Saturday, March 10, 2007

Hand-wringing and other approaches toward professional growth

Been reading Clay Burrell's regular thoughts about the evolving nature of blogs in schools. One interesting thread addresses teachers sucking blogs dry by using them for too much "homeworky" stuff, such as simply posting prompts online to replace traditional paper assignments. His original post garnered some interesting comments, including one from yours truly. He says,

"'Blogging is just another way to turn in homework.' That's the sentence that scares me. Because that's how non-blogging teachers, and perhaps those unfamiliar with literacy pedagogy--communication across the curriculum, writing to learn, authentic writing, and more--will probably use blogging in the classroom. And it will become drudgery. And the students (not learners here, because "teacher" can't let go of being "teacher," dominating, squelching, and dictating to students) will bang out the minimum for "blog homework," as in old days, and turn to something authentic. Like their MySpace."
What struck me is that I've spoken - or at least thought - that first sentence. That's had me wringing my hands for the last few days. In fact, my first introduction to blogging was using them in just the way that scares Clay. The kids seemed to like it, better than the "old" paper way of handing out assignments at least, and it provided me with a more dynamic way to keep track of and assess their thinking. I'm not going to use the term homework in this context because what I did was fundamentally different than the "traditional" homework model. The comments on the blog were richer, more open-ended than what I would have expected from the students if I had asked them to write a journal entry or respond to a question on a piece of notebook paper to hand in to me. The very nature of posting their thinking as comments allowed them to see each other's work, an unprecedented opportunity that I think benefited them and improved the level of instruction in class.

However, I understand that I was not fully maximizing the blog's potential. I am still preparing myself to move my students into that next step. It's where I am now, ready to make that jump, but not feeling all that prepared. What am I afraid of?

Clay, as usual, has been thinking through the issue and working out a way to help teachers avoid "ruining" blogging for students, and instead keep it as authentic writing by establishing a school-wide plan. Some of the suggestions: One student, one blog; only writing quality should be assessed;and homework assignments are a no-no. His pedagogically-grounded approach sounds like the multi-literate teacher described by Sheryl (via Vance Stevens), who sees "these technologies as a medium, a canvas, a portal used to connect, collaborate, empower, and a catalyst for deep meaningful change-- both in the profession as a whole and in teachers/students as individuals." Will Richardson spells it out in a similar manner, that if we teachers want to effectively teach reading and writing through blogging, then we must read and write online ourselves.

Well, there you have it. Maybe the hand-wringing comes from a personal enxiety about blogging. Finding time to post regularly. Finding a voice for what I do post. Both of those have been a struggle for me.

I applaud the lofty efforts of Clay, Will, and others in the edublogosphere who are working and thinking hard about the diverse web 2.0 technologies afforded to us. They know a lot more about this stuff than I do. In the last several months, I've listened and tried to learn. I will continue to do so.

If nothing else, I think I know what I need to do, which is a lot better than where I was even just four months ago. I need to continue to use blogging as part of my professional growth plan. I need to help spread the word to other teachers in the building. I need to continue to use these tools in my classroom. It's the only way my students - and I - will benefit.


Clay Burell said...

Nice picture, Bing (I've been attending to Presentation on my posts myself, since I preach it, and it only makes blogging even more engaging to me--so I'm going to pull students into it too).

Thanks for the nice words. Your think-alouds help me too. But I really feel like we're all discovering in this field, and really, nobody's an expert (imho).

Though whoever writes reflectively about it all is certainly a lamp. So please keep it up :)

*blush* Confession: my name should be spelled with a double-"r", but it somehow lost one. Sometimes I fantasize about finding that lost r ;-)

Vicky said...

Hi there,

I do kinda appreciate being asked before people use my images, not after... Errm, if you could either link the image back to it's flickr photo page or remove it altogether please - whichever you prefer.
Thanks! :)


Mr. Miller said...

Sorry Vicky. I removed the image altogether. BTW, you have some wonderful photos.


Mr. Miller said...

Clay, at times it's been a struggle as I try to wrap my brain around this. Your blogging has been helpful and inspirational. And one of these days I want to join you in the 1001 Flat World tales project!

Keep up the good work.


Clay Burell said...

Hi Bing,

(I think you should put Vicky's pic back and just link to her page. It was arresting!)

It would be interesting to work together on the Tales. Thank your lucky stars you're not in the first workshop, though. Locks of hacking in the brush!

But interesting, anyway.

And I'm still trying to get my head around the blogging policy.

Enjoyed your post. Keep those reservations coming ;-)