“Out beyond ideas of right doing and wrong doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” – Rumi, 13th-Century Mystic Poet
First of all, blogging is writing, 21st-century style, plain and simple.
Blogging constitutes a massive genre. It comes in many forms, addresses myriad topics, and can certainly range in quality. For my money (which usually means free), blogging provides the best venue for teaching student writing. As bloggers, young people develop crucial skills with language, tone their critical thinking muscles, and come to understand their relationship to the world.
1. Blogs are authentic.
If you are looking for ways to have students write that reach real rather than “pretend” audiences, I can’t think of a better format than blogging. That’s how I define authentic, and authenticity matters because it feeds motivation by providing a sense of purpose for the writing students do. (See Daniel Pink on “Is a Sense of Purpose Really an Effective Motivator?”) When writing matters to students, and the quality of their work matters as a result, they raise the bar for their own learning.
Ask any writer of blogs how it feels to connect with his first mystery readers about what matters to them. A real audience magnifies the power of the listening, sympathetic teacher a hundredfold. “Yes!” you think when that stranger wrestles – yay or nay — with your nascent idea, “that’s the intellectual spark I’ve been longing for.”
2. Blogs allow students to give voice to their passions.
Blogs are an immensely versatile, energizing medium. Google practically any topic and add the word “best blog” to your search, and you no doubt will find quality writing on that subject. What you will discover in the process is an underlying passion nursed by someone for almost anything under the sun. Now, imagine putting that power in the hands of students?
Jeff Dunn celebrates the passionate learning of students in “30 Incredible Blogs Written by Students,” featuring posts about sports, pets, traveling and attending museums, raising money for charity, and a host of other topics.
In some ways, blogs are the new “show and tell,” allowing students to share their own very infectious love of learning.
3. Blogs invite feedback.
As students unleash their passions, they must learn to respond to and learn from readers in the form of comments. Testing our ideas on others is an important part of our growth. As a writing teacher, I’ve made that case for years, yet when my students blog, I don’t have to argue it so fervently. The responses argue for me.
The greater number of genuine readers students reach, the more they feel accountable for their content and for the quality of their writing. Because blogs assume a conversational stance to begin with, students look forward to hearing from their readers, first, as acknowledgement of their validity as writers and thinkers and, next, as sources of valuable feedback and information. Students start to ask questions that are more than rhetorical – and they value the responses, if offered thoughtfully and sincerely, that they receive. (And, believe me, they learn the difference pretty quickly.)
4. Blogs provide opportunities to engage in civil discourse.
With the unfortunate demise of the family dinner (kudos to the holdouts), the classroom is the last place I know where students are actually taught how to engage in a lively conversation that requires listening respectfully as ideas bounce off one another like a volley in a racquetball court.
Except for the blog post and its companion comments. Bloggers value readers who comment, especially those who take issue with their ideas and push their thinking. They relish the opportunity to pursue a point with an eager reader. They are thankful for the readers who take the time to engage with something they’ve chewed on for a bit. Bloggers understand that they are building community through their discourse. This nearly extinct skill at the heart of blogging is exactly what students need to learn. And as more and more communication takes place online, it is essential that students learn how to converse civilly in public digital spaces.
5. Blogs recognize process.
By design, blogs shared in medias res, recording the process of how an idea or project develops over time. This emphasis on process encourages reflection and re-thinking, doubling back on earlier posts and feedback to watch how the process of learning unfolds.
As a result, student bloggers begin to see, literally, their own writing as a process rather than something written to hand off to a teacher or fulfill an assignment. Young writers can share a germ of an idea and solicit feedback, develop that idea as a draft, and publish a more polished result for readers who have been engaged in watching a piece of writing grow.
6. Blogs provide opportunities for regular writing practice.
Blogs were never meant to be a one-shot deal, like an analytical essay or book report. Blogs require a commitment to writing, to learning, and to growth over the long haul.
Bloggers always expect to come back for another round. Blogs call to us to feed them, or we know they will die.
7. Blogging allows students to experiment with multiple media formats.
I know of no other medium that so seamlessly allows us to blend text, image, sound, and video to communicate a message so thoroughly to so wide an audience. As bloggers, students learn to consider the impact of the artfully placed photograph or infographic versus the more mundane but less intrusive hyperlink. Students weigh the tone and power of their own words against the aggressive influence of a video or the more subtle reinforcement of an audio insert. Students study the power of an arresting image to set a delicate tone or to convey an abstract concept. Essentially, blogs allow students to learn how to write with every medium at their wriggling fingertips.
8. Blogging broadens students’ perspectives and connects them to the world.
The first dot from someone outside your home country that appears in your Clustr Map or in your host site’s analytics is a big moment. The world suddenly opens up to you. Next, you might receive an email from someone interested in collaborating on a project or someone who wants to share the subtle differences in how she addresses your topic in her own personal circumstances halfway across the globe.
Blogging for a world audience shifts a writer’s perspective about who people are based on where they live. You connect personally with readers, and consequently you build empathy. Your field of vision widens, and your work broadens to reveal new ways of seeing. Your blog connects you to humanity in ways you never expected.
9. Blogging teaches transparency.
Transparency is a tough one. We all talk a good game about being transparent, but when it comes down to it, it’s a skill and a disposition that are difficult to master. Transparency requires being comfortable in your own skin; it requires being who you say you are; it requires a healthy openness and an equally healthy sense of privacy armed with a modicum of skepticism.
In a world where students create “fake” Facebook accounts to fool colleges into accepting them (see David Copeland, “How High School Students Use Facebook to Fool College Admissions Officers”), transparency is something that needs to be taught and reinforced with the young people who will soon be entering the work force and shaping our global culture. Being truly Internet savvy in today’s world means learning how to be honest about who you are, professional in your dealings with others, and willing to learn openly from mistakes as well as from successes. These things are built into the culture of blogging, and students can learn them best by participating in that culture.
10. Blogs can create opportunities for positive change.
Because of their power to bear witness, to connect, to encourage conversation and build civil discourse, to alter world views, blogs have an amazing potential for good. A wise person once told me about blogs, they are about teaching and sharing – what could be better than that?
The aggregate power of our students and other learners to come together to solve problems, meet one another on common ground, and build capacities for good makes more optimistic than I have ever been in my entire life – optimistic for my students and for humanity.
Lest you think I’ve spent too much time under a rock listening to the old Coca-cola commercial,“I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing…,” or that I have totally shut my eyes to the hate sites, porn, and other distasteful things in the blogging world, let me confess that I’m known to my friends and loved ones as a pretty tough cookie. I’m no Pollyanna, that’s for sure.
Yet, as I have written this post, I have realized that I am speaking as much from my own experience as a passionate writer of several blogs over the years as I am from my experience as a passionate teacher of writing. Yet even as I acknowledge the unseemly, untidy, even unexceptional side to blogging, I must also affirm its power over any other way of writing I’ve adopted in the past. Its power to transform me, as I have grown through blogging, has been tremendous. I see its power to transform my students, who are building their place in the world, as even greater.
Image attribution flickr user hackny; student blogging