The right resources
Eager and enthusiastic, I returned from summer vacation 2015 ready to have my students dive right into blogging. It seemed that serendipity had smiled upon me at the 2015 International Literacy Conference. My friend and I (and the room packed full of educators) were looking forward to a session focused on using technology to support Language Arts classrooms. The presenters did not show up. But She did.
I don’t remember her name, but I do remember that she eagerly stood up, joked about being ‘stood up’ and introduced herself. She was a tech coach in her school district and she just happened to have a presentation of useful internet tools for teachers. After a resounding ‘yes’ from the crowd, off she went, showing us a dizzying array of free and low-cost internet resources, including some popular blog sites.
As summer faded and the new term loomed on the horizon, my friend and I enthusiastically investigated the practicality of these resources. Our goal was to identify tools that would not only engage our 10th and 11th grade Language Arts students but also provide them with opportunities for real writing (quite different from academic writing with its artificially limited audience). We identified a few blog sites and some tools that would make our students sit up and take notice. We were so certain that our students would be excited that I secretly feared that we would be inundated with writing from out budding authors. How would we manage it all? Would we have the time to give adequate feedback? Would we have to juggle the huge lists of users for the blog? It would be amazing and a lot of work, so we thought.
Especially intriguing to me was the level of control that we had on the audience; students could share their work with just me, with their classmates, with other students in the school and, if we chose, audiences outside of the school. It seemed to be the perfect balance of safety and real-life. They would love it.
And then reality hit. Honestly, I still can’t pinpoint the exact obstacles; why my students were so reluctant to engage in an academic-digital context. But I can share my experiences, frustrations and disappointments and I can share my tiny victories.
Reluctance and resistance was the first response to my invitation to blog.
My 11th grade students were reluctant. I had taught them last year and they knew better than to be outrightly defiant. I introduced them to the class blog page that I had set up. After explaining that we would now have the opportunity to become writers with real audiences, I expounded on the relationship between the writer, the reader and the text. We explored blog sites on my newly installed SMART Board. They smiled and nodded but they did not sign up.
My 11th graders were gifted writers anyway. They easily wrote engaging 500 word narratives and descriptions—sometimes under testing conditions. Their unique perspectives on persuasive essay prompts floored me at times. Their writing was so good that I regularly submitted them for publication in our local newspaper. So, logically, I thought they would jump at the chance to have this digital platform for their writing. They did not. Most of them did not log in.
The 10th grade students were new to me. They did not know me and I did not know them. These students actively resisted the idea of blogging. The reasons for not even signing in ranged from, “I don’t have a computer” or “I don’t have internet” to “I can’t figure out how to sign in” and “I don’t know how to”.
So, my students—children born of the internet—couldn’t or wouldn’t blog.
I have formulated a working theory about their recalcitrance. Our school system, steeped in traditional approaches to learning, has only recently begun to explore the role of technology in the classroom (students are still not permitted to bring mobile devices to school without express permission for very specific purposes). My older secondary students have never been fully exposed to using technology for academic advancement. For them, technology is solely for leisure; books, pens and paper are delegated to the academic environment. The melding of the two contexts is still novel to them. They couldn’t see how or why they would publish their work on a blog. Thus, they resisted. But I persisted.
My job was twofold. Firstly, I had to get them on the site – show them the value of the interaction facilitated through blogging. Secondly, I had to encourage their creativity to blossom on this platform. What followed were carefully orchestrated incentives that had most of the class making baby steps into the world of blogging. This was a start.
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