In response to an email asking about using blogs in the classroom, I wrote back a sort of long-winded reply. I'll post my reply here in case it could be useful info to anyone else.
I love and adore using blogs with my students. In my experience, writing, revising and peer editing within the blog structure has particularly helped their writing skills. So, I've used blogs in that way. I've also had success with journaling in blogs. This semester, my 9th graders are creating big, semester-long projects, and they are using the blogs to sort of document the thought process and give and receive feedback/thoughts from peers. Teenagers are so self-conscious, I find the lack of face-to-face contact adds dramatically to the strength and effectiveness of peer editing and review.
I've done both public and private blogs. While I'd like all students blogs to be open to the public, there are some legal and protection issues involved. I try new ways each time, but in Livejournal, I allow students to use their real names and post so that only their "friends" can see. Everyone in the class is on everyone else's "friend" list. This is helpful to everyone because by clicking on the "friend" link on one's own page, you can easily see new posts without clicking through a bunch of links or starting a Bloglines account.
I've also used Blogger. I like the templates better, and kids can create their own links outside of the ones created inside posts (unlike in Livejournal). The drawback is that Blogger doesn't have an easy way to make them private. So, I ask each student to come up with a pen name and sign a contract stating that they are never to mention real names, location, school name, etc.
Class interaction on blogs is awesome, especially if you bring together multiple sections of the same course. You can do all that with private blogs. However, to me, blogging is essentially a public act, and I think the act of public publication makes kids take themselves and their writing more seriously.
I'll end with one big positive and one big negative. First, the positive. Blogs allow kids that are not normally popular, not normally sought out, to really shine. All of a sudden, your blond cheerleader is constantly running over to the dorky kid in glasses because she, like, really wants a cool emoticon or avatar. Your quiet, sci-fi and fantasy loving tech-nerds come to life and interact with the class in a new way while getting a chance to show off their skills. My students have known each other since birth, so mixing up the social pecking order is a good, good thing. And finally, the negative. I wish I could do more with blogs, but I constantly run into the wall that is lack of access. My school is lucky to have what it does, but blogging, to my mind, requires regularity. When you can only access computer labs or laptops at odd times or infrequently, I think it is very hard for students to build blogging skills and really get something out of the medium.
That said, I keep trying blogs out, and I learn something new with each experience. They do too, I imagine.
I forgot to mention one long-term positive I recently had the pleasure of experiencing. I helped Taiwanese Superhero set up a blog and showed her some student blogs during an intensely boring meeting before the school year started. She loved the medium right away and started using blogs with both her general and remedial classes. All of our 9th graders did their research "papers" on blogs. So this semester, I got several of her students, and she got several of mine. The first day we went in the lab to learn about blogs and get set up, her students from last semester proudly proclaimed their expertise, showed off their lengthy blog writing to the class and helped assist other students with starting their blogs.
If every teacher used blogs, our kids could really have a kick-butt record of their progress in writing and in high school. Maybe they would continue to comment on the work of kids who aren't in their classes anymore. Maybe it could be common ground between teachers and subjects. Maybe it could be dreamy.
While walking down the hall of the movie theater to see Million Dollar Baby, I overheard a dad talking to his very young son.
“C’mon, let’s go see Pooh!” dad said, grinning and grabbing his son’s chubby hand. Abruptly, the child stopped walking, dropped dad’s hand and cocked his head to the side, looking up at his dad.
"Yup. You'll love Pooh!"
"A whole movie about poo?"
“Yeah, Pooh! Aren’t you excited to go and see Pooh?! The boy furrowed his brow and considered the question. He was clearly trying to figure out why his father was so excited to see poo. A full minute later, he’d resolved his issues.
“Um, ok!” The boy grabbed dad’s hand again and happily trotted down the hall to see Pooh’s Heffalump Movie.
I hope he wasn't disappointed.
I saw this quiz over at Shamash Says.... I couldn't decide if I am "long-winded" or "concise," so perhaps I am each of these depending on whether you catch me first period or third period. Only my rabbit of choice is, of course, sheep.
You're Watership Down!
by Richard Adams
Though many think of you as a bit young, even childish, you're actually incredibly deep and complex. You show people the need to rethink their assumptions, and confront them on everything from how they think to where they build their houses. You might be one of the greatest people of all time. You'd be recognized as such if you weren't always talking about talking rabbits.
Take the Book Quiz at the Blue Pyramid.
by Hermann Hesse
You simply don't know what to believe, but you're willing to try anything once. Western values, Eastern values, hedonism and minimalism, you've spent some time in every camp. But you still don't have any idea what camp you belong in. This makes you an individualist of the highest order, but also really lonely. It's time to chill out under a tree. And realize that at least you believe in ferries.
Take the Book Quiz at the Blue Pyramid.
1. I get in trouble in student support meetings. I recommend solutions that are weird. For example, while meeting with the parents, teachers and counselors of a very ADHD student that can't remember to do his homework, I suggested that he write notes to himself on his hand. You sort of can't help but look at your own hand several times throughout the day, so this method works wonders for me. I know writing assignments or appointments down in a planner sounds reasonable, but some of us find even this small act of organization challenging. Unfortunately, my supervisor found my comment unprofessional.
Today, I liked the dichotomy of my "palm" notes. And tonight when I got home, I neatly packed a copy of The Iliad for Carla to borrow and a copy of inside A Thug's Heart by Tupac Shakur for Jazmin. So there you go, it works.
2. I found out today that at least SIX of my students are currently pregnant. Two of them are really smart, beautiful girls that have gobs of potential--had gobs of potential. Now neither of them are applying to college. At least they are both seniors. The other four mommies-to-be are freshman. And I find myself wondering just how illegal it would be if I started taking my girls to get birth control on the DL because, obviously, no one else is taking care of this need. Grr.
3. I've started eating lunch at school--in the cafeteria. Close your mouths folks, it's not as bad as it sounds, and today, it got darn palatable. I've been experimenting with lunch line options for the last week. Since I am a vegetarian, I didn't think I had too many options. For example, today I decided to try a monochromatic lunch in the color yellow--tater tots, pears and a banana. I proudly showed my selection at the register, but Lunch Lady was not impressed. She counseled me on the idea of "healthy" eatin'. When I told her about my vegginess, she shook her head at my concerns and told me they had veggie burgers in the back that they would make to order for me. That'll keep me coming back. Plus, I don't think Lunch Lady has figured out that I am a teacher yet, so lunch is a buck fifty, uh, a bone-fiddy. Word.
Coming soon...hipteacher leaves the house and stays out past ten o'clock, and ninth graders teach The Odyssey with hand-puppets and indie tunes.
I used to be a good friend, but then I started teaching.
Sitting on the couch, surrounded by piles of half-graded vocabulary quizzes, family fables and one big, orange cat, I remember the days when I used to answer the telephone when it rang. I used to be the friend that would talk to you at any hour, come over at any hour, ready to snuggle and talk until it was all better. Along the way, some friends grew out of my friendship, but I never grew out of theirs.
Until I started teaching.
Now, friendship only happens when it doesn't really require effort. My good friend, the Taiwanese Superhero, and I chat each day during our mutual planning, grade together occasionally after-school, and always walk out together to our cars long after the sun has gone down, rush hour forgotten. Every Friday, we suggest getting together to do a little shopping over the weekend. Every Monday, we smile at each other, knowing we were both too tired, too lazy to pick up the phone, much less leave the house.
And I see her everyday. What about my other friends?
They're out there. Especially the ones who blog. It allows us a semblance of keeping up, but without real contact.
I miss them, but I don't do anything about it. They leave messages. And then they leave more messages.
Recently, the partner of one of my close friends from college wrote me an email. Why hadn't I returned any of M's calls or emails? Did M do something? She didn't like to get involved in her partner's friendships, but she knows how important I am to M, and she just wants to see if there is anything she can do to help. M even came by the school and dropped off a little Christmas present for me, but still I didn't pick up the phone.
I'm not mad. No one did anything wrong. I swear I want my friends. But I feel like there isn't any room in my head, or my heart. I haven't even had a date with my hubby in months.
This has been one of the strangest byproducts of my new career.
A dear friend of mine is Christian. Although I don't go to church or belong to any particular religion, I greatly respect and admire her faith. She believes what she believes, and while willing to discuss her beliefs, she never, ever pressures others to believe as she does, and she is always open to learning about the beliefs of others.
The other day, her husband forwarded her an email invitation to the American Compass Book Club. I'd put a link to them, but I'm afraid of the repercussions, so Google them if you wish. You'll soon realize the book club's mission isn't quite promoting the kind of Christian love and spirit my friend believes in. So, she wrote them a letter. I'm posting it here for you to enjoy--and to prove that even Christians can be comic geniuses. But, she better watch out, or she might be offered a new job working for the Heritage Foundation.
Note: The following letter was written with a hunk of burnin' irony. Do not take literally.
Dear American Compass Book Club,
As a conservative, Bible-believing, proud American, I was thrilled to receive an email for your book club. Finally, a place that I could shop for books free from the liberal agenda that is pushed in most bookstores. I teach English, and love to read; but I am disgusted by the retail atmosphere of chain bookstores, with their sections that proudly advertise the homosexual agenda, new age conspiracy, and a host of "minority" subjects masquerading as political science. In order to find solid, responsible, political science books, I have to wade through books about very un-American topics.
Sadly, I was shocked when I clicked on your website and found that you offered a book by the Pope as a selection in your book club. I hope that you are aware that Catholics do not believe in Jesus Christ and are not Christians. Many of their priests are homosexuals, and they openly oppose conservative values such as the death penalty. The Catholic church is a wolf in sheep's clothing, trying to appear innocent and conservative by speaking out against abortion, when, in fact, they support a variety of liberal social causes. I am sure you are aware that the Catholic church would have never been able to assert any hold on America if it were not for all the immigrants that bring their communist ideas over to our country looking for a free ride. How can you offer such a book, and then offer books about keeping jobs in America? Are you aware that most Mexicans are Catholic?
I sincerely hope you will remove the Pope's title from your selection list. If you do, I will be thrilled to become a member.
I made the kids write letters to their parents for open house. I know it seems sort of elementary, but the parents love it. Some teenagers are so reticent with their parents, the letter can really give parents some insight into their kid's life. Finally, I am just a big fan of the old-fashioned thank you note. This kid's mom didn't come this evening, but I will post it here for you all. I couldn't let his note go unappreciated.
So far my year has been very amazing and flammable. My teachers are all good except for that one over there. He/She's a jerk-head-face-butt. I am making all-letter grades, so you should be as proud as a possum for me and my toes. My semi-automatic tests were very hard and made of plastic, but I was able to overcome this problem with orange juice. Mostly, my classes are very three-dimensional and organic, but sometimes they are malignant. I have many friends, most of whom photosythesize frequently. I am staying away from drugs, expectially sniffing dirt and injecting peanut butter. I hope you are as flabbergasted as I am about this class and this beaver.
Remember to stay circular,
Coco Rectangle III
P.S. Remember: A pickle a day keeps the koalas away.
Teachers all over the school, quietly about their business, suddenly perk up, drop everything and start running to the same location. Nearby students look up in wonder. What's going on? When I was a student teacher, I looked up in wonder. What's going on? But today, in the hallway going to duty, I received another reminder that I really am a teacher now.
I felt the fight before I even saw it.
And I ran. I don't know what I thought I was gonna do when I arrived, but, by golly, I ran. I ran with the teachers.