By Sarah Almeda @ A Principal’s Reflection
I have been feeling a need to look at some positives lately in my Reading & Reacting posts. As much as I am drawn to it, even I need to get away from the politics of the teaching profession too. Fortunately, heading into the long holiday weekend, I stumbled across this post that was getting a heavy dose of retweeting by a number of smart educators that I follow.
Here is a student guest post on her principal’s blog. Wait, re-read that sentence again. New Jersey principal Eric Sheninger asked a student, sophomore Sarah Almeda, to write a guest post about the advantages and benefits of blogging from a student perspective.
First, there are simply not enough principals blogging. Second, I wonder how many of them would think to ask a student to write a guest post for their blog. So, while it might not be exactly the most novel idea, it is nonetheless a pretty impressive one, considering the scarcity of its realization. It is laudable stuff, without question.
Then there is the treat of reading the post. Almeda writes with the clarity, voice, and humor that would make any English teacher coo. Better still, the school blog she maintains is for her chemistry class.
Here, for me, is the best bit from a student that clearly has something to offer many teachers.
Rather than having a teacher hammer the importance of good writing into my head, I get to feel it in a very real world situation with immediate feedback. I don’t just learn about writing, either. Yesterday, my friends were genuinely interested to hear me talk about how one day our phones may literally be coated with nanodiamonds. I learned that from an article I blogged about. Now I’m always learning a great deal about topics that I decide are interesting to blog about, like the chemistry behind a bad hair day. Not to mention that my chemistry blog is a blessing for someone whose homework always seems to disappear rather inopportunely. I can put an assignment on my blog in the “Homework” category, protect it from copycat classmates, and email the password to Ms. Smith so she can view it whenever she needs to. Not convinced yet? I learned HTML coding when finding ways to better format blog posts, and it’s become a very useful skill.
There is more insight and cleverness in that paragraph than might ever have occurred to teachers that are still wondering what all this blogging is about. Better still, Almeda explains that she keeps her own personal blog too, where she can seek out some validation from a potentially global audience, and think seriously about what works and draws people to read her posts.
Clearly, this is not an average student, but she has some pretty impressive thoughts on the power and value of blogging. It is something that only rekindles my desire to get my students blogging more than I do and help them find ways to discover their own reasons for why and how it can have genuine value for them and others.
However, it also stoked some thinking I have been doing recently about the trend of getting students blogging without necessarily building an audience for it. Blogging continue to gain traction as a fashion in education, but there is a kind of if-you-build-it-they-will-come kind of mentality about it. It is one thing to go public with a lot of student work, but audience can be a slippery subject. One that teachers, especially teachers who blog, may need to spend more time offering up related discussion and guidance.
Teachers might also need to do the hard work and thinking with students to discover or, maybe better stated, uncover audiences for their work. There is no simple answer and the doing may take quite a lot more time than is granted in a given marking term.
For many bloggers audiences are built, hard earned really, over time. It is gradual and requires patience and a lot of labor. Even blogging might be too narrow a frame for what I am considering here. It really is about student publishing.
I keep challenging myself and my colleagues to expand what our notion of text means and consider ways that was can task students with developing and producing products that are worthy of an audience beyond our classrooms.
Again, not the most novel of concepts but one that I am not convinced is common enough to be easily dismissed. There is a lot of student work scattered across the Internet, but how many people other than a teacher are looking at it?
Lately, I am most interested in looking for ideas and ways to change all that and get students producing viable work that is worthy of a lot more eyeballs. I have been doing it with my journalism students for years and getting admirable results. Getting similar results with my standard English courses has proven altogether more elusive.