Monday, September 28, 2009

Does blogging make for better writing?

I'm struggling with this question right now. MS Stewart led me to this article by Stanley Fish in which he says "all courses listed as courses in composition {should} teach grammar and rhetoric and nothing else." The discussion in the comments section would probably bore most people, but I was intrigued by the different points of view. I've also been thinking about (and re-watching) the Seth Godin video about blogging I posted on my last entry. The essential question is: is it enough to write, and to write in quantity, or do students need repeated formal instruction in writing?

The obvious answer is "it depends" but I don't really want to cop out like that. I do know that when I worked in publishing, I was astounded at how poorly constructed some of the (eventually published) manuscripts were.

I work with young adolescents, many of whom don't feel like they have anything to say in writing. It takes a long time and a lot of room to convince them to put a piece of themselves down on paper or on the screen in a blog. If they do have something to say, students often feel that their words will be poorly received. Blogging changes this dynamic. Powerfully changes this dynamic, my lament last year notwithstanding.

Where then, does formal instruction fit it? Particularly rigorous formal instruction? I know that my writing is better for having been critiqued. How can we be rigorous and yet supportive? When does our rigor lead to squelching student voices?

I'm not the only one who disagrees with using formulaic writing, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Writing Center has a page devoted to helping students break away from the five paragraph essay, with a guiding question "How do I break out of writing five-paragraphs themes?" I do wonder why the authors wrote the section in which they say that high school teachers have good reasons for teaching these essays.

I have no answers to these questions right now. I'm just hoping that it is true that writing more will make my writing better (although Seth Godin would disagree that it is just those 10,000 hours that matter). We'll see.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Happy New Year!

An appropriate title this weekend, and for this time of year. This year, the start of school has brought more than the usual number of to-do lists for me. My children started kindergarten and I went back to work full time. These are both good things, but bring with them little suitcases of emotion responses I wasn't expecting as well as some out and out physical challenges. If you've never taught, you probably don't realize that the first couple of weeks of school is actually physically difficult--the body has to adjust to all that standing, smiling, explaining, and late nights (planning and parent meetings).

That all being said, I'm really excited about some of the changes this year is going to bring. I'm an advisor again; a part of teaching I have truly missed over the last few years. I've helped plan a unit on the nature of the heroic journey. For our intro session, we're going to watch Star Wars (the real first one, now called Episode 4) and then discuss Luke's progress from brat to hero. I'm so excited about this, I can hardly stand it! I hope the students will engage in the movie and then make the transition to thinking about themselves and the journey through adolescence they are experiencing.

We've re-designed our blogs with an install of multi-user Word Press. It looks gorgeous and I'm optimistic that we'll recapture our fervor for blogging that faded last year. The class wiki is up and running too--let's hope that the parents join in our conversation a bit more this year. I welcome any suggestions for the types of wiki pages that encourage parent conversation!

That's all for now--it's going to be a great year! I'm blogging with the students and will be starting to blog more at Ed Social Media, but my goal is still to write here every other week this year. This is still the only spot that feels "away" from my school life for my thoughts. So, I'll close with this quote from Seth Godin on why blogging is good for you.