Friday, March 23, 2007

Beyond comments

A week ago Jeff Utecht posted A Problem With Blogs, talking about the connections made - and sought - in conversations, on blogs. He made an important point about the function of comments. Great post, wonderful follow up comments. I encourage people to read it and think about how their classroom blogging reflects - or even mirrors - their personal blogging habits.

A few weeks ago I made a concerted effort to get my third graders into the blogosphere beyond where they naturally went. They seemed stuck in writing mode only - as if writing were some narcotic they could not get enough of. Sound ridiculous? Not to me. I had kids staying in from recess, connecting from home, using every minute to put something out there for the worldwide audience. Too cool!!! But that's all many of them did. They rarely read the writing of others. It was all about their writing - and comments they got.

So I gave them time when they could read online ONLY. Silent reading, 2.0. After doing this for a while, and thinking about what Jeff said, I struck out in a new direction. A direction in which many adult bloggers move quite often. Writing about the blogs of others. Recommending other bloggers - as most bloggers do, a Blogrolling kind of thing...

This week I asked my third graders to write about 2 or more bloggers they enjoyed reading. Knowing some would see this as a "friendship" thing, and only mention their own classmates' blogs, I said they could only write about one classmate. The other(s) had to be from other places - and they could even be adult blogs. Pushing them out of the nest, if you will.......

And then, just to see how far the envelope would stretch, I showed them how to hyperlink to those blogs, using raw html. To be clear, the blogging tool they use does not have an html editor, so everything had to be hand coded. They got it. They are so totally amazing in this medium. They helped each other, and they taught me a lot in the process.

They chose their favorite bloggers thoughtfully, I thought. Granted, their experience and exposure to blogs is limited, in large part predetermined by links I preselected and made easy for them to get to.... but I thought they chose well. Here are their posts:

Now what does this have to do with Jeff's posting about conversations and connections? I believe it is about qualitatively different CONTENT. What my kids wrote about this week is different. It is exactly what their blogger teachers write about regularly - about their peers - and what they are thinking and saying. This is extending their writing in a different dimension, I believe. Comments are nice, polite, back patting, and sometimes informative. And indeed, a conversation can occur.

But writing about what others think and how they write is a major leap in a different direction, one in which we are not accustomed to taking our kids, at least I am not, with third graders. Not sure where it leads, but it feels absolutely right.


Anonymous said...

It's funny, I was just talking to my brother-in-law last night about his experiences with blogging. He's a 20-something footloose partier. He was wondering why I would want to have a blog because, he said, every blog he had ever seen quickly turned into a "flame-fest." His point was that, to him, blogs were just a souped-up chat room of the 90s.

I had no idea what he was talking about because I have only recently been exposed to blogging and all of the blogs that I have been interested in are professionals who are interested in the things I'm interested in. He enlightened me by showing me his sources for blogs, mostly MySpace, Orkut, etc. By seeing those blogs, I understand his point.

He didn't seem to think what I do was blogging. This concerned me. I am currently in the middle of using blogging with my 6th, 7th, and 8th grade ESL students. I faced some initial trouble with some students wanting to use the blogspace as a chatroom, but I quickly put that to a stop. Now I wonder, what background experiences or prior knowledge are my middle-schoolers coming with about blogs, and Web 2.0 in general?

I love what your students are doing. Your 3rd graders are learning valuable syndication skills that, frankly, 95% of the teachers at my school don't have. Your students have, evidently, moved beyond mere publication to the realm of conversation, or they're at least making the first step.

The first time my students got comments on their work from outside the classroom (some other dedicated teachers) their eyes lit up in amazement and they immediately asked, "How do I write back?" Our students get it. They understand. To quote Jeff Utecht, "...the power of blogs is not in the writing, it is in the thoughts, the comments, and the conversation that they can start, sustain, and take into a million different directions." My students get it, and they're middle-schoolers, your students get it, and their third-graders. I can only expect that once we truly show this to today's teachers, they'll get it too.

Wow, this gave me a lot to think about. I'm going to go start writing a piece on Jeff's post as it evidenced itself in my classroom.

Rachel Boyd said...

I ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT.... silent reading 2.0 and getting them to write about the blogs/bloggers they enjoy reading.

This is great to encourage our students to read and reflect on others' blogs.

Cheers for the great ideas Mark!

Anonymous said...

Mark - When we get a chance I think I'll try to get my class doing some reading time on blogs too (or at least more than we have done). I'll let you know how it goes.

Jeff Utecht said...


I can't believe the feedback that post has gotten, and how it in itself has become what I was writing about. The conversations that have been taken in so many directions from that post just amaze me. I agree with you. The power of blogs is being able to take the thoughts of others and remix them on your own blog, into your own learning. Commenting is one thing, but to read, reflect and remix is real learning.

Thanks for the conversation!

Mr. Stevens said...


Wow, I am really behind on my reading. I love your idea of posting about the blogs students read. This is something that I will have my students incorporate next year.

Last Feb my freshman class was discussing the topic of a Utopian school while my wife was posting about Alvin Toffler's interview in Edutopia. My students began to post comments on her posting, without the knowledge that my wife wrote the original post. Over the course of the week my students held a conversation with my wife's faculty regarding the future of schools. Richard Florida of also joined in the conversation. It was one of the better engagements of the school year.

I ended the school year with an optional assignment requiring my students to comment on blogs. I explained to them how to use Technorati to locate three blogs writing about themes discussed in the literature in our English course. I could only describe the process as my school's ISP blocks Technorati. This is something I am definitely going to incorporate into my courses next year on a regular basis.

Below is the URL of my wife's blog, if you search for Toffler you can view the exchange between my students and her faculty.