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!