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Blogging as Bearing Witness: an Ecological Journey into Writing and Reading with 11th Grade Students

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I like to think that blogging is a form of bearing witness to the details of our own and our community’s lives. It bridges subjects, even subjects that we may find to be null and void of comparison. The inventive mind looks for those similarities. When taken seriously, blogging serves to develop a new range of literacies, of how we impart and parcel information, and of how we as members of growing community of writers contribute to the dynamic conversation of being that is the very crux of a Liberal Arts education.

I am seeing my 11th grade students play with this idea, and I’ve seen them develop attitudes and values toward blogging in a positive light because of its community and discursive qualities. The key word here is play, and it is precisely because of the playful nature inherent in blogging that I do not grade it. There is no assigned traditional grading model for blogging and for the workshop; instead, students expect narrative comments from both their teacher and their peers around six keys elements: delivering on a promise, narrative pacing, riffs, back-story, facing the dragon, and factual versus emotional truth. Taken from Writing True: The Art and Craft of Creative Nonfiction, these terms become the backbone through which students can build, explore, and identify what makes a piece of writing go. Garrett Keys, one 11th grader, comments, “because of the de-emphasis on grades and the focus on our growth with these terms, knowing when and how to use these terms in our writing is something I am still grappling with yet willing to work on.” His twin brother Cameron agrees: “the terms helped me a lot. Before in my English classes, there was less focus on writing development, but these terms were really helpful, especially Facing the Dragon and Delivering on a Promise.”

Grades do not matter in the growth of emerging writers. The class is not composed of teenage automatons from the same background, who just need a conventional rubric to tell them how to improve as a writer. Because of the nature of our soccer academy, the class takes a student-centered learning approach providing multi-dimensional instruction, from high-level writing techniques for the college-ready students to strategy-based and literacy-based facilitation for students who need additional scaffolding. Mohammed Conde, an 11th grade student from Guinea who just came to the United States only five years ago, sees the blogging as a living portfolio of his writing development. “Blogging has improved my vocabulary and grammar and made me more comfortable with just writing and trying to connect to an audience,” Mohammed says.

Tinkering with the blogosphere for the past few years, my experiences with blogging as a pedagogy have grown exponentially because I no longer see blogging just for the purpose of pedagogy, but also for the purposes of research, journals, and reflection. Students have begun to grow accustomed to blogging as the new medium of learning because of its practical hypertextuality, its ability to link images and text, hyperlinks and videos to learning, a new norm that makes for how we inform ourselves. Peace Drevitch, a new student from Seattle who joined in the middle of the year, says, “the images and hyperlinks give that little bit extra that the blog, or writing for that matter, needs.”

Students biweekly return to their blogs for a Q&A workshop. There is no set formula for this workshop save for classroom-generated and teacher-generated blog reflection questions we walk through. Some questions, depending on the writing, we spend more time on, for writing is idiosyncratic, published by an emerging writer with his/her expressive, emotional, and creative nuances. Blogging as a pedagogy teaches students to tinker. Will Campbell says, “playing with the process of writing gave me muscle memory I did not know existed, something I had not thought of before about my writing.”

Blogging with the 11th grade has been highly personal and nuanced from person to person, experience to experience. No two blogs are alike. Blogging asks the students to question the ways they interact with the self and with each other. It is both immediate and flexible. The writing says, “Here I am in this moment, take it or leave it.” As a process, blogging is not a fixed entity; it is ecological, a living and breathing form of the writing self, and the deeper students go in discovering what the blog can do for them, the more it helps shape their gradual understanding of the community of writing. The students found a strong connection to Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. They particularly enjoyed Anne Lamott’s chapter entitled “Shitty First Drafts.” Cameron Keys comments, “that chapter taught me to give my paper a few days to a week, make changes, give it a last look through, add content, and then rephrase and restructure. For John Schroeder, his experience with the book gave him a newfound sense of how writing works. “Bird by Bird laid out some pretty fundamental writing techniques. You would be pretty naïve to think that this book is not necessary to your growth as a writer. It’s not a massive book but has some pretty fundamental stuff,” John believes.

I’ve had students come to me and say they love the blog and they wish they had come to it sooner. Other students have begun the year as reluctant writers, afraid of their own voice, their own authorship (“What if people do not like what I wrote?”), but the community in which the blogs exists remains an aggregate for conversation. Through addition and juxtaposition, writing and rewriting, questioning and emulating, students practice the intentions of writing, and they begin to not only know but feel the patterns of writing that work for them. “From the different writing styles we read, we were encouraged to mimic or emulate and keep tinkering with our voice,” says Kevin Carvalho. The students, like Joan Didion, begin to see the significance in keeping a journal of their thoughts, however fleeting, and realize the potential in a grain of sand, or the crepe-de-chine wrapper, for that matter.

Nonetheless, students and the teacher run into technological hurdles, end up feeling like sometimes the assigned blogging is still just an assignment or permutation of forced writing, and, most dramatically, walk the line between the personal and the public in which the blog celebrates the ego. However, to this I would say what is writing but an expression of the ego. Writing to inform, persuade, explain, collect, illustrate, discuss, recommend — these are all purposes for writing, and to its end, blogging becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that those who write with a seriousness (even humor can be serious) will be the ones who are already self-policing and taking part in the diversity of experience that is blogging.

Blogging for class is a new form of publishing, inherently granting authorship to students and asking them to shape their writing in a form best suited for their audience. It asks them to articulate their audience awareness, and because of its conversational and ecological personality, it creates a larger community in which all students empower themselves and each other to grow personally, peer-to-peer, and through the collective ensemble that is writing, teaching, and learning.

For a closer look at each student’s blog please check the hyperlinks below.

William Campbell —

Kevin Carvalho —

Mohammed Conde —

Peace Drevitch —

Cameron Keys —

Garrett Keys —

John Schroeder —

Sean Wilson —

Abubakarr Winter —


Author: carlabramowitz

English, Humanities, Foreign Language, & IT Coordinator, Extension Projects, 8th Grade Advisor, Study Support, Reflective-Practice Blogger, School Historian, School Librarian — All of these are labels. I am a teacher/learner at heart. My motto: Explore. Share. Now.

One thought on “Blogging as Bearing Witness: an Ecological Journey into Writing and Reading with 11th Grade Students

  1. Pingback: Edx Leaders of Learning: Design Challenge for Ideal Learning Environments | UnionExploreShare

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