My students have been blogging since 2008. At the time, it seemed like an innovative way to accomplish some of the goals of a writing notebook (e.g., developing fluency), while giving students access to a broader audience in a genre that seemed a little more fresh.
As with most things this election year, 2008 seems like a long, long time ago. In 2016, the blog feels passé, and introducing the idea of blogging to high school juniors and seniors in the first week of school increasingly feels like asking if they’ve heard of this cool new band called “Coldplay.” Every year, I think about scratching the blogs and coming up with something new.
Once again, however, I headed into this school year more convinced than ever that it’s important to keep them. Here’s why:
They need to develop a sense of ethics in online writing and publishing. In an age when (mis)information can be shared so quickly, students need to keep ethics on the front burner at all times. Blogging with guidance gives students an opportunity to ask critical questions: What do my readers expect from me? How can I signal to them that what I’m saying is accurate? When I make a mistake, can I just change it, or do I have to acknowledge I changed something? And just as reflection on writing influences the way we read, those critical questions can shift how students see the websites they consume. How do I know this author is really an expert? Where did the information in this graphic come from? How do I know Mark Twain really said this? This year, I’ll tap into existing conversations about disclosure policies, online citation, and ideas for a blogging code of conduct.
They should practice the conventions of online writing. Just as writers use their knowledge of writing conventions to communicate effectively, online writers use additional conventions consistent with the multimodal nature of the medium: hyperlinked text, embedded images and video, and topic-based tags are just a few. These are not traditional priorities for school writing, but as more composition moves online, those who know these skills appear more polished, professional, and sophisticated. In other words, some of the same benefits of knowing about, say, word choice and syntax. Students who already have ample time to explore these literacies at home will be fluent in them with or without us. Will students whose primary access to the Internet is at school? It might depend on how much of a priority we make it.
They can develop an authentic, interest-based audience. Especially for those students with niche interests that one wouldn’t expect to be widely shared among one’s classmates—a love of manatees, say, or a fascination with economics—sharing those interests with those in the room often means being expert in a conversation with novices. There’s a place for that. It adds to the richness in our classrooms and in our lives to learn about our diverse interests. But explaining or defending the thing you privately love can be tiring, too. Why limit students to that audience, when they have access to worlds of similar-minded aficionados online? If you’re passionate about Medieval British history, or fantasy football, or horseback riding, writing in conversation is much more enjoyable if you’re talking to others who also know a lot, have opinions, and might even teach you something new when you thought there was nothing more to learn. Those are the conversations that bring us back for more. (Those examples are all real, by the way. The manatees? That happened.)
So we’re blogging again this fall. Are your students? How do you approach these needs in your classroom?
Michael Ayers is starting his first year teaching English/Language Arts at City High School in Iowa City, after fifteen years at Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids. He earned his Ph.D. in Teaching and Learning from the University of Iowa in 2011. In between chasing his four kids, grading, and writing for fun, he tweets from @DrAyersCHS.