by ALISTAIR BOMPHRAY
I think I actually said this a year ago: “I would sooner take a shower with a rabid squirrel than stoop to blogging.”
And after I said it, I snarled.
As for incorporating blogging into one of my classes… forget about it. What’s next, teaching my students to tweet? Where’s the educational value in that?
Yet here I am, one year later, happily sending my own musings into the blogosphere like so many red balloons. What’s more, my students have blogs. And I couldn’t be happier about it. Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself.
Here’s why I think your students should have blogs too.
Don’t worry. I don’t think teachers must utilize technology in order to be good—even in this digital age. To appropriate a popular phrase: SMART Boards don’t teach students, teachers teach students.
But I do think there’s something to this blogging thing.
For one, students like it. Simple as that. They like it. As much as I may try to come up with fun/creative/relevant activities, it’s a rare assignment that transcends the damning ‘schoolwork’ label. Miraculously, blogs approach those rarefied heights.
I can’t explain it really. Maybe it’s because blogging is MySpace’s slightly more respectable older sister, and therefore gets cool points for being in the same family. Or maybe it’s because, like a locker or a bedroom or car, they can personalize it. They can infuse it with their own identity, their own sense of style, their own 24 inch chrome rims.
To give you an example, here’s a screenshot from one student’s blog.
And get this—I didn’t even assign that entry. He just did it.
Which brings me to my most compelling argument for blogging as an instructional tool. Once students get their first taste of the ‘power’ of publishing, this magical thing starts to happen. They blog on their own. By contrast, after five years of requiring my English students to keep journals, I can count the number of unassigned entries I’ve received on one hand. With blogs, it’s the norm—even with my most struggling writers.
Not that student blogging doesn’t come with its own set of problems. Due to its aforementioned similarity to MySpace and other kinds of social networking tools (including texting), students feel empowered to use less than academic language. And that’s being generous. Also, due to the public nature of a blog, there is the danger that students will misuse the space to spread gossip or post inappropriate pictures/stories.
This is all still in the experimental stage for me. So far I’ve only used blogging in my journalism class. In other words, I was unburdened by the additional pressure of meeting all of the standards of a core curriculum class or preparing for a standardized test. My goal has simply been to get my students to respond to the world in this dynamic new way.
That said, I’m eager to try it in my sophomore English classes next year. I want to see if it works there, if the high level of student engagement carries over into that context. Will students just as eagerly blog about character development in A Midsummer Night’s Dream? Will they comment on each other’s posts, a la Double Entry Draft? My challenge will be to shift blogging into the academic realm without killing all of the fun. If I’m unsuccessful, I can be sure I’ll hear it from my students first: “Damn, Mr. B., you killed it.” Yes, I know, we teachers have a way of doing that.
To check out some of my students’ blogs, click on the following links: