Keep On Bloggin’ In The Free World: The blog as instructional tool

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.

carlos_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:

http://simplymo1.blogspot.com/
http://az-tootz.blogspot.com/
http://michelledisaster.blogspot.com/
http://star1808.blogspot.com/
http://shalveencmma2.blogspot.com/
http://clovesmeagain.blogspot.com/

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8 Comments

Filed under Classroom Reflections

8 responses to “Keep On Bloggin’ In The Free World: The blog as instructional tool

  1. You’ve got blog on the brain! And I can relate. Its crossed my mind how I could utilize this addicting medium in my classroom. I’m a bit nervous about it as well. I hope you post later about how your experiment goes with this.

    Can you limit readership with a password or something? Would that take away its appeal?

  2. So, what’s it like showering with a rabid squirrel? :]

    I also use blogs in our homeschool. “Elf” and “Emperor” each have their own blog, which they update from time to time. Using pseudonyms, I think, keeps our privacy. Recently, they memorized a poem about trains and I posted those recitals on my blog. The best part is the comments. My sons love to get comments from all over the world.

    Another idea for younger children: The Flat Stanley. We’ve posted pictures from Australia, New Zealand, Florida, the UK, and other locations. We had a lot of fun with that as well.

  3. Pingback: PLEASE STOP THE ROLLERCOASTER - Tips and Tools for Successfully Parenting Your Teens

  4. I find it really helpful to hear teachers explain the rationale for using new technologies in the classroom, and appreciate hearing that it’s a learning curve for you, too.

    How about Facebook and Twitter in the classroom? Sometimes parents feel off-put by that, even threatened. By sharing your rationale and by outlining the value in the exercise, teachers can avoid some parental knee-jerk reactions that will derail these web-based experiences. And parents need to invest time in understanding the technologies and what’s really happening in teens’ digital world.

    http://pleasestoptherollercoaster.com/blog/2009/06/01/blogging-in-the-classroom-some-teachers-say-yes/

  5. Jackybird

    I hope I’m not an intruder in here since I’m not a teacher.
    It’s interesting to ponder why the students might find blogging to be more exciting than journal keeping. Reflecting on my own experience, I always hated required “journal” keeping in school because it seemed very artificial. A school journal is kept for no other reason than to please the teacher. I know teachers don’t want that to be the case, but it is. When I did some student teaching I tried a dialogue journal at the suggestion of a professor and it seemed to me to be no less forced.
    On the other hand a blog would seem to me to be much more natural since a blog is by nature public or semi-public. I can see why you’re so excited about it. What are your objectives? Is it absolutely necessary to require entries on specific subjects?

  6. We also use blogging in our home-school. In addition, a couple of my older children started a book discussion group to talk about their favorite books with friends from around the country- they used Yahoogroups to do this.
    The two eldest also participated in newsgroups many years ago.

    It occurs to me that two teachers who live in very different cultures and geographical locations could initiate a book discussion email list with
    kids in their two classrooms, and that might result in some interesting exchanges. Or maybe homeschooled and public schooled kids could work together on such a group.=)

  7. Handgebra1

    I am also interested in beginning a blog for my 9th and 11th grade math students. You mentioned some pitfalls like the use of inappropriate language and misuse of the forum. How do we avoid these issues?

    I wonder if the novelty of blogging simply replaces a meaningful conversation in a classroom? I suppose if we are careful and do it well, it becomes an extension of the classroom and in some cases it can expose our students to ideas outside of their small world.

  8. I’m thankful with the write-up blog post.In fact looking towards read even more. A great deal appreciative.

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