Last year Writing Project technology liaisons from the Bay Area Writing Project and the Area 3 Writing Project, with members of the LINC Center (supported by the South Coast Writing Project and the National Writing Project), worked with high school teacher leaders and their classes to develop an online, virtual community of student writers, Youth Voices Coast to Valley to Coast (open to editors only) .
“Ah-ha!” we thought (at a National Writing Project meeting in November 2005),“Maybe we could some day become a larger network!” We agreed that it would be a good idea to develop our own communities first, then see about bringing them together.
For various reasons, teachers in both projects decided not to use these particular blog sites in the current academic year, yet we learned a lot, and many of us continue to blog with students. This year you’ll find many of our students over on YouthVoices.net (YV) and the PersonalLearningSpace.com (PLS) These are two elggs sponsored by Dave Cormier and Jeff Lebow of WorldBridges.net. Dave set up and manages both sites. He launched the PLS with Lee Barber this Spring as an experiment for 8th graders, and he did the same at Youth Voices for Paul Allison’s, Susan Ettenheim’s and Chris Sloan’s high school students this fall.
Cast of Characters
The network has been growing over the past four months. There are now fourteen schools with students posting — some more than others — on these two elggs:
- Baccalaureate School for Global Education, New York City – Madeline Brownstone (PLS)
- Eleanor Roosevelt High School, New York City – Susan Ettenheim (YV)
- East Side Community High School, New York City – Paul Allison (PLS, YV)
- The Franco Brazilian School, São Paulo, Brazil – Barbara Dieu (PLS)
- Florin High School, Sacramento, California – Bob LeVin (YV)
- Galileo Academy of Arts and Technology, San Francisco, California – Pat Delaney (YV)
- Gompers High School, New York City – Nancy Brodsky (YV)
- Jane Adams High School, New York City – Lorraine Nowlin (YV)
- J. Frank Hilliard Middle School, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia – Lee Barber (PLS)
- Judge Memorial High School, Salt Lake City, Utah – Chris Sloan (YV)
- Landmark High School, NYC – Richard Stohlman (YV)
- Lower Canadian College, Montréal – Sharon Peters (PLS)
- Trenton Central High School West, New Jersey – Bill O’Neal (YV)
- World Journalism Preparatory School, New York City – Renee Dryg (PLS)
Joining us from West Coast on the webcast will be four Writing Project teachers who have worked together before. Bob LeVin, from Florin High School in Elk Grove, California and Matt Makowetski,from Lompoc Maple Continuation, in California — whose students will be joining us soon on YouthVoices.net — first worked together on a collaborative blogging project a couple of years ago, Enrique’s Journey. Gail Desler will also be contributing her thoughts. She is a teacher and technology support specialist for the Elk Grove School District. Gail, a technology liaison to the National Writing Project and the North State Coordinator for the LINC Center, has been instrumental in helping to coordinate the West Coast crew. In addition, Beth Yeager the director of the LINC Center and a teacher consultant for the South Coast Writing Project will bring her perspective to the table.
Lorraine Nowlin and Madeline Brownstone and Renee Dryg from the New York City Writing Project plan to come by as well. And we’re trying to hook up with Bill O’Neal from the Trenton Writing Project as well. (See schools on the list above.)
And now for some dramatic tension…
In our enthusiasm for blogging in the classroom — and in the midst of our hard work in building this network — it’s not easy to listen to some of our colleagues more critical comments. Here are some that are not uncommon:
“Sometimes a bicycle is better than a car,” is how one teacher expressed his disappointment with a recent group-blog project with students. “Almost all of what happened on the blog might have happened more simply and elegantly on a discussion board.”
A computer teacher, who has put blogging at the center of her curriculum for the first time this semester asks, “What do you say when these students complain that they aren’t learning anything?” She explains that they want to make web pages, learn how to use Photoshop, and explore Flash.
“The major exhibition is over, and I wasn’t able to use the blog that much,” reports an English teacher from the Bronx, “Now I’m just letting them write whatever they want.”
“I’m not sure I like blogs,” another English teacher reflects, “They don’t show revision. The students just post their writing.”
How often do we also feel what these teachers are saying? Sure it’s great to see students posting their thoughts online and responding to each other, but how well do blogs really help our students reach the reading,writing, and content goals we have for them?
If we want to avoid the blogging burnout that is sure to follow teachers’ disappointments, then we need to be clear about what blogs can do, and what we want them to do for our students. We need to ask:
Is blogging a means (or a tool) to achieve
other goals (content knowledge or skills)?
~~ OR ~~
Does blogging have a set of intellectual habits
and skills that are worth learning for themselves?
Why do we want students to blog in our classrooms? It’s not enough to say that we want an online extension of the work we do in class. Forums and discussion boards probably do that better than blogs do. And if we want to emphasize collaborative writing, don’t online word processors (such as Goggle Docs) and wikis facilitate that much better?
On the practical tip…
Paul, Susan, and Lee, who are mainly responsible for administering the two elggs. YouthVoices.net and the PersonalLearningSpace.com have set up a wikispace to collect together our blogging guidelines and lesson plans. Please join us in making Elgg Plans useful.