Sunday, June 07, 2009


Last week I asked my third graders ( how many blog articles they thought they had posted as a group this year. Some knew how many they had written as individuals. I knew a few had posted over 50. Nobody guessed over 350. When I suggested it might be over 500, there were a couple of gasps and several shaking heads. Couldn't be.

So they counted on their own blogs, wrote totals on the board (without names of course), and we added them up. 674. As of May 29th. With 3 weeks to go in school. An average of 32 posts per student, roughly working out to one blog post per student, every week of the school year.

They were pretty surprised, and so was I. As I was getting my thoughts organized for this post, I wondered about my previous classrooms. This year seemed like a really prolific group. So I found a post from June of 2007, where I had totaled the student posts from the 06-07 school year: 711. I had also totaled my first blogging group, in 05-06: 340.

Now I'm pretty sure, with 2 weeks to go in the school year, this group of bloggers will surpass the group from 06-07. But why was I so certain in my wrong assumption before we counted them up, that this year's group had written so much more?

So I've been looking back. Many variables have remained relatively constant - student age, number of computers, number of kids, blogging platform.

What has changed is the amount of time I can devote to writing. With mandated curriculum and assessment demands spiking sharply in the last couple of years, no wonder I feel like they've written more. They have had much less time to write. They're just squeezing it in. Students now blog during earned free time. Many post their morning Journal entries regularly. It is amazing they are able to write online as much as they do.

Another thing has changed. I do not have hard data to share, but I'm pretty sure students are writing shorter articles on their blogs. Call it the face of today's literacy being influenced by the sound byte writing of Twitter, MySpace, and Facebook - I don't know. Philip Greenspun has an interesting perspective in How the Web and the Weblog have changed Writing.

Along with a mandated math curriculum, there is a huge push these days for a Writer's Workshop approach. It's a real nice way to teach writing, but not in the 21st century. It does not prepare our students to write in the world they go home to every night - or the world they will live in when they leave our classrooms.

New Literacy?So what's important to me, as a teacher of third graders, in my approach to literacy - specifically writing? As their teacher, I am most certainly influenced by new media, and I tend to reflect my values in the classroom. What do I care about? Is it the 19th and 20th century model of The Writing Process? (uh, no...)
  • Fluency. Kids have to be able to sit down and write, easily. They must be able to respond to a variety of assignments without it being like pulling teeth. They have to like to write.
  • Conventions. Kids have to be good enough at spelling and grammatical conventions so they can express themselves easily.
  • Expression. Kids must at least be exposed to some basic writing skills - enriched vocabulary, leads, summaries, paragraphing, etc.
  • Forms and Audience. Kids need to know their audience, and what type of writing is appropriate for which audience.
  • Conversation. Especially in today's world, kids need to understand the value of written conversation, have some basic understanding of what makes a good conversation, and what does not.
These ideas guide my teaching of writing. I do not have a curriculum guide from a publisher, sorry. My guide is this: learning from 28 years of teaching experiences, and a few years of looking forward to imagine my students' futures.

My kids will do well as writers, I know it. Shooting for 750 blog posts this year. Will update.....

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Tyson Spraul said...

You've got some prolific writers there! It's awesome that you've been able to develop a community of writers around their blogs. I began blogging with my own third grade class this year (inspired by your class!) with mixed results. Some kids blogged whenever they could, but others only blogged when it was assigned (which was rarely). But maybe that's typical in school.

I'm seriously considering working blogging into our writing workshop next year, so your comments on Writer's Workshop and the writing process piqued my interest. I see blogging possibly fitting in as either a "social writers notebook" or as a genre study. Why exactly doesn't a Writer's Workshop approach prepare kids for the 21st century? Do you teach a "writing process" at all?

Jan Smith said...

Congrats to you and your young bloggers. Along with the great number of posts, they can probably count the number of page views and comments they've had. We used Google Forms to gather that data, and were really impressed with the results. Having an audience is such an important motivator.
Enjoy your summer.

Tom Hoffman said...

Yeah, you can't just leave that "writing process doesn't work anymore" hanging there without further explanation.

Mark Ahlness said...

Thanks for the feedback, folks.

To answer the question of why neither writers workshop nor the traditional writing process work well preparing our kids to be effective 21st century writers anymore....

That's an awfully big one, isn't it?

Way too big and important a question to answer well in a single response, never mind a blog post - especially from this teacher, who is seriously sucking wind at this point in the school year.

For now I can only say this.

I have been taught how to implement the writing process. I've been trained in Writers Workshop.

I've read thoughts on new literacy from Don Leu, Clay Shirkey, Will Richardson, David Warlick, Clarence Fisher, and many other notable educators. I've written some myself on the topic.

Something has to give, because what those guys are preaching is not the traditional approach to literacy.

Writers Workshop and The Writing Process are simply antediluvian approaches. If we are responsibly preparing our kids to be successful as writers in the world they will inherit, we've got to throw out chunks of traditional methodology that we are comfortable with, and infuse school with something a little more, I don't know....

Something that actually embraces, changes, and grows with new technologies - instead of pretending they do not exist.

nickhirt100 said...

I am a 30 year old who is going back to school to get my teaching certificate. The pre req. for the course is a ed tech. course. We have spoken extensively as to how to use blogs and other technology in the classroom while still maintaining core learning principles. Other issues that have arisen are ones of ethics and proper etiquette while online. I am the only to be teacher in a class of 15 teachers. So far, none of them have reported using blogs like this, it is great! I am glad to know that all of the stuff that I am learning can be applied without the kids all becoming crazed with the internet. I was a little unclear as to how you are balancing teaching the standards while still leaving time for creative writing? are the blogs creative writing? do you feel that the kids are loosing something by not using a pen and paper? Once again, congratulations. Teacher to be. Nick

Mark Ahlness said...

I too went back to school when I was 30 to get my teaching certificate. I'm happy to hear you are looking to explore blogging in the classroom.

In terms of meeting standards and encouraging creativity... it is indeed a dance. If the kids are writing well, and in modes appropriate for their age - then standards will be met, no matter the medium...

BTW, my kids also use pencil and paper for writing.