My history as a blogger. I started blogging in 2004, with only the faintest idea what a blog was, in order to play around with some technology new to me and hoping to be able to use my blog to collect up reflections about my teaching and notes on some things I'd been reading. (Here's a post from earlier this year, for example, where I play around a bit.) Before long I was starting to appreciate the power of blogs to connect to other people interested in teaching writing. As I started posting comments on other people's blogs and adding the blogs I liked to my blogroll, I started to get a few people reading my blog; I was astonished by how excited this made me and how much it motivated me to keep writing. I started contributing to the group blog Community College English, which I now run, and I started wondering if I could use blogs in my classes to give my students the same excitement, motivation, and connection.
My history as a teacher. When I started teaching (several decades ago), each semester my students would read four novels, write eight essays, and work their way through a 200-odd page grammar book that had them diagram and then write their own compound-complex sentences featuring various combinations of gerund, infinitive, and participial phrases. My job was to mark and count Major Usage Errors (we called them MUE's), which included fragments or run-on sentences, homonym errors, wrong verb forms, or pronoun or verb agreement problems. 3 MUE's meant an F on an essay. That was department policy, and essay sets were collected from us graduate assistants to make sure we adhered to this rule.
It bothers me that my students now have so many problems writing error-free paragraphs (let alone essays), but I have more important things to teach them. Out of habit, sometimes, my pen still moves to circle misspellings and check-mark sentence boundary issues, but I groan when my students say they have "corrected" a rough draft by "fixing the mistakes" I marked. I wonder if blogs could help to break both me and my students out of this misplaced emphasis on error.
How it works.
- I set up a course blog, where I post the course syllabus, essay and reading assignments, links to online resources.
- I arrange to bring students into a computer lab on campus where I show them how to set up their own blogs. (This semester I'm using blogger; I've also used wordpress and edublogs.)
- Students give me their blogs' URL's, which I then post onto sidebar of course blog, separated by classes. Students are encouraged to browse and read others' essays.
- I give instructions for peer review (see here and here) and group students into pairs or trios (assigned after they have posted their drafts).
- I comment on rough drafts, moving back and forth between two open windows set up like this: Download Twowindows.
The commentpress template available in edublogs allows a reviewer to attach comments to specific paragraphs (for example, here). Students found this blogging software a little more difficult to use than blogger, and I found myself tempted, as you can see from the linked example, perhaps to "overmark" essays, esp. for style issues. (Maybe more appropriate for higher level courses?)
In addition to asking students to post drafts, I've also used blogs for prewriting "trial run" of subjects, allowing me to give feedback on topic selection, an issue whose importance is significantly under-appreciated by many students, and for post-writing reflection on revision process (other reflective topics possible as well).
Potential advantages (especially) for portfolio students.
- deepening their sense of audience
- allowing time for more thoughtful responses to the work of their peers
- prompting them to consider criteria for evaluation as they measure their work against the work of others
- fostering more frequent and more substantive revision
- helping to develop awareness of their own writing processes
- on a practical level, helping to keep work organized and accessible (and backed-up)
Difficulties and complaints (cited by approx. 20% of students in survey last week)
- student resistance to technology and, more significantly, problems with Internet access
- student reluctance to make work public
- student sense that this is more time-consuming