about blogging. The biggest motivation for my students—and for me—has been having someone comment on our blogs. It’s exciting to know that someone is actually reading what we write. It’s especially exciting when that someone is outside our school. This quarter, I cancelled the sixth blog post. Instead of writing a final post, we’ll go to the lab next week to “comment blog,” an idea I got from Alan Levine, edublogger who devotes a week every year to commenting on others’ blogs. This will not only allow them read and explore other blogs, but will hopefully drive readers to their own blogs. I’d love to hear any other suggestions for improvement.