To blog with abandon or purpose?

My teaching strategies have changed so much in the past year. I credit my Twitter PLN for so much of that. I find myself teaching more critical thinking than ever, giving student choice wherever possible and inviting technology where it would enhance the lesson,  further engage my students or help prepare them for college and the work world.

Enter blogging for almost all of my students. Have I taken on too much? Maybe. Have I discovered things I’ll do differently next time around? Definitely.

It all started last year, my first with the intro to journalism class I requested. Previously I had been teaching newspaper, yearbook and English I. I did lots of research before I started the blogging project, and I had been blogging myself for a while. I found Pernille Ripp‘s post about paper blogging with all of its links to other resources. Though she blogs with elementary kids, I still thought the idea had merit for my mostly 9th graders. It went over well, and soon we transferred what we learned over to Kidblog. On that platform, the students’ posts automatically came to me for approval before going live, something my principal appreciated.

This year, I asked for and got permission to create another class: Digital Communications. I pitched this for students, not necessarily journalism students, to develop their online communication skills, preparing them for college and the real world. We would look at Internet protocol, safety, privacy, and ethics as well as plagiarism and learning about copyright law and how fair use works. Most of their work would be based on blogs that would serve as portfolios. After learning basics of posting, linking, inserting images and sharpening their writing skills with an audience in mind, we would learn some research skills using social media. Then would come curation apps and learning some audio and video skills and web-based presentation software. We’ve stalled out a bit as their motivation has caused the earlier lessons to take much longer than I had planned. I had this largely senior class using WordPress, feeling Kidblog was a little too limiting. After all, most were near or already 18.

The more I read online and heard from my tweeps, the more excited I got about everybody blogging, so I made plans to get my English class blogging this year as well. That’s when I discovered that Kidblog had changed how they do things and in order for students to have more than one option of theme, I’d have to pay. In Oklahoma, schools are receiving less per student than they were in 2008. I’m not even going to ask for money. I already pay for pencils, paper, Germ-X and tissues from my own pocket. I am not going to shell out a monthly amount so my students can have different themes like they did last year. I compromised by using WordPress for these youngsters as well, the caveat being that they give me editor user privileges and the password in case I need to intervene for any real reason.

I got the new intro to journalism class started blogging on this same system as soon as we’d gone through an opinion writing unit.

My real dilemma, and the reason for this post is that though I’ve explained over and over that much of their credibility depends on correctness of their writing, I still have some students for whom spelling, correct capitalization and punctuation, sentence structure and usage are less than secondary to their content. I’ve tried to tell them that their readers will not stick around if they have to work at understanding what they are trying to read – to no avail. Their process is supposed to be drafting in GoogleDocs, sharing for editing, which works great in my newspaper and yearbook classes, even sharing with me for feedback – maybe they don’t like my feedback? I think it’s pretty darn helpful – before they post.

Do I grade those posts on correctness of writing? I don’t want to decrease their excitement for blogging, but they have to know that in real life, these kinds of errors may cost them jobs. Did I just answer my own question? I love how writing helps me work through processes and develop ideas, and yet hate that I cannot convince many students that this magic exists. I would love to hear suggestions on how to assess correctness of writing in their posts when I had truly planned on only giving credit for completion, leaving them to explore the process and their own ideas for the joy it should bring.

In DigiComm, assignments might be a post with a link to another page, or a post with a copyright-free image, etc., so completion was all I had planned, until I realized that some posts were only a few sentences long with no craft and several writing errors, as compared to another student, passionate about his topic who wrote on about something with great sentence structure, good vocabulary, etc. They shouldn’t both get the same grade. Learning as I go …

The English class is doing group blogs, with groups ranging from 2-4 people in each. They will rotate with each assignment, which I tie to whatever we are doing. They’ve chosen topics for their blogs, so they will tie my assignment in with their topic. For instance, after reading two short stories that both dealt with suspense, my assignment was to write a post that deals somehow with suspense, but tied to their own topic. For a pair of students writing about music, they could talk about scoring a movie based on either story and what type of music would best create the suspenseful mood. Within their group they are to discuss the assignment, so everyone has some input, but one of them writes in Gdocs, shares with others who get to comment/edit, then it goes live. Next assignment, someone else is in charge.

The intro class each has their own blog and most of them have been great. Consider though, that these kids chose a journalism elective. They knew there was writing involved, so for the most part, these have no problems. However, there are a few who have issues as mentioned above: lots of grammatical and mechanical mistakes and no desire for making the posts better. In one case, the student doesn’t see the point, thinking it won’t matter to the reader like it doesn’t matter to him. In another case, the student is disappointed that I’m making something fun, like a blog, into something like an assignment. His two posts have been one sentence each, nothing that would make anyone come back for more, as I explained to him.

While I feel I’m doing dozens of things right, like I tell my students, there are always ways to improve. I’m looking for methods to improve my students’ online writing through my teaching and assessment, and I welcome suggestions.

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About teachjournalism
I am a high school teacher of journalism, technology and reading. I advise the school's newspaper and yearbook, both student-led publications. Documenting and sharing my experiences is a way of reflecting to improve my own work and and inviting commentary so that we might all benefit. I believe, as I tell my students each year, that we all learn from each other.

4 Responses to To blog with abandon or purpose?

  1. I remember reading somewhere that students had to EARN the right to blog. Perhaps once they master writing to your satisfaction (don’t make the bar too high) then they can start writing for another audience and have more choice in topics and presentation.

  2. Troy Hicks says:

    Hello Lisa,

    Your concerns are important, and reflect both your desire to keep students engaged in writing while teaching them to use the skills that real writers need. You may or may not have answered your own question, so let me offer a few more resources.

    First, check out Youth Voices (http://youthvoices.net). Paul Allison and his colleagues have built an incredible social network of student writers, all blogging about topics in which they are deeply engaged. Paul and his colleagues have also created “guides” to help students elaborate on their ideas by prompting their writing in smart ways. Be sure to explore these and think about how you can use them with your student bloggers.

    Also, Paul has produced a “Power Users Guide” (http://digitalis.nwp.org/resource/1134) that helps his students think critically and creatively about how they can blog. This is a great resource, offering them other challenges that they can take on as writers.

    Finally, encourage your students to provide feedback to one another — both in Google Docs and on the blogs. Hearing, from another student, a question such as “I am not sure what you mean in this sentence, could you please explain more?” is much more powerful than having you ask it (no offense), and more likely to lead to revision.

    Hope this helps and please let me know how this goes for you and your students.

    Troy

  3. cafecasey says:

    I would put a box in the rubric that dings them for spelling/grammar… But I use sentence fragments. A lot. And I intentionally mix up my academic voice with my other voices. What I’m teaching them is that there are many voices in writing. They learn to ask “How many sentences in a paragraph.” I shrug my shoulders. Who knows?

    Do I agree with you on the ability to use conventional writing–yup. Have I personally refused to hire a lady who signed her first name only in pencil for “signature.” Yup…but what I have found is that schools teach and insists on academic writing. And web writing is different. Pitch writing is different. Until very recently, I, myself intellectually knew that writing came in voices but had never been given the permission to use them. Now, I have to read the people for whom I write and figure all that out instantly.

    So, I sit down and unteach writing. I ask them to think of their audience, intent, and purpose and free up. I show them samples of my writing for different purposes…

    To improve them, I crowdsource them (peer editing). Team blogging works well for this–teams of four or partners, and one post has to go up a week or so… Take turns, and make sure the other person edits/spell checks. I remain open as a last defense. My kids aren’t blogging personally (some are for Genius Hour) but I want them to guest post on our school blog more.

    Love that you teach this course. I want to.

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