Two days ago, I was blogging my understanding of blogs and what and how they can operate. I have noticed that I write something like this every few days — I think partly because I get excited and the synapses begin to fire and I need a way to unload that excitement while I attempt to understand my thinking. Actually, that’s one of the main reasons for this blog.
Anyway, something I said caught the eye of Will Richardson and his response made a lot of sense — and sent my synapses firing all over again. You should read his post before you attempt to read the rest of this one — it’ll be a whole lot easier on all of us.
Student blogging provides a
showcase for their best work, a playground for working with new ideas,
and a place to collaborate with other students, teachers and schools.
The more I work with and discover about blogs, the more I realize that
they are an entirely new way of thinking — something like the Swiss
Army Knife of the Internet. A student blogger could be a podcaster, an
artist, a political scientist, a technophile, a poet, a chemist or
whatever. The blog is the management, not the content.
To me, the true power and potential of Weblogs is the act that it
facilitates, the blogging, not the structure it provides. That is not
to say the structure isn’t a good thing. But it’s not the best thing,
and I guess I’m not seeing very many new people using it in that best
way. Barbara and Anne
win gold medals, and there are a handful of others out there who are
teaching kids the act of blogging that will serve them well into their
adult lives. But much of what I’m seeing from the teachers who are
starting to explore the tool goes the way of management, not content.
But the one thing the blog allows me to do that I could not do easily
in my classroom before is to link, to connect ideas, to make
transparent my thinking about those ideas, and to have others link to
them and do the same. I’ve been down this road before, I know, many
times in fact. But it is the essential piece of Weblogs to me: blogs
allow me to create content in ways I could not before, not just
post what I could create otherwise in a different form. And in the
essence of that creation I use and learn all of those skills that will
serve me in my lifelong learning that were (I think) much more difficult for me to learn before:
close reading, critical thinking about information, clear and concise
writing for a real audience, editing, and reflection, all of it
understanding that whatever truth I may put forth will continue to be
negotiated by readers and more reading. This, by the very nature of the
process, develops reading, writing, information, collaboration and
computing literacies, literacies which I think most of us would agree
are going to be crucial in navigating what’s ahead.
And he’s exactly right, of course. He’s stretching my brain — and hopefully, the brain of lots of other people. See, I think that I need to lay out here several words and their definitions, as suggested by Will’s post, and I need to start using them in this way. There is a "blog," a noun, which is what this space is called. It’s composed of my links, my posts, the silly picture of me playing the guitar in the corner, etc. The blog is the management tool that I’m thinking about and have previously discussed.
There’s also "blogging" the verb, which is where I think Will’s mind is, and mine’s still catching up. Blogging is that set of skills that he talks about. It’s the reason why I want the students that I work with to use blogs — in the end. But I don’t think that many of them will start with that skill.
If I want my kids to begin blogging, they need to establish a blog, the space in which they can create and think, the thought lab that these spaces should be. Then, as they get their feet wet in the blogosphere, they can, with some instruction and some reading (okay, maybe lots of both) dig into blogging, the way of thinking. By that way of thinking, it might be that many students create blogs, but never grasp blogging. Of course, the same is true now of students in my writing classes. They might complete a research paper, but never grasp that the texts they quoted are speaking to each other, just as the text the student writes is speaking back to them.
The blog, then is the scaffold, or perhaps even the actual Vygotskian Zone of Proximal Development, that can lead to blogging (the set of thinking skills).
So, yes, for me, at least in these beginning stages, the blog will be the content management system, to some degree. But the end product, I hope, will be the set of thinking and learning skills hiding inside "blogging." Blogs are management, blogging is content.
An example. One of my main goals for using blogs with my students is the creation of an online portfolio of student work. My students currently keeps portfolios in manila folders on teachers’ desks, and each quarter they write a reflective piece that explains why they are proud of their work and what they’ve learned from it. Yes, some of this online portfolio will consist of students posting their previous schoolwork onto a blog. But that’s really the first step. I want the students to use the blog to record their reflections on their work over time. I want them to use links to begin to point out how their different assignments and projects speak to one another. I want them to discover what others have written or thought about the ideas they are working with and to include that information in their reflections. I think that’s the blogging that Will is talking about, and it’s where I’m hoping to get to. I just need the blogs to manage it all.
This is all still draft thinking. I’ll probably refine and/or change my mind several more times. Actually, I’ll definitely do that. The exciting thing is that this space exists for me to have this conversation.