My first project in the M.A. Ed. Tech. program was to create a blog where one of my 8th grade classes learned to post their literary analysis journals. After only two months, the blog proved itself to be far superior to the traditional pen-and-paper literature homework :
- There is tremendous benefit to readers and writers if they participate in a community with other readers and writers. Unfortunately it is difficult to facilitate those communities in a junior high classroom. My students are grappling with social concerns, hormones, insecurities, image issues, etc., and when I ask them to share their reading journals with their peers, they have a hard time focusing on the discussion and digging in to a level of deep analysis. But as soon as they posted their journals on a blog, they dove right in to “discussions” via the comment feature on the blog. They complimented each other’s writing, corrected each other, questioned the literature, challenged their analyses, and even reached out with sympathetic responses when their peers shared personal connections to the literature.
- Another benefit of the blog is that my students were able to read many different examples of literary analysis written by their peers. I didn’t have to reproduce their handwritten or typed journals to share with the class, and I could direct the students to read specific examples on the blog that I wanted to highlight as strong analysis.
- The blog also allowed me to write longer, more constructive feedback in response to the students’ work. When evaluating their written work, I usually have to jot quick, short responses to help them improve their writing. But the “comment” feature allowed me to quickly give each student much longer and more helpful feedback.
- My students reported to me in a survey that since the blog was “public” to their classmates, they spent more time writing and proofreading their work than they used to do when the work was just turned in to me. They cared about their peers’ responses to their work, so their efforts on the journals improved on the blog.
- The blog allowed me to see when students had gone back and revised their journals. Thus I could see when students took my feedback to heart and improved their work. One student told me that it was my comment and the public nature of the blog that motivated her to redo her journal.
Of course there were difficulties with the blog, as can be expected any time we try to utilize technology:
- Although all of my students in that class have access to technology, not all of them have reliable access.
- Since I was brand new at being the administrator of a blog, there was a lot for me to learn in a short period of time.
- The day that we were in the computer lab and they were all supposed to open their e-mail accounts and accept my invitation to the blog, we discovered that only three of the thirty-two invitations had actually been sent. That was a bummer.
The benefits of the blog far outweigh the difficulties, so I will be inviting my three other classes to join the literary blog in January. Next week I will be asking them to join our new writing blog, where they will post their proudest piece of writing from the semester. Then we will have some conversation around how to respond to writing, and they will read and post responses to their classmates’ writing.
This project has taught me something significant about English teachers using technology for their students’ writing: it is so much more than word processing! Of course the ease and “fun” of word processing their writing is a very good reason to teach our students to write with a computer, but the benefits of writing on a blog take their work to so many other new levels. They are now reading and writing the way adult communities do: sharing their thoughts, debating about literature, getting peer feedback, revising their work in response to feedback, and seeing their work published. These are all goals that English teachers have, but they have always been terribly difficult to accomplish in the traditional junior high classroom. The blog brings them all together in a powerful medium in which the students are enthusiastically engaged.