Just write it

I have never fancied myself a writer.

In fact, writing is an arduous task. It is time-consuming, I can never find the proper words to express myself, and I spend most of my time using a thesaurus to avoid repeating simple yet overused verbs such as think and door adjectives such as interesting and difficult. Then comes time for revision, when I question every comma, every run-on sentence, and every type of sentence structure I have used throughout whatever document it is I am writing. As Terry Heick noted in his article When Student Writers Learn That They Must Make Their Audience Care, [g]reat writing is great work. 

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Now, I am nowhere near saying that I do great writing or that I am a great writer. Far from it. What I do mean, however, is anything worthwhile requires work, and writing is no different. It is difficult, but it is worth it in the end. Furthermore, difficult things require practice. After reading Terry Heick’s article, that is what I realized: maybe the practice is what I am – or more accurately, was – missing? In school, I remember reading a lot,presenting my work in front of the class often, and I remember numerous grammar worksheets. I remember a few writing assignments, more nonfiction than fiction work, but not as many as there could have been. Perhaps more of a focus needs to be on writing in our schools; not necessarily all in traditional forms. In fact, a purposeful and engaging way to incorporate writing into the classroom would be by using social media and, in particular, student blogs.

Michael Drennan notes multiple benefits of student blogging in his article Blogging in the classroom: why your students should write online. Although there are many worthy things to note in such an article (a great read for all educators), it made me reflect upon my own feelings regarding blogging and online classrooms. As I mentioned in my previous post, Sign Me Up, Connectivism, I have been working hard with my colleagues throughout the year to go ‘paperless’ by presenting work through a Google Classroom (see YouTube video below for instructions on how to start one) and by getting our students to create online portfolios and blogs which present their progress throughout the year. These portfolios, blogs, and google classrooms have been beneficial in the sense that students never lose their work, never leave it at school where they can’t work on it a home, nor leave it at home where they can’t present it to the teachers or their peers at schools. Furthermore, parents now have a constant connection to their child’s work, and they can see the progress continually, not simply three times a year when our report cards are prescribed to be sent home. It connects the world to our students, and our students to the world.

That being said, we have had some incidents of misuse of technology in my own school, which tends to scare some away from continuing to use it. I know that after said incidents in my classroom – which were isolated to but a few students – I was equally torn to no longer take advantage of the new educational mediums I had been just recently integrating into my classroom. However, in his article, Michael Drennan drives home the point that this type of bad behaviour is not caused by technology; it is merely a behavioural issue, one that can (as I insinuated) probably be seen in a variety of contexts, and not simply online. That was my ‘ah-ha’ moment. You may be thinking, seriously? You didn’t think of that before? No, no I hadn’t. I blamed technology for inappropriate comments and behaviours when, really, it is based in behavioural issues, and a lack of understanding of e-safety. Although we may have taught e-safety at the beginning of the year, it doesn’t necessarily mean it stuck with all the students. I mean, do we expect fractions or algebra to stick with all students the first time we teach them? I certainly do not. Therefore, why would I have expected the e-safety lessons to have done the same? Continual knowledge of e-safety could help eliminate such problematic online behaviours, without giving repercussions to the many for the actions of the few. It also prepares the students for their future, where they will definitely be involved in some way with technology and social media. They need to learn how to share their ideas with the world, and how to write in our technological society. In the end, Drennan’s final words are those that must be remembered by all teachers:

Remember what writing is for: to share what we see, think and believe, and invite response. Remember what schools are for: preparation to enter a wide world of possibility.  – Michael Drennan, 2012

The notions of empowering students to write their own blogs is proven true by the inspiring story Ory Okolloh, shared by Clive Thompson in his article When Even the Worst Bloggers Are Making Us Smarter. Ory Okolloh changed the world with her politically-charged blogs and her ‘thinking-out loud’. The fact that she put herself out there, shared her thoughts with the world, and, consequently, was able to find others with shared beliefs (and, in so doing, created Ushahidi) is truly an inspiring story. Clive Thompson hones in on this success by essentially breaking down the beauty of blogging: when we think out loud, we foster more ideas and more cooperation that we ever could before. We put our ideas and our stories out there for the world to read, to ponder on, and to respond to in their own time. What may follow? A series of networking, of growth and development, and of enhanced communication between individuals who may not have done so before. Why, I ask, should we not introduce this with our students? Give voice to those who do not often share, give a place for them to write, to develop their ideas, and to reflect upon those of their peers? Students need to be given the opportunity to just write about their ideas and thoughts. They don’t even need an audience of millions for their ideas to be heard, nor for it to have an effect on their performance (which is usually a more positive effect than negative; see audience effect). Thompson in fact notes that a growth of audience members from 0 to 10 has such a huge impact on the quality of work being done, that it is more significant than a growth of 10 people to a million. Furthermore, it offers students a great opportunity to learn about digital content curation and ethical online stealing (good stealing vs bad stealing). They can use technology to learn how to cite things properly, how to avoid plagiarism, and how to give credit when credit is due. I have to ask myself why we aren’t doing more to incorporate all of this in our school cultures seeing as how the benefits and opportunities are so plentiful?

Any comments, questions, or ideas? Just write it.

 

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