Sunday, January 21, 2007

A blog in its infancy

It's easy to get caught up in the simplicity of the digital age and lose sight of the underlying complexity it can present. Blogging is no exception. It took me 10 minutes to set up this blog. When I did that, I imagined that I would all of a sudden have a perfect forum to reflect and interact with thousands of like-minded teacher types in our newly flat world. After all, I'm an English teacher, the writing should come easy for me. Not so.

In the short three months since setting up blog shop, I don't know if I began to understand why the difficulty. This weekend I learned a little. On the one hand, the anniversaries of some well-read edubloggers, notably Bud the Teacher and Nancy McKeand. Nancy reflected on her past two years by saying that "it seems like just yesterday that I was trying to figure it all out, trying to believe that I had something to say." Maybe that's where I am now, trying to believe that I have something to say?

Enter Will Richardson, who provided another piece regarding the connection between blogging and reading. He says:

And for me, the biggest reason my reading has changed is because of blogging. I
now read with an intent to write, and my writing (or blogging) is an attempt to
synthesize and connect ideas, not simply summarize or paraphrase what I’ve been
reading (if I even get to that.) I have many memories when I was teaching my
Honors xpository Comp kids of their frustrations not with the writing…they all
could do that pretty well…but the reading and the connecting. They found it so
hard to take information from disparate sources and connect them some way into a
coherent few paragraphs. And I would argue it was because, like so many other things we ask them to do in school, it was a contrived exercise. Pick a topic (abortion) create a thesis (keep it legal), find support, blah, blah, blah.

Only connect... It sounds so simple that even the state of Connecticut requires it as part of its battery of standardized tests in 10th grade to assess student reading and writing. Will concludes that "Teachers should be reading and writing online (blogging)" in order to effectively teach their students the necessary digital literacy skills of the 21st Century . That makes sense, but that doesn't make it easy. Even today, late Sunday, as I stand ready to start a new Literature Circles unit, I recognize those problems of today's schooling he points out. I've spent a lot of time setting up a series of lessons and class time so my sophomores can choose one of three novels, read it, and take part in regular small group discussions. And oh yeah, they'll write a paper at the end, and I'll expect that they will draw on all those insightful reflections and observations from their discussions. Maybe by imposing a regular wiki writing requirement, I can begin to encourage use of these elusive 21st Century skills.

Either way, if I'm going to prepare these students for this century, I have to go along with them.


Nancy McKeand said...

You definitely have something important to say, and I will be reading it.

I am anxious to see how your wiki project goes. I am using a wiki this semseter for the first time, and I am excited about it. But who knows how it will actually go?

Clay Burell said...

As long as you're sharing what you learn on this path we're all on, you have plenty to say. We're all learning this stuff together, so the more of us who read/write/reflect together as we travel, the smarter the trip.

And what a trip it is.

My first massive-scale wiki effort--the French Revolution "Ant Farm Diaries"--is coming to a close after three weeks of furious learning.

The students, my partner teacher, and I all know more about wikis now than we did then. It's all a work in progress, an oil-painting to retouch and improve. Process, process, process. And sharing it all on the blogs.

My own blogging has benefited greatly by commenting on other people's blogs, by the way. The connections turn to relationships, then collaborative ideas. And Skype talks, Vyew conferences, on and on. That social aspect is another radical effect of blogging as a new literacy form. Readers and writers connect beyond the printed word.

Keep it up!

Clay Burell said...

By the way, if you haven't done so, be sure to subscribe to your entire wiki space with whatever aggregator (Bloglines, Google Reader, Netvibes, whatever) you use. MUCH easier to manage than clicking endless links on the wiki itself. Let the changes come to you instead, in real time.

Save the ones worth sharing as exemplars as "new" (in Bloglines, anyway). RSS makes wikis infinitely easier!