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Teaching Blogging Not Blogs

As I was preparing to give a presentation for CyberCamp, a summer professional development experience I created in the summer of 2008, I tried to put together everything that I had learned about blogging, or, as I sometimes call it, connective writing.  The document below is that summary.  I find that I return to it again and again when I need to explain blogging - either some of the practical, writerly considerations, or my rationale for it as a classroom practice.  I thought it might be useful in this space.  

Each section is a link to a blog post combined with a summary of that post as well as a quotation of the relevant material from the blog.  

Bud & Blogs 2.0 - February 2005 - A post I wrote three years ago that I keep coming back to. This post pretty much sums up the big picture of what I want to teach about blogging, as well as models the fact that blogging is, for me a very powerful way of learning. I write, I link, I think, I re-write, I re-think, I link anew, etc. Again - this post is three years old. And I keep coming back to it. How many school assignments do students return to three years later?

There is a "blog," a noun, which is what this space is called. It’s composed of my links, my posts, the silly picture of me playing the guitar in the corner, etc. The blog is the management tool that I’m thinking about and have previously discussed. There’s also "blogging" the verb, which is where I think Will’s mind is, and mine’s still catching up. Blogging is that set of skills that he talks about. It’s the reason why I want the students that I work with to use blogs — in the end. But I don’t think that many of them will start with that skill.

I want the students to use the blog to record their reflections on their work over time. I want them to use links to begin to point out how their different assignments and projects speak to one another. I want them to discover what others have written or thought about the ideas they are working with and to include that information in their reflections. I think that’s the blogging that Will is talking about, and it’s where I’m hoping to get to. I just need the blogs to manage it all.

Types of Posts - May 2006 - A post I wrote for my speech students to help them think about the types of writing that they might choose to do on their blogs. I thought then that blogs as research logs made lots of sense, particularly with the blog/blogging difference in my head. I listed these:

1. Research-related posts. These are posts that share information that you're learning or questions that you're having as you research. These might be questions for the class, or for me, or thoughts about the sources that you're discovering. Remember to link to the sources that you talk about in these posts. If you're writing about an offline source, make sure to include enough information about that source so that we can find it to follow up.

2. Speech-class content posts. These are posts concerning the ideas and tips and content we're discussing in class. You might want to write about how you think you'll begin a speech, or the type of visual aid that you want to use (you'll be required to have at least one visual aid in your third and fourth speeches). You might write to express your frustration about what we're talking about, or questions that you have about how to present the information that you're learning.

3. Classmate-related posts. Sometimes, the writing on your classmates' blogs will get you thinking. Other times, you'll have questions about what they're up to. Feel free to write about their work on your own blog. Make sure to link to what you're writing about, and to quote any relevant passages for your readers. Also, you might want to drop a comment at your classmate's blog to let them know that you're continuing the "conversation" that they started.

Framing Blogging - February 2007. Same line of thinking. First attempt to articulate some of the details. This post became the seed for this article in English Journal, an attempt for me to bridge my traditional writing with my online writing. Some of my articulation:

I see several different types of linking that I should be explicitly teaching:

1. Connecting to locations. The simplest of links. When we write, we might write about specific places, people or events. Often, those events or places have websites. A very basic form of connective writing, then, would include creating links to those places. (Ex. I like the Denver Broncos; Bob Ross was a great artist.)

2. Connecting to ideas. This is a basic citation. Alan Levine calls it a linktribution. One of my pet peeves about teaching blogging and hyperlinking is that so often, people will link to the parent page of a website rather than the page where they got their specific information. The best part about linking to specific information is that it’s very transparent. I can trust you as a writer right away if I can see that your links are accurate and that the quotes that you use are reproduced accurately.

3. Connecting to self. Sometimes the best ideas that we can find are ones that we had in the past. The advantage to keeping and archiving a blog is that you can almost literally travel back in time to visit with the old you. One way to connect with the old you is to quote yourself and respond.

4. Connecting for attention. When students are writing for specific audiences, they sometimes need to get the attention of the folks that they are writing for. One way to do so in an online environment is to include a link to a site or blog or wiki or something that their intended audience might be keeping an eye on. When the audience searches for references to the link the writer uses, then that writer will discover the piece of writing. Most bloggers that I know are aware of this, and they maintain an RSS feed (or several) of searches for specific links or terms that relate to them. For example, I use Technorati to provide me with an RSS feed of any reference to the URL of this blog. When someone writes about, and links back to, something that’s been posted on my blog, I find out about it and can go check it out.

Thinking 'bout Linking - A post from March of this year, my latest attempt at thinking through what a course on "connective writing," or blogging the verb, would look like. Lots of interesting conversation here. Some of the essential bits of my thinking:

But most folks that I see beginning to use digital writing spaces aren’t treating them any differently. And I can’t quite figure out why. I also can’t quite figure out how to articulate the differences, even though I think I get some, if not several, of them. And if I can’t articulate them, perhaps I can’t teach them. (Not sure about that, actually - but work with me.)

Digital texts have the potential to make a big, juicy mess of a linear experience. Or to turn a so-so piece of writing into a masterful collection of references, linktributions, and pointers to other good stuff. My hunch, a rough one, but one I’ve held for a while, is that reading and writing that way makes you (ultimately) a better reader and writer. I just don’t really think I know how to teach that way yet, or at least, I don’t know how to teach other people to think about teaching that way.

What would such a course look like? What would it cover? How would it differ from a “regular” (I know - bogus term.) 9th or 10th grade high school writing course? How would it be the same? (Why wait until high school? I’ve been thinking through blogs as science or inquiry notebooks at the elementary school level.) What happens when we add video(s)? Pictures? Embedded widgets? I’ve got to believe that some analysis of what links do and how they do it would be a necessary piece of any such course. So, too, would be copious quoting and linking to others, building a network of classroom texts that would be added to the greater networks of the world.

Our Routines - Blogging - A post I wrote yesterday for CyberCamp - a way to help folks think about purposes for blogging. I identified five possiblilities:

1. Blogging as remembering. You might want to write a post documenting something that you learned, observed, or found during your work. Blog posts that are remembering in nature might be a few sentences about what you’ve learned, or they might be a link to a great resource along with some information about why you found the resource to be of value. Once you post it, whatever you post will be here later when you need it.

2. Blogging as reflecting. As you move forward with your project, you might want to write a little bit as a way of thinking differently or reflecting on your work up to this point. Why is your project important? Why do you think you need to use a specific tool to get a job done? How might you use something that you’ve read or talked about in your classroom in the fall.

3. Blogging as questioning. You may find that you have lots of questions. This blog is a shared space - consider asking a question here for your fellow CyberCampers to address. How did you do X? Why did you do it that way? How might you incorporate wikis into your classroom? Want some feedback on any element of your project? Write a blog post with some useful context and a good question or two - we’ll answer you. We promise.

4. Blogging as sharing. See something cool? Tell us about it. Embed a video. Post a picture. Link. Sometimes, the best part of camp is show and tell.

5. Blogging as experimenting. Want us to try out a tool or a lesson or an activity? Post it here along with some instructions and, perhaps, a question or two to guide our exploration/experimentation.

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Discussions About This Resource

Dave Boardman's picture

I'm struck by the connection between what Bud wrote here:

I want the students to use the blog to record their reflections on their
work over time. I want them to use links to begin to point out how
their different assignments and projects speak to one another. I want
them to discover what others have written or thought about the ideas
they are working with and to include that information in their
reflections.

and here:

Digital texts have the potential to make a big, juicy mess of a linear
experience. Or to turn a so-so piece of writing into a masterful
collection of references, linktributions, and pointers to other good
stuff. My hunch, a rough one, but one I’ve held for a while, is that
reading and writing that way makes you (ultimately) a better reader and
writer.

I think many people who teach with technology know that at times what's going on is a "big, juicy mess," and out of that comes some form of order - the well-designed website, the flowing, seamless digital story. Maybe it's partly the idea that many of us have transferred the orderliness of the traditional writing classrom to the digital writing world. Maybe instead what we ought to be embracing is the "big, juicy mess," the mind-mapping, flow-chart, notes in the margin, back-of-the-napkin collection of thoughts with the order - those connections - woven in-between the lines. Bud's ideas have me thinking. I feel the need for the weekend to end so I can get back to school and help guide students away fromt the order, a bit more toward the connectiveness. Like Bud, I think I'll be coming back to these words again.

dreed's picture

I couldn't agree more.  I think the mess is what leads to great thinking and writing.  I can see the value of rethinking how we use technology to further support the mess that is thinking!

ALittles's picture

Embrace the “big, juicy mess.” You’re absolutely right in saying it is the digital version of the process. We may be used to seeing it on the back of napkins and in the margins, but it’s all the same. When we transition to the digital world, we have to change our approach in our concept of the “big, juicy mess” as our students see the potential. They understand the mess on screen can be transformed to masterpiece It challenges us as educators because our mess existed on paper.
Writing is supposed to be messy, it’s better that way. I love that we are using technology to help students embrace that fact. 

kdouillard's picture

Hi Bud,

I'm loving the timelessness--even in this ever-changing digital age--of this post.  Having just launched blogging--and the noun: blogs!--with my young students (ages 6-9), I'm already thinking about how to support them as connected writers beyond the classroom (the whole purpose of the blog, right?).  Maybe our timing was perfect, blogs are operational and blogging has begun.  Now I have the week off from teaching to think, research, ponder, and connect--linking my ideas to others', challenging my previous thinking, and coming up with a plan that will keep my students excited and willing to continue this challenging and rewarding effort.

Thanks for the inspiration!

dreed's picture

Bud,
Thank you for sharing your analysis of the collective and recursive ways that writing can take place in blogs. I appreciate your approach and analytical discussion. This way of thinking is something that I am currently wrestling with in my classroom. Several of my students believe that drafts are writing that is refined and everything must be neat. While, this can sometimes be the case, I want them to be able to dig into writing as thinking and truly explore the process. I think the way you explore different types of blog posts supports the idea of writing as thinking. I guess I break the "rules" they expect when I tell them that sometimes writing should be messy. For if writing is truly thinking and if thinking is messy it should be recursive and connected to other work and it can be messy. Don't get me wrong, I do require final revised and neat drafts, those don't get away from us, but the neatness of writing is not always authentic in my mind. Usually when I show students my own notebook, they are shocked by the mess. Now, I'm not trying to teach students that they should have papers that went through the dryer messy, I am trying to get at real thinking. Thinking that is recursive and linked to research ideas and then back to something that someone else said, then revised because they thought of something differently. It seems to me that this is similar to your blog discussion, albeit in a physically neater space. Yet, what I am also finding from students is that they want one assignment, then the next, then the next. They want a linear approach that is simple and easy to keep track of. I can't blame them, I like that too. However, if I truly want them to build on their learning and be meta cognitive in their approaches, that means we have to go back to previous information and revisit ideas, etc. It seems to me that's also part of learning and thinking. So, I wonder, are we in general using blogs in the same ways as linear texts because we can check it off a list or because it's easier to make sense? I don't think I was able to push myself into the type of reflective thinking I am craving for my students until I was older. Nevertheless, I know my students can get to this point, but I do think there is a cognitive dissonance present in the process. I wonder is this part of the blogging with the fullest potential challenge. It seems to me that the way we think and allow ourselves to show our thinking needs to be challenged because we have opportunities for great innovation such as with blogging the way technology allows us to do.
Thanks for prompting the reflection.
Dawn