Last week my friend and colleague Josh sent me an email, asking for a favor. Below is an excerpt from it:
Earlier on in the year I reflected on an observation I made that many of my students didn't know what they wanted to learn about. It struck me as odd that group of teens who are growing up in a world so rich with information were not continuously thinking about new questions and subjects they wanted to learn about. Everything they could possibly want to know was only a few mouse clicks away, and I felt that if I didn't give them the chance to learn how to be a digital learner and contribute to this continually expanding wealth of knowledge on the web, I wouldn't be doing my job as their teacher in preparing them to live and learn in the 21st century.
Out of this perceived need grew what came to be the Digital Inquiry Project, which I wrote about in detail in this post here. This project gave students the chance to be the directors of their own learning.
In short, students decided what they wanted to learn about, scoured the web for content that answered their questions, organized relevant content through social bookmarking, and then used what they learned to inform pieces of writing they published to their blog. As students wrote, thought, and responded to the writing of their peers, they developed new questions and interests, which they reflected on and used to guide future learning and writing.
2. Diigo for (and beyond) Organizing Web Content
When swimming through the sea of content on the web, students could quickly get lost and even drown without a way to keep track of and organize sites they find. It was for this reason, that initially, I introduced them to the social bookmarking site, Diigo. With it, students bookmarked sites, tagged them to keep them organized, highlighted text that was important, and included sticky notes of their own thoughts and ideas.
As the Digital Inquiry project continued to evolve, my students developed the ability to use Diigo seamlessly in their web browsing, and I experimented with and discovered new ways to use this cool web tool.
In my most popular post, Diigo for Digital Writing Reflection, I discussed how Diigo provided a great way for students to reflect on their own writing that they had published digitally. In my post Research Writing 101 2.0, we discovered how Diigo simplifies and expedites the research writing process.
Most recently, we stumbled upon an another unexpectedly handy use for Diigo, which I have yet to write about. My students had just completed a couple days of web research, gathering information for their research papers. I was introducing them to the concept of creating an outline for their papers, and after introducing one of my classes to the concept of sub topics, a student pointed out to me that she could easily determine the sub topics in her paper by looking at the tags she assigned to the sites she bookmarked. This is a great idea, and I'm still thinking through how this is going to influence how I have my students research, bookmark, and tag next year.
Every year my students write. I love seeing them develop their identities as writers and learn the power of their words. This year, though, the growth I've seen in my students as writers has occurred on a scale more grand than I any that has graced my classroom before. I thank blogging for that.
I put a lot of thought into just how blogging would fit into my class. In my post, Rethinking Student Blogging for Real, I wrote about my own journey as a writer through blogging and contemplated how I could guide my students in conceptualizing blogs as real bloggers do. I can honestly say that my students are now blogging for real, and the journey to get where we are we all learned a lot about the potential that exists in these digital writing spaces.
Like in years past, much of my students' journey as writers has occurred in the context of a writing workshop. The principles of this workshop have all stayed the same. Students wrote about what mattered to them, engaged in writing as a process, collaborated with and supported the writing of classmates, took writing pieces to publication, and shared published work with the class.
With most writing pieces, students began working through ideas for their drafts on paper, and when they were ready, typed out and developed their pieces on their blog. And while the words they typed evolved from what they started with pencils, continuing the process in an digital space afforded them to add entirely new levels of meaning to their pieces. With their blogs they were able to hyperlink to outside sites, their other pieces they had posted, and even related posts of their classmates. They added videos, and podcasts, and slideshows, inserted and attributed Creative Commons images, as well as embedded polls and surveys to make their posts more interactive.
In addition to using existing digital elements to support and add depth to the meaning of written words, my students' blogs are also a space for them to publish multimedia elements that they create themselves. A student may tell a story through images and music through Animoto, through a cartoon or comic strip with either Goanimate or Toondoo, or create a multimedia poster with Glogster. Though these tools are hosted on different websites, each site gives users the option of embedding their composition on a blog or website. Because of this, my student's blogs serve as places for them to both post their writing and digital stories that they create elsewhere on the web.
Having the opportunity to compose their ideas digitally has, without question, engaged my students in a depth of thinking significantly greater than that afforded through the written word alone, and while many students embraced and enjoyed this process, the most engaging aspect of publishing their words to the web was the audience that blogging gave them.
Every other week we devoted class time to reading and responding to the blogs of our classmates. On these days, I would overhear students whisper during class and talk in the halls about posts they really liked. It was not uncommon for a student for a student to enter class and find a piece they published the day before to have 20 comments or for a student to be approached by a peer in another class who asked hopefully if they planned to add a second part to a story they started. The power of this authentic and captive audience drove my students to want to write, to value written expression, and it gave them affirmation that their voices and ideas mattered.