Two kind of interesting conversations about blogs at my school, one last night at a mini board of ed meeting and another with the English supervisor this morning. Both of them have me thinking about where to go with all of this.
Last night I was invited to show a sub committee of the board of ed the stream from the NECC keynote in June along with the most excellent video on blogging that Intel did at our school. It sparked a pretty interesting discussion about the scope of our Weblog use here, the potential of the technology, and plans for the future. At one point, one of the board members said “Hey Will, what do you need to make this happen here?”
That’s definitely the type of question I wish he would have posed here on my blog, in asynchronous land. I mean, I’ve got the 2-minute elevator pitch on blogs down pat, but that question really took me by surprise to the point where I almost didn’t know what to say. And it’s not like I haven’t been trying to get to an answer to that question myself. I mean I’ve got the hardware, the software, the support, the professional development piece…what exactly do I need to make blogging happen on a wider scale? The first thing that came to my mind, and the answer I gave him, was “time.” Time for teachers to really be able to explore the potential, get comfortable with the technology, reframe their teaching practice and student expectations, understand the implications of the read/write web, drink the Kool-Aid…all those things it’s taken me years to do. It all takes time that most teachers just don’t have. Or it takes a lot of little pieces of time over a longer period. Either way, it’s a big hump to get over.
The other conversation this morning revolved around a series of summer reading Weblogs that we created for freshmen and sophomore honors students this year. In short, we hastily threw the project together just before summer, had some technical glitches with passwords (my fault) and didn’t really think it through nearly enough. Let’s just say it was not a major success. The teachers felt put upon, the kids felt aimless, and though it was a good idea, it really didn’t do what we wanted it to.
After reading Barbara’s BlogTalk paper yesterday, however, I started thinking about why our project didn’t work, aside from the obvious mistakes. And I realized that the one thing that was really missing was the engagement of the teachers in the process. That and the pretty low expectations we had going in. Kids read. Kids post. Kids comment. Get grade. Not quite that bad, but there was absolutely no thought about how to use this as an opportunity to, as Barbara did, build community before the class. None.
I’m kicking myself.
Now even if we had, let me say that it still probably would have been difficult as these teachers were not being compensated and therefore not really expected to take the time to pull in links and synthesize ideas and build connections; all those cool things that Barbara does at the outset of the class. So I said to the department supervisor this morning that if we decide to try this again, which I hope we will, we need to a) start talking and planning NOW and, b) budget some money for the teachers. How cool would it be if a group of teachers actually DID have the time to focus on the use of blogs with their students?
Even though I’ve done a lot of blogvangelism at my school, little of it has really gotten into the pedagogy involved. I’m hoping I haven’t squandered a chance to do that by not jumping on the opportunity this summer. The idea of engaged teachers building community by modeling blogging before their classes even meet is a very appealing picture.
Jack Macleod says
Will – I don’t think you’ve really squandered a chance. Communication is changing and most of us are trying to keep up. You’re leading the charge. I’m talking to a group of staff at my school next week about the possibilities of introducing blogging as a means to publish our students’ work. I think the pedagogy is where we have to get to (it can’t just be a neat thing to do). Our English teachers see what can be (even the technophobes). I started telling them some of the stories you shared at Alan N’s conference and their eyes lit up. We can make this happen if we keep at it. I agree, having teachers and kids start blogging before the course starts would be great. There are roadblocks (there always are) but creative minds can find ways around them. At the moment, still getting into the stream of things at the beginning of the year, I’m not feeling terribly creative. BUT, I’m going to keep thinking about this. Most important, for me, is to not make this something extra for teachers to do. It has to, at worst, mean the same amount of work. Our teachers are feeling stretched now. They are receptive to new ideas that help kids learn but are reluctant to take more on. How do we show them that blogging won’t make their life harder?
Barbara Ganley says
I agree with Jack–every step we take in this endeavor to hand the learning over to our students and to use technology sensibly and effectively, no matter how small or how flawed we feel it is, moves us forward. Don’t pummel yourself over this “set-back”, Will. You and I inhabit separate worlds, after all. I have the luxury of working with 15 students per class–and 15 remarkably committed and creative students at that. I also have Hector and Paul working with me whenever I move beyond my own skills with technology. Right now I am in the first week of classes and can’t get the blog up and running because I want it to do things we can’t quite get it to do. I am always pushing the blogging beyond what it’s ready to do and so I, too, feel frustrated too much of the time. I spend far too much time explaining myself to those around me who see all the pitfalls and none of the advantages of what we’re up to–it’s part of the territory, and always has been.
You do extraordinary things in your school and for teachers everywhere–just the fact that you blog the downs as well as the ups serves your readers well. I hope your students read your blog!