Honour Our Attempts

From Jans Smiths class blog

Claire Thompson left this comment on a recent post pointing to Jan Smith’s classroom blog and the disclaimer that sits on the left sidebar of her blog. This is a huge issue for many teachers considering posting work online. Not only are the worried about controlling content and concerned about how others will view the quality of the work.

Typically classroom bulletin boards are dedicated to finished, edited, polished work. Most classrooms do not want to draw attention to the mistakes or efforts of their students. They are comfortable with sharing the best products but would rather hide the process. While that may be a generalization, I would argue that it’s fairly accurate.

I’ve struggled myself when it comes to helping others recognize spaces dedicated to practice and at the same time finding places to set aside work that has been created, revised and reworked. Blogs in general often get a bad name from the public because by their very nature they aren’t intended to be definitive spaces, but rather conversation starters. But of what makes blogs what they are, is the ability to elicit comments. Ideally this should include critique and feedback to enable further learning. This is where most classroom and school relate blogs fail. They do not either have enough feedback from a variety of perspectives that includes both peer and outside responses or the feedback lacks depth and specifics. Creating a culture that encourages openeness and respectful, helpful critique is challenging and requires skillful teachers determined to build this meaningful community of learners.

By the looks of things Jan Smith is trying.

I’d love a response to any or all of these questions:

What have you done or seen that helps people understand how you’re using your online learning space?

What have you done to support your students in providing critique and meaningful feedback for each other?

How have you been able to bring in outside voices to give feedback for your students?

Reposted on the TechLearning blog

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  • As I read through the post I was thinking about how my students often have spelling and grammar errors on their posts. They sometimes don’t complete thoughts or make themselves perfectly clear. Then I read this:

    “But of what makes blogs what they are, is the ability to elicit comments. Ideally this should include critique and feedback to enable further learning. This is where most classroom and school relate blogs fail. They do not either have enough feedback from a variety of perspectives that includes both peer and outside responses or the feedback lacks depth and specifics.”

    If my students receive one response to their writing that is not from me, they have more feedback than I did in my entire school career! While I find it very, very difficult to engage others into reading and commenting on my students’ work (the Lord knows I try…) the simple fact that someone can do this is a huge step forward.

    I really think that the people hyper-critical of our students work more often than not focus on mechanics and not the ideas represented in the writing. Does a professional Nascar driver worry about a comment on his door dings?

    Often it can be difficult for students to be critical of their peers’ work. They can be mean or they can be too nice, but critical is hard. Besides, they make the same mistakes they are pointing out and that can make them feel self conscious to the point of losing sight of why they themselves are writing.

    Every Wednesday I have my students visit blogs I have picked to leave comments. I call it #Comments4Kids and have it hash tagged on Twitter. I have had very little success getting any traction outside of a very small group of teachers. I suspect many teachers don’t see the value of the interaction or simply aren’t allowed the time it takes because of the programmed curriculum we have.

    I will say that my students truly covet comments from outsiders. It shows them the product they make is worthy of notice by someone that has no investment in them. (Not unlike being followed on Twitter by someone famous would be to us.)If you would like to join us in #comments4kids do a search on Twitter for the hash tag and start commenting.

  • Thanks Bill,

    What a wonderful, honest response. I commend you for continuing your efforts despite your view of lack of success. Your idea of using the # tag is quite neat. I’m going to look for that.

  • In a digital age where information (not knowledge) is available at your fingertips enforcing an educational program where the students actually learn something has become a difficult task. Your comments are highly relevant in today’s age and I would like to thank you for that. Thanks for a great post.

  • This is a discussion we have had a few of times regarding our blogging system. Much of the work is published in less than perfect form. Some people are concerned and think that that the work should only be of the best product type as it is something that represents our school.So far our attitude is that the blog posts display a direction the kids are going in and can be used to highlight their growth as writers.

    An old Konrad Glogowski post speaks to this and it is something we added to our blogging system , under about blogging, to give parents and some colleagues a better understanding of our intended use of blogging.

    As mentioned in the post the main issue, for us is developing a better feedback structure. So far we have done little, other than create a comment area on our blogging rubric, that addresses this. We are hoping to get more parental involvement and also setting up blogging buddies between the different grade levels using the blogs at our school. This is still an area we need help with. Perhaps we just need to divide time between commenting and blogging equally. The hashtag #Comments4Kids is something I added to Seesmic desktop and it looks like something we should get involved with.

    In addition to feedback, I think, we need to come up with ways that have students blog from less of a teacher prompt based structure. They need to be able to follow interests then blog on topics that interest them. Lots to do but we have just started here at our school so we shall see where this all goes.

  • I agree that comments should be more about content and ideas and less about errors. I know that I look over my blog posts when I have time (usually on a daily basis) and I hate to see errors, but know that my audience is interested in what I have to say. I would find it super discouraging to have every little mistake critiqued, just as students feel horrible when they got no response to their ideas but heavily admonished for their mistakes. I have noticed with my own students that they are respectful of the blogging process and tend to comment on ideas and content and not on mistakes. I think that it is important to help students revise online writing, but I don’t want to stifle the writing process with lots of pressure about spelling and grammar.

    Thanks for starting this conversation.

  • Kerry

    I love this! Students are learning, so they might make mistakes along the way. But that should not mean they don’t get a chance to experiement with 21st Century technology and networking. I am starting a classroom blog next week. I might just add my own similar disclaimer.