Reflections on NCTE Blogging Session

This year was our third session on blogging at NCTE. Each year provides us with new insights. Overall my general impression is that teachers want to blog (yipee!!), but are unsure of their purpose, and have little idea of how to use formative assessment to inform their practice. To that end we had a lively discussion about the affordances of blogging, skills bloggers need, and how to assess blogging skills.

We began the session by letting participants hear from a teacher, Scott Meyers, who recently began to blog. Scott is a third year English teacher and department chair in a Camden, NJ high school.

New to Blogging
Scott wanted to blog in his classroom to motivate students to write. He opened with a wonderful metaphor about writing being like vegetables. His two year old daughter hates vegetables, but loves juice. He found that he could get her to drink her vegetables using V8 Fusion. In his class students moaned and groaned as if writing instruction was a plate of steamed beets. Yet when Scott did anything online they sucked the writing instruction down.

It is this fusion of instruction and technology where many teachers get bogged down and Scott was no different. His biggest challenge was first convincing school administrators to let him blog. Surprise, Surprise. As Scott said, “I was literally stalking the IT guy and leaving notes on his car.” His next great challenge was access. The computer lab was signed up weeks in advance and many students did no thave Internet access at home. These problems affected Scott’s instruction and his classroom blog only materialized into a classroom newsboard sharing events.

Purpose of Classroom Blogs
I feel Scott’s story will ring true to many teachers who use blogs in the classroom. In fact a colleague, Lisa Zawilinski, in her H.O.T. Blogging article identified the four most common blogs used in classrooms: classroom new blogs- for sharing events, mirror blogs-for reflecting on topics, showcase blogs-for showing off student work, and literature response blogs.

While I agree with Danah Boyd, that the definitions of a blog is defined by social practice I feel many teachers still are not unleashing the power of blogs. If you want to share classroom news or school work…create a website. If you want to hold online discussions…use a discussion board. Clasroom blogs however need to move beyond the simple question and comment format and view students as authors and not as repositories of answers.

Blogging Skills
What skills do blogger need and how do we teach and measure these skills. To begin this discussion we started with Jenna McWilliams list of blogging skills and then looked at different student blogs:

Graduate Art Student: http://www.kesmit3.blogspot.com/
6th Grade Blog
4th Grade Blog
7th Grade Blog:
11th Grade Blog:

As a group then we wanted to break into focus groups and create criteria that could be used in rubrics for formative and summative assessment.

The discussion on assessment started off with the annual debate debate about citations. One teacher said linking a picture to the source was enough, a librarian felt full citations were always necessary. I quelled the debate before violence erupted with three points:
-First do not equate synthesis with citation. No way one of the least understood cognitive processes could be reduced to putting a comma in MLA.
-We do not scaffold citations. You can not expect high school students to pay attention to sources when they are not taught K-8.
-Different genres have different discourse practices for citations. A blog is different than a research paper just as an academic blog is different from published research. Different texts, different rules. This last point won her over.

Once the annual fight over citation was over the discussion was very fruitful. Using a GDoc we brainstormed a list of possible criteria that could be used to assess studnet blogs:

Writing Blogs:
Voice
Use of multimedia
Use of hyperlinks
Central focu, thesis, or idea
Aesthetics
Frequency
Content Knowledge
Original
Style and Grammar match audience

Comments:
Depth of comments
Offering insight or critique
Follows threads
Uses examples/details from post
Uses examples/details from outside sources.

We did not have enough time to duscuss what expectation s the group felt there should be for a 4th grade blog, 7th grade blog, or the 11th grade blog. Overall though the participants left with criteria they could us in their own rubrics.

Do you have rubrics you could share? Is our criteria list missing anything? Let us know.

Greg McVerry

Greg McVerry is a teacher, researcher and scholar at Southern Connecticut State University.

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