Framing Blogging – Making Connections

    One of my great frustrations lately as a teacher is that I am not having more success teaching blogging, as in blogging the verb Will Richardson, to my students.    The value of blogging, as I’ve come to learn, is in the way that it requires that I interact with source material, either another blogger or any other text that I can find to quote and think about.  That interaction with sources is what I think is so, so, so essential in the education of students.  If we are to teach students to teach themselves, we must focus our efforts on areas of basic communication and areas of interacting with other information.  I know that statement is probably preaching to the choir, but maybe not. 
    Lots of the "successful" uses of blogs out there are those that aren’t really about interacting with sources.  Posting homework online, unless the homework is source-specific, isn’t blogging, although it is a step in the right direction. 

    I’ve had some small successes here and there, but I’m finding it funny and sad that I am unable to successfully share the one best learning tool in my personal arsenal with the students that I work with.
  I could bemoan that the problem isn’t with me, or with my methods, it’s with the community/school/students/parents/etc.  But what good does that do?  Such excuses would make me feel better, but they wouldn’t be me teaching — they’d be me giving up.  As I step back from day to day writing instruction while my very able student teacher steps up, I’m thinking again about how to teach blogging rather than writing with blogs
    For two different quarters in two different school years, I have been attempting to better incorporate blogging into my speech course, English 10B, a standard course for students in the tenth grade in my district.    I figured then, and still think now, that using a blog as both a research log as well as a tool for reflection while preparing for a speech was a good idea.  To that end, I encouraged students to write three kinds of posts.   I’ll admit that we all got a little stuck as we learned how to navigate between our own blogs and the blogs of our classmates.  We used Bloglines as our aggregator and Blogger as our blogging tool.  Too much software.  Elgg has mostly solved that problem, as it serves as both blog and aggregator.  Too cool. 

    While I was pleased that my students began to tentatively share their ideas with the world, I felt that my instruction was not as thorough as it might have been.  I understood that one of the powers of blogging is the ability to connect to the writing of others in some pretty tangible ways.  But I don’t know that I communicated that to my students as successfully as I would have liked.

    This isn’t a post about tools.  It’s a post about content.  But the tools and the content are beginning to, or have always been, running together and affecting the other.  My students, or me, or you, or anyone can’t learn how to without first learning how to make those connections.  I’m not an expert, but I think it makes sense to try to articulate the different types of links that are possible in a blog post.  I recognize that such a list is limiting, but I need to wrap my brain around these ideas a little bit.  (Here’s a wiki version of my list, which is by no means complete.  Feel free to make it better.)  I see several different types of linking that I should be explicitly teaching:

1.  Connecting to locations.  The simplest of links.  When we write, we might write about specific places, people or events.  Often, those events or places have websites.  A very basic form of connective writing, then, would include creating links to those places.  (Ex. I like the Denver Broncos; Bob Ross was a great artist.)

2.  Connecting to ideas.  This is a basic citation.  Alan Levine calls it a linktribution.   One of my pet peeves about teaching blogging and hyperlinking is that so often, people will link to the parent page of a website rather than the page where they got their specific information.  The best part about linking to specific information is that it’s very transparent.  I can trust you as a writer right away if I can see that your links are accurate and that the quotes that you use are reproduced accurately. 

3.  Connecting to self.  Sometimes the best ideas that we can find are ones that we had in the past.  The advantage to keeping and archiving a blog is that you can almost literally travel back in time to visit with the old you.  One way to connect with the old you is to quote yourself and respond. 

4.  Connecting for attention.  When students are writing for specific audiences, they sometimes need to get the attention of the folks that they are writing for.  One way to do so in an online environment is to include a link to a site or blog or wiki or something that their intended audience might be keeping an eye on.  When the audience searches for references to the link the writer uses, then that writer will discover the piece of writing.  Most bloggers that I know are aware of this, and they maintain an RSS feed (or several) of searches for specific links or terms that relate to them.  For example, I use Technorati to provide me with an RSS feed of any reference to the URL of this blog.   When someone writes about, and links back to,  something that’s been posted on my blog, I find out about it and can go check it out.

    This is certainly first draft thinking; please keep that in mind.  How are you teaching your students to link?  What have I missed?  Is there a better list out there?  Again, here’s the link to the wiki version of this list — help me improve it.  I’m eager for some feedback, as well as conversation, about how to teach blogging and not writing with blogs. 

8 thoughts on “Framing Blogging – Making Connections

  1. Hi Bud,

    This is really interesting. As an English teacher, my focus has been on using blogging as a way to motivate my students to write more, to write for real audiences, and to write more authentically than they usually do in school assignments. You can read my latest reflections on all of this here.

    Your idea—teaching blogging as a set of communication skills, rather than using blogging as a means of teaching writing—is something I haven’t thought about at all.

    Now I’m going to have to sit down and think about it.

    Thanks!

    Eric MacKnight
    http://www.EricMacKnight.com

  2. Bud,
    You are on target when you state that this is a question of content, not tools. Beyond that, however, it involves critical thinking about research. Teaching kids to read one article, poem, story in the light of another previously read and to see connections is challenging. We are asking them to read broadly and to see connections, two things my students have always resisted. But if we are to REALLY teach research, that is what we must teach, not just how to use library databases and make an accurate citation. I love it that you are working on this skill through blogging. If only students realize that they do this same connective writing any time they do authentic research.
    Enjoyed your post!
    Connie Lindsey
    Pearl of the Concho Writing Project

  3. Hi Bud,
    I have your blog on my bloglines account and love reading your posts. I just linked your post to my tech team blog. It’s perfect for the issues that we face as a team with blogging. I love to blog, but can’t seem to keep them working on it.
    I am in the process of setting up another group blog. I wanted to create one of elgg but they aren’t accepting new groups. I see that you are experimenting with Excite that operates by them as well. Can I create a group there? Any suggestions with other places?
    Bonnie

  4. Eric — I think you’re right to teach blogging as a way to think about audience and purpose and all of those things. I use blogs for those reasons, too. But I think teaching blogging as a skill of its own has value, and lots of it, for the reasons that Connie mentions in her comment.
    Bonnie — I’d recommend checking out EducationBridges.net, an Elgg set up by Worldbridges. It’s for folks who want to dabble as well as communicate with other educators.

  5. This a very interesting subject…I just finished reading the Framing Blogging post…right now…I’m in the “frame” of mind that our blog…Go Furthur…is a space to write. I really haven’t “taught” my students how to blog…but in a way…I have…the way I “frame” the narrative for each post gives my students an idea of the type of writing that should be happening. For example…the Let’s Chat post on our blog allows students to connect to each other or myself. Have I actually used the comments on the post to teach my students how to connect to each other? No. Should I? I don’t know. What happens when I do that? I run the risk of getting back what Mr. Eye wants. Do I want that? Not necessarily. This is just one example though. I have another post on our blog that relates to literature I read to the class. Students comment about the text and connect to themselves as well as the world while doing so. Did I show them how to do this? No. Is that bad. I don’t think so. So what am I saying here? I guess its that you can teach students how to blog without teaching them…directly. By providing a narrative that leads students to explore and make the connections on their own…that’s where I’m at right now.

  6. Tony,

    I’d love to see your blog. I’m finding that I need to teach some of what makes blogging so powerful explicitly. I thought I could teach it implicitly — but I think I was wrong. I’d love to see how you’re finding success.

  7. This semester I am really trying to get my students to make connections with their blogging. One way that I am trying to do this is by totally changing the assignment. I asked students to choose a topic that they are interested in. I didn’t care what the topic was as long as they were willing to read and write about it for a semester. (Of course, my students are college age seminary students, so I am fairly safe leaving it so open.) Each week they are to find an article online or in print media dealing with their topics, briefly summarize the article and then reflect on it in some way. While we are pretty much just beginning with this, I am impressed with how much better it is going than other blogging assignments have.

    What I have not tried to do really is have them read blogs (other than each others’) and connect to them. My students are still a little afraid of blogs. I would gradually like to introduce them to blogs related to their topics, though, and encourage them to write about posts in them. Maybe next month…

  8. Hi,

    It seems to me that there are two different issues at play here, the noun “a blog” and the verb “to blog.” The first is relatively easy, while the second is more complex, more difficult to teach and to learn.

    For most of their school lives, students are trained to know learning as a noun. They go to a class, write a paper, take a test, listen to a lecture, complete a homework assignment in a closed loop of teacher -> task -> grade. There are occasional excursions outside this loop, for instance when students work together in small groups to critique each other’s papers (not always a useful exercise if they don’t have the tools to recognize what they see and provide useful explanations), or to complete a joint project. But the loop is still there, with the teacher the final word on the value of whatever it is.

    A blog is different, but still a noun. However, it is in a different realm altogether: blog posts are public voices. Students need to have the time first to recognize the sounds of their voices, and then to realize that they have become part of a community when they post at all, when someone responds to something posted, or they decide to write a comment to a post. That is the perfect opportunity to start the transition to “blog” as a verb: to remind students that their engaging with others via a blog is a variation of what they are already doing outside of school via text messaging and other interactive communication.

    Writing as a tool can’t really be regarded separately: it is the essence of both “a blog” as a public voice and “to blog” is an act of communication — with all the possibilities to come for enrichment of the blog post itself, of the thinking that precedes writing, of the reading that helps prompt writing, of the networking via links and threaded conversations with others.

    I agree with Tony: students make some transitions from blogs to blogging naturally and indirectly. More complex uses of blogs that change the focus to the verb — from the writing to the person doing the writing — evolve with time and experience: learning to use links, learning how to read and think and be prompted by ideas rather than assignments, learning to reach out and become part of a network of thinking writers. And all of that must still be in the context of what children (elementary, middle, high school) are capable of doing. Not all learning is readily discernible . . .

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