“A writing oasis in the midst of all this tech”

(This post originally appeared in my previous blog, “thatothereduguy.blogspot.com” and since I only post to this site now, I am moving and republishing some of my most popular posts.)

I spent the first 16 years of my career in language arts- related content areas, and writing is a personal passion of mine. So when I moved into 9th grade this year as a computer information applications teacher I wondered about where and how those writing roots would come into play. I no longer have a room with shelves of novels, dictionaries and thesauri, and tables so easily moved into wonderfully collaborative groups. New technologies metaphor. Isolated on whiteI have a room with 24 Dell desktop computers that are hard-wired into fixed positions and desks that don’t move more than six inches either way. Hmmm….

By the end of the second week of school, however, I had decided how to work writing into my curriculum without using the jaws of life to make room for it. Blogging was the answer for me. We will use student blogs as a place to write reflectively about what we are learning as we explore the wonderful world of technology applications. Here’s how we plan to do it.

1. I chose Blogger.com because it plays well with our students’ Google accounts, and, since I teach high schoolers, I no longer need the strong, secure platform offered by Kidblog.org  Kidblog is still very effective, but I also wanted individual blogs instead of students posting to a class blog account. I would rather read 110 separate student blogs than manage one classroom site with 110 posts every week.

2. I have asked students to write a weekly post in which they describe something that they learned about in my class that caught their attention. Hopefully it is also something about which they would explore learning more as time goes by. I will ask them to reflect on how they could use this technology in their other classes.  In the initial post, I gave them the freedom of writing about something they had learned in ANY class during the previous week. I was amazed how many wrote about science.

3. I have initially emphasized two things. I have reminded them that their blog is a very public document and subject to being tweeted about on my educational Twitter feed or even featured on my own educational blog site, as well as recommended to members of our faculty. We have begun discussing other digital citizenship issues as well. I will teach site management and commenting along the way.

From this point, I will allow them to blog as often as they like, but they must write at least one post per week that applies strictly to our classroom content that week. Then, each six weeks, they will designate one of those posts for close grading. While I will read many of their posts, I do not want to actually closely grade 110 posts each week. I will, however, offer comments and feedback to many of their posts along the way, only officially assessing one post.

The initial posts ranged from 1-3 sentence summaries to 200-300 word reflections that demonstrated a lot of thought and consideration.  Not everyone started with the same ability. Fewer than 6 out of 110 had to be tracked down to post their work after the deadline. Not a bad start. It is a process and we will refine it along the way throughout the year.

I am considering how to archive really great posts and perhaps republish them at the end of the year in journal form.  I’ll work that out along the way, too. I want this to help us connect with students outside of our campus, too.

We did not initially comment on each others’ posts, but that will come later. Pernille Ripp also has some great ideas in her blog, Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension, and we will consider her tips on using class blogs to connect both on the campus and around the world.

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There are so many possibilities now that we have started, and it’s going to be a wonderful writing oasis in this classroom so dominated by electronics.

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