Thursday, July 19, 2012

Dear John --my response to your inquiry into fostering student bloggers

Like I often do, I was sitting up tonight past my bed time reading some blog posts that I subscribe to in my Reader. I came across this post by John Spencer (if you don't follow him, you should) about some thinking he was doing about getting his students blogging.  I've spend quite a bit of time thinking and blogging on the subject, so I had to respond.  But as I wrote my response, I noticed a new strand of my thinking about sustained student engagement with blogging come up, and because of that (and the fact that my comment was getting a little lengthy), I decided to post it here and leave him a link to it on his blog.  So John, in response to your post, here is what I'm thinking:

Hey John, I got my students into blogging a couple years ago, and I thought (and still think) about many of the questions that you're asking yourself here. I like how you pointed out that the blogging your students were doing bared little semblance to the blogs you write and read.  I've thought about this difference between school blogging and real blogging before also, eventually deciding that if I want my students to blog like "real bloggers," then I need to rethink the conditions in my classroom that support or inhibit the motivations of people who blog.  That seems reasonable, right?

The approach I eventually decided to take in my class was for students to all have individual blogs, use them as a space to publish writing assignments (often fairly open) produced in our writing workshop, and set class time aside for students to read and respond to each other. Over the course of the year, kids began to take ownership, create amazingly thoughtful and creative writing pieces, build off of ideas they found in others' writing, and value this space.  If you'd like to read more on this process, I blogged about it here.

Considering the context of my students' engagement and the tightness of the blogging community we had formed, I thought that for certain my students blogging practices would continue well after school was out.  And I had reason to believe it, too.

The day after the last day of school, one student emailed me this:
Wow.... I can't believe everything is over. I was in your class and now I'm going to High School, but the legacy for me to write is still on!!!! You taught me so much!!!. When you said write what is on your mind, I basically wrote everything that was on my mind. . I hope you and the little ones have a great summer and know that I will be writing on my blog for the rest of my life!!!!!!!

Another student amassed a following of student bloggers from outside of our class because of the amazing writing she was doing.  In response to a comment she received on this post, she stated:
 Thank you! It's a really sad poem, but I felt the need to publish it. I'm glad that you do check my blog. I try to post something at least every Friday, so you can always count on a new poem then.
The first student had not posted since the school year ended.  The second posted a blog post the week after school got out.  It was the last post she has written to date, and she was the only one of my students who had returned back to her blog.

But even with this engagement with blogging and the tightness of the blogging community we created,  I've only seen a handful of students' posts come across my Reader since school got out.  I've been thinking about this, why not more of my students have been blogging when during the school year they seemed so into doing so for their own you and I do.  Maybe it was because the blog started in the context of school, as an assignment.  That's one possibility.

Another explanation, which I'm thinking is more likely, is that the blogging my students were doing was not entering them into the larger "conversations" that were already taking place in the real (rather than k-12) blogosphere.   During the school year, my students knew their words were heard by classmates, and they knew that students around the world may come across their blogs through the blogging communities I had them enter  into, like Comments 4 Kids and the Student Blogging Challenge.  But these spaces for audiences had limited existence outside of school.  Maybe that's the problem. 

So now, I'm wondering....
I'm wondering now about how to guide my students toward blogging into the existing real-world, conversations.  I'm wondering if there are other communities of student bloggers out there sustaining their blogging practices.   I'm wondering what that would look like and how to go about it.  I've only just begun to think about it, and I'm open to any ideas. 

So John, that's what I got for you.  I'm not sure if this is the response that you were looking for.   I'm certain that you're content, school, and students are all much different than mine, but it is for these reasons, though, that I decided to respond back to you with my story and thinking, rather than suggestions. 

I hope you'll continue your inquiry in the public space of your blog.  I enjoy being part of that conversation.