Being an English teacher for 25 years, I assumed that I was adequately preparing my students for college: reading comprehension – check; writing and revising essays – check; MLA format – check; grammar and mechanics – check. However, I soon realized that there was more required for class assignments in college than the basic academic practices. College professors do not only expect their students to know how to use technology for research and projects; they also expect them to use a variety of technological resources in order to communicate with the instructor as well as fellow classmates. This is where blogging comes into practice.
When I first began assigning blogs to my classes, their first reaction was “Why do we need to do this?” I quickly explained to them that a few of the classes that my daughter took at Clemson required weekly blogging. The assignment would be posted on Sunday night, and the students had to comment about the assignment or discuss it with others in their class. Throughout the semester, there would be 10-15 blogs; the blogs would count as part of their final grade. I began using blogs in my classroom as an introduction to new stories or literary works. When my English I-Honors class was about to begin “The Raven,” I asked them to respond to a prompt about fear. When my ninth grade class was assigned to read “The Gift of the Magi,” I asked them to write about sacrifice. I always required a specific word count, just to make sure they were accurately addressing the topic.
When the students first began blogging on Kidblog, I made sure I printed out specific instructions on how to access the website, steps to logging in, and their passwords. They quickly became comfortable with the process as it became a weekly assignment. As the semester went on, I began connecting events or themes in literary works with current events. For example, when my American Literature class was studying The Crucible, I asked them to compare the events of the Salem witchcraft trials to the current Presidential election. The responses I received were amazing; they got it! When my English II class read “The Johnstown Flood” last year, they were asked to relate the events of our own thousand year flood in South Carolina to the events in the story.
The students are now learning how to post their own responses to my assignment, and then comment on their fellow classmates’ posts. These assignments are more opinion-oriented. For example, for my English I class, I asked them to discuss if being a perfectionist is a positive or negative trait. The students must then respond to two of their classmates’ posts. This initiates a dialogue between the students, as the person who originally posted the response must respond to one of the comments made by another. Another assignment I posted to my British Literature class was to decide if they believed that The Lion King was a Disney imitation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The students had a few discussions that were very interesting due to the fact that they strongly disagreed with each other when it came to the theme of revenge.
Although these are graded assignments, I have found that the students feel less inhibited about expressing their opinions and their own writing ability via blogs. Many have very insightful viewpoints that they can express by blogging, whereas they wouldn’t express in front of their classmates. The students are reminded to be respectful of another’s opinion, as well as pay attention to their use of grammar and mechanics; however, I grade the blogs holistically, focusing more on the content than the grammar. The students also only have a week to complete the blog; this helps them get used to the time limitations on posting assignments.
My initial interest in blogging was to prepare my students for life after high school. To my surprise, it has not only done that, but has also provided an opportunity to relate to my students on a different plane outside of the classroom. They can see that I respect their opinions and that their voice matters.