Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Blogging is Boring??!!

Students in my classes have been blogging about their independent reading books for a few years now. I remember when we first started blogging. The students and I were agog with excitement! Most of the entries were delightfully reflective. The comments were flying back and forth.

I hesitate to say this in the open, but it’s getting, well, boring. Recently, a group of students and I were in a chat room discussing the novel The Door in the Wall. Towards the end, our conversation evolved into a general discussion of the technology we use in class. The students brought up that they were “bored” by their independent reading blogs. After the first tentative use of the B word didn’t get anyone in trouble, a number of the students agreed. They did try to put it nicely and not hurt my feelings.

Here’s the worst part, I’m with them. It feels like a drill to read and respond to the zillions of posts that have been generated and it shouldn’t. It didn’t used to. I think I know why, but I’m not sure what to do about it.

We’ve lost the spirit of discovery, the feeling that we were breaking new ground. We also lost our voices. Our reading blogs are not the conversations they used to be. Instead, they are just assigned mini-essays about the books each student is reading. They’re writing for their teacher without engaging each other in conversation. These kids love to talk to each other though, so the failure is mine, not theirs.

There are two reasons for their lack of engagement that I can identify. One is that the format for the blogs is dreadful with the software we use. Students have no opportunity to personalize their pages and project their personalities through their design. A couple of years ago, blogging was so new to this age group that it didn’t matter that the only design choices they have are font and text color. Not anymore, this lack of customization is completely inadequate for their 21st Century visual cortexes!

The other barrier to engagement is the lack of authenticity. I can see how unnatural our class model for blogging is when I consider my own modest, but successful efforts at blogging. I don’t write my personal blog at two week intervals. Nor do I “respond to a colleague’s blog entry in 2-3 sentences” for homework. Ugh. While I wish I were more disciplined, I write when the spirit moves me, although I am for two entries a month. My responses are even more fickle. I might write voluminous comments one evening, and then become a passive reader for a week or more.

How can we blog independently and authentically? We need to comply with school rules, legalities, etc, but it has to be real and meaningful!


siobhan curious said...

I'm thinking of using student blogs in my Travel Literature course next semester. I'm going to ask them to blog their regular lives as though they were travelers in a foreign place (ie. "I went with some fellow travelers to this place called 'McDonalds.' What a strange environment!" and so forth. I have no idea how this will work; I've never worked with student blogs before. If anyone has tips on organizing blog work and using it effectively, I'd love to hear them. I'll be checking back! Thanks for raising these questions.

Liz B Davis said...

I think you have nailed the issue. Blogging works when we write about the things we want to write about when we want to write about them. When we assign "blogging" for homework, we take the wind out of the creativity sails.

When I was blogging with my students in the fall, they had two blogs, one that I assigned and one that was about what ever they wanted it to be about. Being a pretty athletic boys school, the boys chose hockey, football, baseball and basketball. Their personal blogs were the only things that got them excited (it was a tough crowd). They did the other posts to please me, but they shined in their sports blogs.

I don't know what software you are using, but if you set up a Ning you could use the forum for book discussion/reflection and allow the kids to personalize their blog sites and write about what they wanted to when they wanted to. Could that help?

I think it is amazing that you are doing so much writing with your students. It is great that you allow them to express their opinions about it, especially because you are able to listen to feedback without getting defensive. Another sign of what a great teacher you must be.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Sarah!

Do not despair. I think Liz has nailed it.

It's the Hawthorne Effect. It is well known and manifests itself in many ways. One of them is when the class or group is aware that they are being watched or studied, usually in some new activity.

Another, related, is when the novelty of an activity seems to buoy up the spirit of discovery, and it is buoyed up. Like any float that's lifted partly out of the water and released, it will fall deeper into the water as if to sink. The effect doesn't stop there, for the float will bob up again, almost as high as it was before.

It will continue to bob like this until an equilibrium position is met. By that time, the 'Hawthorne Effect' will have worn off.

Catchya later
from Middle-earth

Sarah Hanawald said...

Siobhan--I would love to take your class! The only tip I would have is that the more conversational the blogs get, the better. My students who did like blogging (and I should have been more clear that many of them did, mostly girls who were voracious readers) were the ones who succeeded in developing a dialogue with a few other students. These weren't cliques, but more a common interest group that crossed the traditional group lines.

Liz--Ken was right when he said you nailed it. My next challenge is to find a way to make an environment that they'll like better. We can't Ning due to age restrictions. The comment section of our wiki had some moments of life. Your comment got me thinking--should I try separate boys and girls wikis next year in the sixth grade?

Ken--thank you for giving me some vocabulary for better describing what's happening. I need to figure out the right balance between refreshing what I do and just spinning my wheels chasing the next Hawthorne effect. How to do that?

SCMorgan said...

Sarah, we've all been grappling with this. To get students to blog, we need to assign blogging. Once it is assigned, it seems like homework. My colleague @capohanka has had great success in MS allowing kids to set up blogs on whatever topic...and occasionally adding a post "to share" for homework.
I also insisted my students comment on each others work, and they tell me that's the best part. I admit,though, writing didn't generally occur until it was assigned. I am hopeful this is a beginning for them...that at some point they will want to continue on their own. (And yes, having control of the design and content is critical, too.) Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Erica Tymeck said...

I agree that blogging can be boring. I also agree with "Liz B" in that it is much more effecting when you are blogging about something you feel passionatly about.
As a 4th grade teacher, I am unsure as to whether blogging is an approperiate modality for them. It can seem forced and unnatural to read and respond to something that is of little interest to you.

Going forward, it would be fun if we could have an open blog in my class. A general class blog where students could share ideas, ask questions and respond.

I would also love to have a prayer blog where students could post prayers and pray for one another.