Blog Composition

Today, millions of professional, educational, and personal blogs are living in the endless world of digital information.  They have become a “hot” topic in schools and taken a well-deserved place as an instructional tool in many classrooms.  To be an effective blogger yourself or teaching others to become one, we need to understand the composition of the “blogging genre” and its main role – interaction with a real audience. 

Will Richardson (2010) calls the writing genre of blogs “connective writing”, but I think “interactive writing” would be an even more appropriate name for it.  This term was initially introduced by Stan Swartz about twelve years ago, and every primary grade teacher knows that this method involves thinking out loud about writing and physically sharing the pen with students while completing a writing task.  If you ask me, it does not seem like much interaction today.  Blogs are so much more!  They demand interactive reading, thinking, writing, sharing, editing, revising, and rethinking.  On top, you do not share the pen with the teacher or peers – you own it!  Blogging is the magic pen that allows writers to reach a real audience and, if well thought-out and written, trigger their responses.
 
Reading and writing a blog requires critical thinking.  Just like any type of reading, reading blogs “expands the walls of the classroom” (Richardson, 2010, p. 27) and allows readers to become experts on a specific topic.  Blogs, however, speed up the process of locating information by linking readers to other professionals, experts, and online resources.  They bring in images, music, or videos to support the interest and style of any learner.  A blog may look short, but it expands to abundance of information which readers can explore for hours!  For example, the 7 Key Ingredients in the Successful 21st Century
Classroom 
post by Vicki Davis is full of links to resources which keeps readers actively engaged.  I spent a long time learning about each of the keys from the links available in her post, not to mention the links in the linked sites! 

Writing in general is a process of sharing our thinking.  As reading triggers thinking, writing helps analyze, synthesize, and evaluate it.  In this way, writing and blogging are the same.  The social aspect of blogging, however, immediately connects writers with a real audience.  Because of that, the style in which blogs are written is more conversational and, as Richardson says, “demands interaction” (2010, p.18).  The word choice, tone, and sentence structures of writing a blog provoke readers to respond: agree, disagree, clarify information, share own experiences, or ask questions.  Commenting is the pulse of blogging.  Take a look at the 10 Reasons to Trash Word for Google Docs post to see how the topic turns into a discussion board that widens readers’ views about it and compiles the diversity of people’s perspectives in one place.  Blog writers must learn to “write with an ear for readership” (Richardson, 2010, p.32) and facilitate a conversation online.

As a new literacy, blogging is a perfect platform to teach and learn reading and writing skills today.  Student should be able to learn how to access, “weed out” a flood of information online by evaluating its relevance and accuracy, and then deliver their product in a form of a carefully edited, audience-oriented writing piece.  Moreover, the work of the author does not stop with a click of the “publish” button.  Contrary, it’s just the beginning of a conversation and critical thinking.  With a real audience, writers are obliged to clarify and question own thoughts and communicate them to readers on an ongoing basis.  Blog writers must work hard to bring their audience back to the posts and keep them interested.  I think Bill Ferriter does an incredible job explaining how blogging becomes a key to learning new literacy skills in schools.  To prepare students for their future, we must “graduate” them from writing journal entries and fiction stories in marble composition books to being critical readers and connected writers of the real world.

References

Richardson, W. (2010). Blogs, wikis podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. California: Corwin A SAGE Company. 

Measure Seven Times

“Measure seven times, cut once,” was the proverb I was thinking of after the session on planning and coaching. The importance of scrupulous planning, developing a time line, and making every step of PBL meaningful while keeping a clear focus on the goal should never be underestimated by any teacher. Is it challenging and takes time? Yes! Does it often require reading of professional literature? Of course! Will the results be worth such efforts? Absolutely! The pay-off is a true learning experience for students, not just a product-making activity (makes me think of my earlier post Don’t Let Gorillas Live in Mountains).

I appreciate the time given in our session to explore online resources for planning and collaborating on a project. I was very excited to discover how many forms and graphic organizers were already created and avalible to us. However, I felt my goal as a coach would be to adjust/edit some of those forms, sparkle them with some Shiloh Elementary style, “translate” them into the language that most teachers “speak” in the building. So I did. But I found myself changing, editing a form every time I met with a different teacher. The route that  teachers would take for a project and the readiness of their classes would drive our professional decisions. It helped me see that all I had to do was to familiarize teachers with the tools and show their effectiveness. 

I felt that the past month was the time of true ITS-teacher collaboration experince for me. Event though results of our discussions were not always what I would call a whole project-based learning experience, but the planing piece was in place.  Setting expectation with rubrics and sticking to good compelling questions was our start.  Building  professional trust and strengthening relationships with my teachers were my bonuses .

Here is an example of the rubric for Native Americans Project (4th grade), the product of ITS-Teacher collaboration.

Here are examples (example 1, example 2, example 3) of final products of this unit.

Power of Team Work

 

I always knew that PBL can only happen if team work takes place in a classroom. What I have never experienced before is the true power of it. I was surprised how easy and rewarding it was to work with my peers, learn new things together, and get excited about project possibilities! Delegating tasks, listening to each other’s opinions, and choosing best ideas made the process smooth and productive. I wonder what happens if a team member doesn’t always want to give in and stubbornly believes that his/her idea is the best. What strategies would I use as a team facilitator to coach such team? How important is it to consider personal characteristics when dividing a large group into teams?

I absolutely loved the GRASPS format! It is a true, easy-to-use compass in the project planning process. I can’t wait to share it with my PBL team in the building. I know I was not the only one who loved it. A few of us have connected with ITS from the BYOT group, and we were able to meet and brainstorm some project ideas together. GRASPS was our anchor, kept us on track, and made the meeting very productive. We have decided to meet every month to discuss what was taught in our groups, learn from each other, and create new ideas.

Engage me with IT is learning in a collaborative environment. What more can a PBL believer ask for? 🙂