Below is the link to my NEATE prezi. More handouts to come (as soon as grading is finished!).
Below is the link to my NEATE prezi. More handouts to come (as soon as grading is finished!).
My 8th grade students recently finished editorials. Throughout the process, I had told them that these editorials would also serve as their first posts on our class blog. After multiple drafts and a great deal of effort, students have begun to excitedly post their work, eager for feedback. Today, I had students reflect on what they learned about their writing process from the assignment. If people still wonder whether or not their students should be blogging, I offer this comment from a student’s reflection:
“At times in my writing, I felt like giving up, but then I’d remember we were posting on our blogs and I became excited.”
The writing got hard, but she persisted. Why? She knew her voice would be heard. The power of an audience of many.
There always seems to be debate amongst educators regarding how much choice students should have in their own education. And although there has been plenty of research done by both psychologists and educators regarding how important choice to both learning and motivation – Thank you, Alfie Kohn and Daniel Pink! – there still remains doubters. I’d thought I’d share three stories that have occurred to me recently that made me once again appreciate how important choice is not only for students but also for their teachers.
What prevents us from allowing people to choose their own paths? Trust. When we tell people how to act or what to do, it is because we assume that they are not able to figure that out for themselves or that they are going to make the wrong decision. They might not choose the best workshop or pick the best book or write something of substance. They don’t know what’s best for them. Therefore, we have to do it for them.
Now, I am not someone who believes that an 8th grader should determine every aspect of their academic career. I, as a teacher, also know that I cannot control absolutely everything about my curriculum or job. But I do realize how important it is for me to have some choice in my learning process. And how much more enthusiastic I am about the process when I do. Honestly, my students are not that different.
Just Say No to Book Reports and Yes to Blogging!
I wish I could remember the name of the graduate school professor I had who facetiously made this statement about book reports – “Yes, the first thing I want to do when I finish a great book, is to make a diorama” – because that really struck a chord. Not that there’s anything wrong with dioramas per se, but like many, usually when I read a great book, I want to process it and talk about it. I do not want to make a mobile of important characters and symbols (is it bazaar that I can still picture the mobile I made in third grade but have no idea what book said mobile was on) or run to find the nearest empty shoebox. Thus, in my attempt to stop destroying reading for my students, I have tried to change up the dreaded summer reading project to hopefully! make it a bit more interesting.
In the past few years, I have asked students to write a book review of the various required readings that they have done, and although I don’t think this was a bad approach, it really only allowed me to view their writing once school had already started. This was helpful but would have been more beneficial over the summer when I try to do a lot of planning. So, in trying to work “smarter not harder,” I have dropped this activity and instead am asking my students to respond to some discussion boards via our classroom blog.
Although I firmly believe in having students create the content on the blog, for this summer blogging experience, I have asked students to respond to questions I have created, seeing as the majority of these students have not done any form of blogging before. Basically, I am using the blog as the means for threaded discussions. Below, you will find my process for creating the posts regarding our summer reading book The Book Thief. You can also check out our Summer Reading Page and feel free to add to our discussion if you have read The Book Thief!
Thoughts about Process:
Word of the Week: Failed.
New Year’s Resolution: Failed.
I didn’t plan on purposely failing my New Year’s Resolution, to blog daily, the same week that the adjective for our class blogging word of the week challenge was “failed.” It was merely a poetic twist of fate. I had all intent to fully commit to my goal, to stay up late in the night if needed, quoting Shakespeare and sharing my wondrous wisdom (sarcasm) with the world. Unfortunately, need for sleep and my obsession with spotlighting the WA English Blog to the masses won out over sheer desire, and I haven’t actually submitted a true blog post – until now – in about 10 days.
I am typically not one to make resolutions, and – never one to be cliche- if I do make them, I follow them. But this was something I really wanted to do. I had committed to this challenge so that you, my precious students, could see that I believed in the value of blogging and to show you that even English teachers can grow from continued practice. Now, don’t think that my failure is an escape from your monthly blogging assignments, and that I am going to come in to class and say, you know what, this blogging isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. I’m not. I still LOVE blogging and am amazed at the work you have produced. And even if you aren’t admitting it to me, I know that many of you really enjoy it too. Instead, I am writing because I want you to realize something about failure – if we don’t fail, we don’t grow. OK, sometimes I enjoy a good cliche.
I now realize that my goal was too lofty, that I do not have the time or energy to commit to blogging every day. I also know that in trying to write daily, I was struggling to find things to write about, and, as a result, the quality of my posts was not as I would have wished. But I also let you down in the process because this is something I wanted you to see me do. Perhaps I made a little “Jerry” mistake – you know, our buddy from The Chocolate War. Perhaps I didn’t really think about my decision before I committed to it and by going in blindly, I set myself up for failure. I realize, now, after the fact, like Jerry did, that I made a mistake. But unlike Jerry, I am not giving up. What fun is that? And what kind of teacher would I be then?!?! So instead, I am re-evaluating my goal and thinking about how I can make it happen.
My new goal is simply to try and blog each day, to at least think about it. If I can think of something to write about, I will. If I can’t, I won’t force it. Each night, before I shut my computer down to do a little leisurely reading – who am I kidding, if it’s Tuesday, I’m watching Dance Moms – I am going to sign on to my blog and see what comes of it.
There might be days when I post five times and days when I don’t post at all. Maybe I’ll get to 365 posts by the end of the year. Maybe I won’t. I do know that this is an approach I can handle and that I will both grow as a teacher and an individual from doing so.
In the past, I might have let my failure get me down. It would explain the 8 blogs I have attempted and since deleted – one post does not a blog make. But not this time. Not with you watching. This time it is going to help me succeed, which is what I hope for all your future failures.
Today, my class’s blog had a creeper, which is code for comments from people that we don’t know. Sure, 8th graders think it is a bit creepy that people are reading their writing and then commenting on it, but I also think they get kind of pumped when their individual blog post is “creeped on.” I know this by how many views said blog post received once I emailed the class to let them know.
I have used blogs in my classroom in some shape or form for six years now, starting off by posting myself and having kids respond. That never seemed quite right, however, as I really wanted my classroom blog to be writing that my students had done. Last year, I finally got my classroom blog to be exactly what I wanted it to be – a group endeavor that students can post to on their own. Students are required to post a certain amount of times per month, but can choose what they post and write about. Our blog is public, which allows us to receive hits from all over the world and covers topics ranging from politics to entertainment to fantasy writing. Our most exciting moment came when a student book review received a comment from the actual author. This definitely did not fit the category of creepy and was what every English teacher hopes will happen on their blog. Yeah, we got lucky!
Blogging is definitely not cutting edge anymore, and something I believe should be part of every curriculum in some shape or form. If our aim as teachers is to prepare our students for the real world, then we have to give them opportunities to write in the ways that countless people write. Plus, blogging is a way to allow students to express themselves creatively, try writing about something they might not normally, and express their voice in ways that literary analysis writing cannot.
If you have yet to try blogging, here’s a few reasons why I think you should:
1.) It truly is an authentic audience. The blogger that received today’s comment had written about her opinion regarding China/US relations. The commenter will force her to think about her position differently, as he did not agree with her. We all know that our voice as teachers only goes so far with students, but the voice of a stranger who challenges you to think differently about a belief is something that can be truly influential and a great learning experience. People read blogs and kids will learn that having people read your ideas is powerful and thrilling at the same time.
2.) It invigorates students. No, I will not tell you that every one of my students absolutely loves blogging. But, at the same time, I don’t think many of them absolutely hate it. And for many, it is exactly the kind of thing they need to invigorate their educational experience. It provides many students with a chance to write about things that matter to them, to play with technology, and to share their ideas with their classmates and the world. Their writing improves and since I don’t grade individual posts, they become less burdened with grade requirements and write more for the joy of it. You know something works when students email asking if they can write a blog post over break. Playing around with blog statistics and celebrating feats is also motivating in ways that writing a paper just for a teacher can never be.
3.) It will invigorate you! I’ll admit it – I’m a bit addicted to checking blog stats on my class blog. And it really is exciting when students receive comments or their posts get re-tweeted. But what is most appealing about blogging is to see what it can do for your students. As I said before, blogging can energize students to reach the potential they might not otherwise. It excites them and allows them to become passionate about learning and writing, something as an English teacher is what I want for my students. The growth my students have had because of blogging has been immense and that has been one of the best benefits this experience has had on me.
I truly believe in the power of blogging and know that it has been rewarding in my 8th grade classroom. I look forward to a new year where my class will try out some new things on the blog to grow further. Hopefully, we’ll get a few more “creepers.”
Here’s the link to our class blog: waeng8.wordpress.com