Blogging on

Blogging on

Richardson, Will

As Web logs become increasingly popular online personal and professional journals, more and more educators are tapping into their potential as a teaching tool. In fact, the flexibility and simplicity of Web logs are creating a range of opportunities for teachers to deepen their discussions of curriculum bringing new voices and experiences into their classroom.

Because Web logs are rooted in writing, their appeal to composition teachers and students is obvious. They enable the easy creation of almost limitless reams of digital paper that support drafting, feedback, revision, and publication in ways that traditional paper simply cannot support. But the power of Web logs goes far beyond just writing; they can also enhance the study of literature. In September of 2002, our school was among the first in the country to adopt the bestseller The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd into the curriculum for our Modern American Literature students. Because I had been using Web logs successfully in my journalism classes, I decided to create one where my students could extend their conversations about the book outside of the classroom. We also used the space to build an online study guide for the book, complete with artistic interpretations, links to relevant historical background information, and discussions of symbols, themes, and characters. Each student was required to make a number of “quality” posts in one of those areas or in response to what other students had posted. In that way, we began a very interesting, asynchronous conversation about the book, much of which went far beyond what we discussed in the classroom.

For one thing, asking students to articulate their thoughts in writing for publication in the Web log gave them an opportunity to develop their ideas. Although some student posts included grammar and spelling errors, I tried to emphasize depth of thought over correctness. One student wrote more than 200 words in response to a question about the main character’s motivations:

I think Lily is a little nervous about finding out about her mother. She dosen’t want to believe T.Ray when he tells her that she shot and killed her mother. But, the last and only fond memorie she has of her mother is the fight her parents got into when she was in the bedroom. Lily remembers having contact with the gun during the fight and trying to hand it back to her mother. When she arrives at August’s house she is afraid to reveal herself at first, afraid she may be rejected and sent back to T.Ray. While she stays at the house in Tiburon she begins to learn a great deal about the calendar sisters’, seeing that they are extremely caring, trustworthy, and loving. She begins to get real close to August, almost seeing her as a mother that she never had. Lily is timid around June, and always thinking June hates her. But, come to find out June knew Lily’s mother and was just afraid of what might happen. Lily also gets close to May, learning all about her crying spells and how to deal with it. When she finally felt comfortable to ask May about her mother she realized that May did know her, infact she knew her very well. Lily has many missing puzzle pieces that she must find before her life will be complete, (http:/ / Reader$156)

Another obvious result of the Web log was that it gave more-reticent students a chance to enter the conversation. One such student, who rarely spoke up in class, offered an articulate post on the same topic:

I honestly don’t think that Lily ever really thought that she would ever get the truth about her mother. I think that when she was living with August she allowed her self to keep believing that her mother was this great person who never did a thing wrong in her entire life, and when she found out a little truth about her mom, I think it scared her. I don’t think Lily was ever expecting anyone to know Deborah, and therefore she was scrared to ask August about her mother. Deep down she knew that her mom couldn’t be the person that she dreamed up. and Lily knew that once more of the truth was let out that the memory of her mother would never be the same. Lily in my opinion set herself up for disappointment by making her mom into this perfect person, nobody is perfect and by asking August about the truth of her mom Lily realizes she is afraid she’s going to find that out her mom wasn’t perfect and the mother in her memories was just what she hope her mom would be. ( Reader$156)

Students were also able to offer their own creative interpretations of the work, and some of the responses to those works showed a great deal of attention to the detail of the artist. Concerning one drawing that depicted the suicide of one of the characters, a student defended the artist’s interpretation by saying:

I don’t think that this picture was exagerated. I think it is really good. It is a really big rock, but it fits the picture. It shows how she really died, and I think that the rock probably would have had to been pretty big anyways in order to hold her down and drown her. Plus, in Victors, picture you can really tell what is happening. If the rock were smaller then it might not look like a rock and you might not get the picture that May died from it. ( /msgReader$112)

Without question, however, one of the most powerful aspects of the Web log is the interaction it allows from outside audiences, in this case, the author, Sue Monk Kidd. Because we were among the first to study the book, I contacted her publicist to see if she might be interested in joining our Web log discussion. To my amazement, she agreed to respond directly to some of my students’ questions. Her most interesting response began:

Dear Students,

It is an exceptionally nice honor to have you reading my novel in your Modern American Literature class! I’m extremely impressed with your web log, which I’ve been following. What fun for the author to listen in on your discussions and see the wonderful and provocative artistic interpretations that you’ve created. The experience has opened my eyes to new ideas about my own work! (http://weblogs.hcrhs.k12.$217? mode=topic&y =2002&m= 9&d=27)

The author’s ability to easily interact with my students in the Web log gave us a unique opportunity for a richer understanding of the work. It was a wonderful learning experience for all of us. If you are interested in using this teaching tool, the following general considerations are necessary:

Software-all Web log software is not the same. Teachers need to find the best tool for intended use and should think about ease of use, depth of content, collaboration, etc.

Access-not all students have the same amount of access

Privacy-posts can be accessible to anyone or can be only viewed locally (intranet) depending on software. Collaboration and feedback can be limited and moderated depending on software.

Time and Support-planning and set-up take time, and tech support is required.

Assessment-what and how.

Server issues-local server use is best since files are more secure. Remote storage may result in loss of content.

Web logs are a powerful new tool for teachers because they provide an easy way for students to write, publish, and collaborate with peers and mentors from near or afar. They can also serve as online portfolios of work, as classroom portals of information, as collaborative space, and more. With a bit of thought and creativity and just an ounce of technology skills, Web logs have the potential to facilitate new and effective ways of teaching and learning with the Internet.

Copyright National Association of Secondary School Principals Nov 2003

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