Chalk up another one for blogging

Dan Meyer has been looking back at his short, albeit significant career as an educator. Someone left a comment wondering what he would attribute his growth over the past few years.

In a word: “blogging.”

In seven words: “blogging and probably using a digital projector.”

The digital projector opened up my classroom and practice to visuals, which was a profound, if rocky and still ongoing transition.

But blogging was the cheapest, most risk-free investment I could have made of my personal time into my job. You start by writing down things that are interesting to you, practices you don’t want to forget. And then you start trying new things just so you can blog about them later, picking them apart, and dialoging over them with strangers. Periods of stagnancy in your blogging start to correspond to periods of stagnancy in your teaching. You start to muse on your job when you’re stuck in traffic, in line for groceries, that sort of thing. That transformation has been nothing but good for me and it all began on a free Blogspot blog.

Whenever I ask my pre-service teachers or classroom teachers to blog, it comes with a variety of reasons and purposes. Not everyone uses a blog to be reflective, but reflective practice in isolation has its challenges. There’s nothing like a solid testimonial like this to once again point to the value of open and transparent exchange of ideas.  This is also why I often hesitate to suggest twitter to folks wanted to engage with other educators. Not that it has less value but there’s no way twitter can replace blogging as a form of reflective practice. I don’t suspect many use it that way but when it’s referred to as "micro-blogging" I get a little worried about that comparison. Blogging isn’t about building a sizeable audience necessarily. It’s about finding enough critical friends to make you work at getting better. Thanks to all who have done that for me.




cc licensed flickr photo shared by shareski

Student and Teacher Blogging that Succeeds

Originally posted at Tech Learning.

There is a new teacher or student blog created every 2.2 seconds. Okay so I just made that up, but the point is we are seeing blogs created at blistering pace with the hopes of connecting with the world and providing an authentic audience for writers. Sadly, many of these well-meaning blogs die a slow death after a smattering of posts. Well-intended teachers and students often lack perspectives need for success.

Blogs are easy to create. But just because something’s easy doesn’t mean it will stick. As someone who supports teachers in understanding and using digital learning tools, this is a pattern I’ve seen all too often.

So how does a teacher or her students find blogging success? Here are a few things I’ve discovered in both my own blog as well as with my work with students and teachers.

Blogging is mostly about reading
Blogging is way more about reading than it is writing. Many teachers don’t see this at first. Most classrooms provide a good balance of traditional reading and writing opportunities. Teachers recognize that in order to be a good writer you have to read good writing. Yet when it comes to blogging, most want to write immediately and sit back and wait for the world to pay attention. It won’t happen. Provide as much time for your students to read blogs as write. If you decide you want to blog or have your students blog, don’t feel badly about spending a few weeks or even months reading blogs. Look for exemplary work. Look for blogs that you relate to. Find blogs that have a different perspective on things you’re interested in Talk with your students about the blogs they enjoy. Before you write a post, be sure you are responding to something you’ve seen, read or heard.

To make a friend you have to be a friend
When I talk with students and teachers about blogging, I liken it to the playground. How do they go about making friends on the playground and looking at the playground line markings? By waiting on the sidelines? Dominating the equipment? Students quickly recognize the need to interact and talk with others. Blogging is no different. If you want to have others read and comment on your work, you’ll need to begin reading and commenting on others.

On my own blog I posted a couple of times about something I’ve called an Updated CommPost Rating. It involves taking the number of comments you’ve left and dividing it by the number of blog posts you’ve created. You should have more comments than posts. Comments generally are clarifications, encouragements or challenges that usually involve less time than original posts. What’s the saying? You have 2 ears and 1 mouth. This should apply with blogging as well. Since I wrote this and began to walk the walk, my readership has steadily increased and, more importantly, so has my learning.

It’s personal
So once you establish a pattern of reading, thinking and then writing, you need to write about what you know. Teachers, who structure their blogging too much, lose the concept of conversation. It must flow from personal meaning. That’s why having your students find others who share their interests is so vital. The best bloggers are able to provide personal perspectives but also connect those personal experiences with others. Good conversations don’t simply involve stories about yourself but stories to which others can easily relate and contribute.

In this effort to connect, hyperlinking is also essential. Hyperlinking is what makes the web work. It is the connecting vehicle. I can’t believe how many students and many teacher blogs neglect to hyperlink to other sources. Most see this as an advanced blogging tool. It isn’t. It needs to be utilized immediately; even with young students. Generally when I read a blog post that has no hyperlinking, I wonder about its validity. How many of us can write without crediting or referencing others? This is when blogs turn into online journals. Unless you are an outstanding writer with highly original ideas, a blog of this nature is not likely to last or at least not likely to gain readership.

Get Graphical
Finally, we have a wonderfully graphical web and are beginning to recognize that writing is only one way we express ideas and communicate. The use of embedded video, audio and images provides a rich communication that goes well beyond words. Text still has importance but allowing embedding pertinent, interesting media can express ideas like never before. Understanding the power of Creative Commons would be a great place to start.

Here are three resources that will provide you some additional tips:

If you’ve had struggles with sustaining blogging, try these tips and if you’ve had successes using other methods, what are they? After all blogs are conversations—so converse!