I’m glad that the issue of technology and education is being addressed in the media. Articles such as the NYTimes piece on Bob Sprankle and now the CNET article on web-logging will bring greater exposure to what is severely lacking in our schools. In reading the comments of many of the readers of the CNET article the issue of why and what this classroom tool is being used for is questioned and discussed.
I was not completely comfortable with the weblink to the elementary school that the article used for an example. I have to say that visually the site looks good, I also use a Typepad account for these postings. While I agree with the idea of allowing complete independence for the students to write at the high school and middle school level I’m not so confident on how much freedom should be given to elementary school students. I’ve tried to always aim for the writer’s workshop model with my students which balances the expectation for students to write but not always follow a written piece through to the publishing stage and the needs for assessment to show proficiency at writing. Anne Davis whom I respect and have read many times, has many good ideas in regards to web-logging that I have tried to take to heart. Some ideas that I’ve gleaned from her are to not limit the topics chosen and flexibility for the demands of when something needs to be published. Today I began to question how much freedom to allow elementary students with their web logs after reading the CNET article and the comments generated. Anne wrote a quote that referred to students, but I question whether for elementary students a modified expression is called for. She wrote that:
"I would rather develop a powerful medium for thinking than produce a polished product any day. That’s the heart of writing/blogging."
In looking at several of the interfaces I collected they all either implied the writing process or used language which implies a multistep approach to writing.
In the process writing model I discuss with my students there are five steps.
3. Revise (share with peers)
4. Edit (check spelling, punctuation, grammar)
Several of the student’s articles I looked at seemed as if they had stopped at the revise step and the comments became what would normally be sharing with peers for questions, fixing and improving parts of the student’s writing. In BlogMeister I typically assist the students during the revise step and ask students to focus on the parts of their writing related to their skills and abilities. Perhaps what is needed is for students to have essentially two parts to their weblogs. One part would be for sharing their writing with invited students to read and comment, and the second part would be for the publishing of work for a larger audience (parents, teachers, world) to read.
When ever I think I’m being too much of a curmudgeon I harken back to "Almost Perfect" by Shel Silverstein, especially the line "they never cross their "Ts just right, almost perfect but not quite." I’m afraid I was feeling that way after I looked at the J.H. Elementary weblog and what the students were posting. I saw errors that I would ask my students to fix before I would allow them to publish in BlogMeister. I don’t accept the idea that weblogs are a "free for all" approach to writing. I don’t expect my students to write perfect pieces, and I accept awkward sentences or occasional lapses in grammar depending on where that student’s ability is. I try to look at each student and then proceed. I don’t know developmentally where the students at J.H. House are but misspelled words or grammar mistakes that are taught at the earliest grade levels I ask my students to fix using the spellchecker in Appleworks. I try to discourage the “yo dude” approach to blogging while trying to validate the natural voice of the students.
Locked in this quandary of being the freedom seeking, enlightened classroom facilitator, and the hunched over, anal, cackling dictator smashing down rulers on the hands of students using their left hand instead of their write (yes, on purpose but a spellchecker mistake), I decided to look at the word publish or publishing, because I keep using it over and over in the interfaces that publish my writing, in teaching the steps to writing, and because a part of me thinks that elementary students need more intervention then what I think Anne is holding up as a good weblog model.
I also looked at the words writing and blogs. I realized in reading the article on writing that if we were using the lead stylus for the Roman method of scraping letters into a wax block that care and time would be ensured (material cost alone would be prohibitive), but blogs are so modern, convenient, and easy. I don’t think all elementary students have developed the writing skills to be prepared to share their higher level thinking ideas and insights in a clear and understandable way without some form of intervention on the part of their teacher or peers.
Where am I going with this? I think that just as there were comments after the CNET article about the validity of using web logs in the classroom, so to will there be parents or board members who will look at blogs and see weak or poor writing and question the use of this tool. Many people including myself are still wrapping our hands around the potential for a tool that still uses the language for another older way of presenting ideas (draft, edit, publish). I still in my mind draw an analogy between written work for others to see and the word publish and excellence as far as the ability of the individual student. Is that the best they can muster? I know posting to a blog is not like sticking a piece of paper on the wall for open house, but if I’m still confusing the two. What will the person who doesn’t know that blogs have potential beyond just being an on-line journal think?