Hands Off My Blog: Affirming the Right to Blog

“He’s (Mark Twain) surprisingly relevant right now . . . when you look at how much he wrote and the breadth of the subjects he wrote about, you know that if he were alive today, he would totally be a blogger” — Rebecca Fitting, Greenlight Bookstore (cited in Mark Twain Autobiography Is Flying Off the Shelves

A blogger for three months and 14 posts now, I’m ready to argue for the right to blog.  It does not begin when you’re 21 or when you finish graduate school.  It is an inalienable right, or at least, I’m sure the founding fathers would have included it by name if they’d known about it.  Jefferson would have been a great blogger, I think.  Franklin, more a tweep with his short, clever, pithy sayings.

But what if old Ben wanted to create his blog from his economical quotes.  Would his blog be graded down because it wasn’t obviously of deep, reflective, critical thinking?

Doug Peterson recently blogged about a enterprising teacher, Kim Cofino’s effort to create a blogging scope and sequence.  Inspired by Will Richardson’s description of what blogging is, this teacher is working with her colleagues to ensure that students become successful bloggers.  In the same vein, Nicole Lakusta has offered a continuum for what is blogging and what is not. As I reported in my last post on formal/informal learning, both Doug and Stephen Downes had some doubts about how blogging was being defined, pigeon-holed, and standardized.

As Ben and Moby inform us in BrainPop’s engaging video about blogging designed to introduce blogging to children, the shortest definition is that blogging is “a website written in journalistic style” and that’s there is pretty much a blog for practically anything you can think of.  And probably on topics beyond the imagination when you realize it’s been estimated that there are 112,000,000 blogs (Wikipedia).

On the evolving Blogging Scope and Sequence that Kim kindly shared, I was struck by this quote:  “Blogging is more than writing. Blogging is reading, reflecting, questioning, researching, synthesizing, linking, conversing, teaching, sharing and expressing ideas. Blogging is about writing, but blogging begins with reading”  (from K12 Learning 2.0 Wiki)

What???????

I think writing just got demoted if it’s not about “reading, reflecting, questioning, researching, synthesizing, linking, conversing, teaching, sharing and expressing ideas.” My professor in my reading methods course used to say, “We don’t read reading; we read about something.”  Well, we don’t write writing.  We write about what we experience or think about or dream of, or, yes, what we read about that sets us off to thinking and dreaming.

As you’ve probably sensed by now, I feel quite strongly about writing and its role in our learning.  I see writing as a way to be more present in the world, more successful at navigating it, and more fulfilled in being a reflexive, thoughtful person who can have a positive impact.

My dissertation was titled, “Writing Life.”  Honest.  That’s it.  Perhaps one of the shortest titles in history.  I interviewed “lifelong writers” — individuals who found that writing was more than a tool but an essential part of their existence.  These individuals varied from professional writers (novelists, journalists, researchers, screenwriters) to published poets and a diarist for over 40 years.  If I were to pursue the same study now, I would broaden my definition of writing and include those who “write” or compose in other media.  And I would, of course, interview a blogger.

Most blogging is journalistic, of the nonfiction genre.  Donald Graves in Investigate Nonfiction writes of the symbiotic nature of reading and writing and suggests a scope and sequence for learning to write nonfiction.  The beginning writer first writes what she’s thinking to herself in a diary/journal-like style.  Then the writer’s audience expands with letter writing to write to one other person.  Eventually, the audience grows as the writer is ready to write an essay and share information and/or express an opinion.  So the writer first learns to reflect and to then to expand her thinking to include an audience.

It’s interesting that one teacher tentatively suggested on Cofino’s collaborative scope and sequence that perhaps blogging really is writing:

“This might be just semantics but I wonder if this shouldn’t be a ‘Writing” scope and sequence and not a blogging one? Bloggers don’t make blogs (like artists create artwork), bloggers are writers… so maybe blogging should be part of a writing scope and sequence that includes what kids also do outside of this digital space?
(Sorry, just thinking out loud:-)”
– datruss

While another responded that blogging is a genre to itself:

“Good point but I do believe that bloggin is a genre and few know anything about so a thins a S&S is needed at this time.”  JU

I would agree with datruss and JU that blogging is a new genre of writing and that if we teach our students to write competently and confidently for a diversity of purposes and audiences that we will have prepared them well to blog.  Lest we forget that the Web is a highly visual medium, we should also realize how integral design and the visual presentation of the blog is to the message and success of the blog.  Blogs are evolving and many blogging tools are more visual now as Tumblr and Glogster or even vlogging (see John and Hank Green of the Vlog Brothers fame).  So along with writing, design is vital for preparing students to be successful communicators on the Web.

The National Council of the Teachers of English (NCTE) has recognized this evolution in progress and suggests that

“Teachers need to understand at least the following in order to be excellent at teaching composition as involving multiple media:

  • A range of new genres that have emerged with the increase in electronic communication. Because these genres are continually evolving, this knowledge must be continually updated . . . ” (NCTE’s Beliefs About the Teaching of Writing)

Cofino and others have also created blog rubrics and I responded to these in a comment on Doug’s blog:

“I’ve checked out the blog rubrics and scope and sequence and these are thoughtfully designed. I just wonder if 40 years from now that kids who are learn to blog through this model are still blogging? I interviewed a lawyer/non-profit admin [for my dissertation] who began a journal in 6th grade as a simple class assignment (no rubric – just do it) and has continued for the rest of his life. He made it a lifelong part of his being because he found value in the doing.”

And I also noted Sarah Perez’s research that found that young people today are actually blogging less.  I couldn’t help hypothesizing that “blogging’s move into the classroom as another contrived reading/writing activity could be partly to blame.”  I  worry that as we’re making blogging too school-like that we’re failing to create the conditions for students to experience the gratification that comes from thinking and sharing one’s thoughts in an electronic medium.  And I worry that a blogging scope and sequence will decrease rather than increase lifelong bloggers.

So let us as teachers create the conditions for our young bloggers to explore blogging as a way to learn and share what they are learning.  And let them do this exploration always with the freedom to experiment and discover what role blogging can play in their lives. Let blogs become sandboxes for thinking and creating.   As teachers we can serve as models of active bloggers and support our students by being “critical friends” who challenge and encourage us (much as Doug credits Stephen in his OLDaily).

I would hope that many of us teachers would balk if Dean Shareski’s recommendation for “How to Make a Better Teacher” were mandated and we were required to blog in Dean’s own image as a “reflective practitioner.”

Perhaps as we become more aware of blogging’s role in our own learning and the diversity of roles it serves for others, we’ll understand that we need not reinvent writing every time the technology changes but can teach students the essence of communicating their thoughts and how to learn to “write” (compose with text and imagery) in new spaces for new purposes for new audiences.  As “ourman” writes in this thoughtful comment to a blog exploring blogging as a genre:  “And at the end of the day the people who don’t follow the rules and find new ways to use blogs – they may well be the blog stars of tomorrow. Who is going to tell them that what they do is not really blogging.”

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About criscrissman

so serious about really blogging this time
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2 Responses to Hands Off My Blog: Affirming the Right to Blog

  1. dougpete says:

    You’ve raised some interesting points and thoughts about blogging. I read an article recently about how professional writers fail as bloggers because the writing level of the typical blog is at the Grade 7 and 8 level. I do struggle with the concept of making a blog an academic endeavour rather than a platform for self-expression and enjoyment. Sometimes blog entries are deep and well supported by entries and sometimes, they’re just written for fun. Given that, how do we apply any sort of metric to a blog with the goal of assigning a mark to it? Does that fact alone discourage potential writers?

  2. criscrissman says:

    I always look forward to your well-grounded questions, Doug. They keep my sandcastle ideas tethered.

    I’ve been rereading Dan Pink’s Drive http://www.danpink.com/drive and I’m convinced that the key to developing young bloggers is to focus on what he calls “Motivation 3.0” — the operating system that runs on intrinsic motivation for the task itself. I know that’s how the writers in my dissertation were driven and I suspect the same for us amateur bloggers.

    The best example of Motivation 3.0 for K-12 bloggers I’ve seen is the model that The Tempered Radical http://teacherleaders.typepad.com/the_tempered_radical/ and middle school teacher, Bill Ferriter, uses. He invites students to return for “working lunch” to create blog posts for the class’s blog, “The Blurb,” that has an international audience. Students write because they feel the power and gratification of having a voice. Here’s an interview with just a few — http://marinegrafics.blip.tv/file/1340790/

    So marks for blogs? I encourage either the freedom to blog without grades or possibly a writer’s circle approach where students blog and critique each others to learn to blog effectively. Or for my graduate course in the spring, I’m planning to ask teachers to set up an ePortfolio in which they record their progress in developing their PLEs and they’ll be analyzing their blogs to see how they are using them and how they are adding value to their learning.

    Going for Motivation 3.0 won’t be easy but I think you’ll agree that it’s worth the effort. If we turn a generation of students off to blogging then we’ve robbed them of a lifelong tool for learning.

    Discussion to be continued, I’m sure. Thanks, as always, for your inspiration.

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