Molding “Real” Bloggers

Posted on February 10, 2008

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Will Richardson, a noted edublogger, recently sounded what appeared to me an alarm:

       I’m still surprised at how difficult it is to find K-12       students using their blogs to really try to connect with their readers around the topics that they are reading and writing about.I’m not at all surprised.

“Real Blogging,” to use Richardson’s term, requires the highest levels of thinking and writing—skills that are hard to teach and not easy to learn.  In a post written in 2004, Richardson defines what is and what is not blogging. I’ve created a table to share his definition:

Not Blogging

Simple Blogging Real Blogging Complex Blogging
Posting assignments Links with analysis that gets into the meaning of the content linked Links with analysis and synthesis that articulate a deeper understanding or relationship to the content being linked and written with potential audience response in mind Extended analysis and synthesis over a longer period of time that builds on previous posts, links and comments.
Journaling (i.e. “This is what I did today.” Reflective, meta-cognitive writing on practice without links.    
Links with descriptive annotation (i.e. “This site is about…”      

Students must undertake a series of complicated steps to become “real” bloggers:

  •  identify topics and issues that interest them;
  • read widely about these issues;
  • evaluate the credibility of the sources they are reading;
  • formulate arguments and discussions that put forth insightful ideas of their own while synthesizing the ideas of others;
  • pre-write, draft, and revise a post, logically organizing their ideas, succinctly sharing their views, and using language that engages their audience;
  • attribute (via hyperlinks and signal phrases to introduce source material) information from other sources. 

Blogging demands a monumental list of higher-level thinking skills—a list English teachers have struggled for years to have students master.  I suspect this is why Will Richardson is struggling to find “real blogs.”  This is, though, what makes blogging—real blogging—such a valuable exercise for our students.  Not only do they grow as readers, writers, and thinkers, the blogging platform allows them to publish to a real audience—one with which they can interact and collaborate. 

 While our ultimate goal should be to enable our students to become “real” bloggers, we can’t dismiss the other valuable opportunities blogs offer for both students and teachers. Never has it been easier to create a website: it’s quick, it’s easy, it’s free. Limited access to school websites often prevents teachers from creating or maintaining a webpage on their school site. A blog—rather than a webpage created with FrontPage or DreamWeaver, for example—allows teachers 24-7 access to a site where they can not only publish traditional resources—syllabus, homework assignments, hand-outs, calendar—but where they can also communicate and collaborate with students and parents. Blogs also allow students to engage in other valuable learning activities: discussions of a common text, creation of a portfolio, creation of a reading record (check out LibraryThing for an awesome tool to archive, evaluate, and discuss the books you’ve read.) The possibilities are limited only by one’s imagination. 

As any English teacher would, I can’t pass up the opportunity to highlight some of my own student’s attempts at “real” blogging. My AP English Language students (juniors) created blogs and Google Reader accounts at the beginning of the school year. The first nine weeks, we played with both to learn to use them. The second nine weeks, students chose a current issue or problem to research. I arranged students in groups around common topics. Each week for four weeks, students read an article (We learned to use EbscoHost.) and published a post that summarized the article, discussed their evaluation of the credibility of the source, and added their ideas about the article and research topic. Group members then read and commented on each other’s posts. With a few groups, I was able to link with an adult who could offer expertise on a particular topic. For example, one group chose to tackle the topic of evolution vs. creationism. I contacted a chemist—one I knew had done extensive research on this topic–who works at a local plant, FutureFuel, and asked him to join the group’s conversations. He was able to offer insights, questions, and sources that I—a simple English teacher–would never have been able to provide. Amy’s blog highlights one of the conversations (T. Coleman is the chemist.) My students thought it was really cool that someone outside the classroom was reading and discussing their work. This nine weeks we’re tackling—or at least attempting to tackle—“real” blogging. I’ve required students to publish six posts this nine weeks on any topic of their choice. In the first two posts, they had to include at least one hyperlink. In the third and fourth, they have to include at least two hyperlinks. In the last two, I’ll require them to hyperlink to at least three sources or sites. Together, we created a rubric to grade their posts. Jon-Michael writes about the presidential race.  Ron writes about the Fair Tax. Clare writes about the recent Virginia Abercrombie store required to remove pictures from their stores.  

Our blogging hasn’t happened over night. It’s taken a semester to get to this point—a semester filled with in-class lessons on writing, reading, and research, a semester filled with analysis of model blog posts, a semester filled with one-on-one writing conferences.  Enabling our students to be “real” bloggers is a long, arduous journey, one that will never be complete. As David Warlick recently pointed out, it’s not about the blog –it’s not about the technology; it’s about the reading and writing. 

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