"This is pretty cool. I can’t say that I have done this before. Pretty interesting!"
"I like this. Right on."
"Cool, this is very cool."
"This is pretty awesome!"
"Pretty cool. This is going to be fun."
"I can’t wait to try this out!!!"
What could my 8th grade students be so excited about? A new video game? Or a skateboard trick? Or Justin Bieber? Believe it or not, these comments were in response to an English class assignment. Even better, they are responding to my directions for writing literary analysis journals. Music to a teacher's ear, that's for sure. For 20 years I have struggled to engage my students in this rather difficult task; convincing them to think hard about what they've read, and then write analytically about the reading has been more like pulling teeth than something "cool" and "awesome."
What changed for my students last year is that instead of writing their journals on paper, I taught them to post their literary analysis on a class blog. That simple piece of technology was enough to bring them enthusiastically to the circle of literary discussion, instead of dragging them there kicking and screaming.
Asking my students to engage with one another in thoughtful conversations about literature was always difficult; they were too distracted by their self-consciousness, their hormones, the cute student next to them, and what they would eat for lunch. Moving these conversations to a class blog allowed them to read and think and comment from the relative safety of their computers (both at home and in the lab at school). Students of divergent social cliques who would never interact in class found it far less daunting to comment back and forth on our blog.
Once the novelty of the blog wore off, we found a host of other benefits to posting our work online. Since my students knew that their classmates would see their work on the blog, they spent more time crafting their analysis, revising and proofreading their work on their own. In the past they had written their journals for an audience of one: me, their teacher. Now they had an audience that meant so much more to them: their peers. This meaningful audience provided the motivation they needed to engage in their work.
As the administrator of the blog, I was able to see any changes that my students made on their posts. For instance, when a student posted an insensitive comment about homeless people, I responded on line with a suggestion that she think again about what she had written. Perhaps the combination of my comment and the fact that all her peers could see my response led her to revise her post and write a more sensitive observation. When I looked at her blog account, I could see both versions of her post and give her additional feedback on what she had written.
Another perk of the blog was that it allowed students from one class period to read and respond to the work of students in another class period. Usually we are limited by the walls of our classroom, and our students aren't exposed to the work of students outside of those in their classroom. The blog, though, allowed my class of below-grade-level readers and writers to read the analysis of my advanced-level students. English learners wrote about literature alongside honors students. And together my students reached levels of literary analysis that were deeper and more complex than any we could find in the crowded literature circles of our classroom.
"I’m excited to use this blog instead of hurting the trees! Yay!"
"I like the idea of having everyone see my journals. I always like getting feedback. I feel that it helps me advance in my writing skills."
"I would rather post to a blog because it is easier and much more fun than just writing them on a piece of paper!"
"This is a good idea because 60 judges can most likely give you a more accurate response and more ideas on how to get better."