Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Using Blogs for Writing Instruction

Although I’ve only been blogging semi-regularly for a few months now, I’ve been using blogs in the classroom for three years. At first I used in my Journalism classes as a means to bring current events to my students and later to introduce them to the power of bloggers in this new media environment. This year I have used them for writing instruction more than ever before. Manila (the software company we use at my school) has added a few new features that make this even more effective. Through access controls, each student can decide who gets to see each post. They can set it up so that all members of the site will see the post (which means everyone in our class) they can set it so that a cohort group (an assigned group of members or peers) can see it, or so that managing editors can see it (in this case just the student and teacher).

For me this has changed the way I respond to their writing and the way students respond to one another, and I have to say (despite some bugs that still need to be worked out), I’m very pleased with the results.

I don't collect rough drafts anymore. I have my students submit an introduction and body paragraphs (for an essay) and have them give each other feedback online at the same time I'm giving them feedback. The kids have found this to be a much more fluid and personal process. After they get this initial feedback, they can submit revisions and updates for feedback from me by creating a new post (this generates an e-mail that I receive). As you might imagine, not every student takes advantage of this, but over a recent four-day weekend I had one student post and revise her scene multiple times. This is the original writing assignment. Here is the student's original scene and here is my feedback. After this, she posted again (and I commented) and then she posted once more (and I commented).
To me this is responding to writing in a more realistic way. Yes, there's a deadline, but there is much more flexibility built into the process and I found it even less work intensive then carrying around a stack of papers to write on.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Blogging as Notetaking

I’m in the beginning phases of working on a research paper with my junior/senior English class.  This one goes along with our Dystopia unit and asks students to find a problem in society they would like to see fixed.  I have introduced them to RSS including news aggregation through Bloglines, and search engine feeds put out by GoogleNews, YahooNews, and Topix.  Next week, I will sign them up for Furl accounts (which saves electronic versions of their articles) and put RSS boxes on their weblogs that will automatically show the articles they are saving.  

One aspect of the research process I’ve never been happy teaching is note taking.  I’ve tried a number of different methods from elaborately organized note cards to highlighted photocopies with annotations.  The methods either didn’t seem genuine (I don’t know anyone who uses note cards once they leave high school), or were difficult to evaluate.  This year I’m going to try using each student’s weblog and RSS box to facilitate this.  After they have accumulated research on background, opposition, proponents, major figures and events, I will require them to cover these major categories through blog entries.

I’m hoping that by forcing them to read, think, link and write about the articles that they will use (and how it fits into their own ideas) the note taking process will become more of a research paper pre-write.  For what is blogging other than an extended research conversation?  The most difficult part will be making clear what a good blog post of this type should include.  I hope to find good models of this type for them to read and respond to.  I’d also like to find a way to encourage conversation within the class and possibly from outside it as well.  I welcome feedback or offers for collaboration.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Community Blogging

Last Friday, Darrell and I took our American Studies class to the computer lab and asked them to browse a couple of online newspapers for stories that might show how their community is changing or ones that demonstrate efforts to preserve a lifestyle that is disappearing.  You can read the assignment here.  This was done in an effort to introduce them to what will be a new option for their long term research project.  We also asked them to think about what community means and how the one story they chose to blog about was affecting it.

This assignment was asking a lot, and overall I have found that our tenth graders find it difficult to focus in that kids of setting for long periods of time (we have 82 minute classes).  We ended up cutting the assignment short and required those that didn’t finish, to complete it for homework.  Still, they found some interesting stories and actually began the process of focusing on their community and all that is changing about it.  Samples of this community blogging are available here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here.

The following week, we presented them with the revised research project.  The major change here was that every student is required to establish a personal connection to their project either through the community or their own background.  They will also be required to find a material artifact to analyze, and a source for oral history.  Next week, I plan on bringing in my grandmother’s diary from her days in vaudeville as an example of a material artifact and describe how I incorporated this in a research paper I did for a graduate class.  I hope this will help some of them grasp the idea of this research project more fully and develop more viable topics.   I also hope to involve the local Historical Society for help in finding and developing material artifacts.