Thursday, August 18, 2011

Some Thoughts on Blogging in the Writing Classroom

I came across this blog post (via Google+) about what blogger and professor Amanda Ann Klein has learned after two years of blogging (wow, I said blog a lot there). There are some excellent realizations from Klein in this post like, "blogging teaches you that your words are not gold" and "it's you, not them," meaning, your readers don't put pressure on you to blog, you do, and mostly they just want something to read, so stop obsessing about it and write!

I also like "blogging makes you a better writer" and "blogging makes you a better thinker." They are the same thing, really, related and refined versions of one another. Writing = Thinking. Thinking = Writing. I love the idea that often, you don't know what you are going to write about until you start writing. But what does writing begin with? A thought. So we write that thought down, and connect it to other thoughts that we have along the way.

"And after writing for a while I would start to see what it was that I wanted to write about — what my argument was — and this would then guide my research."

Yes! This has happened to me so many times when I blog (or when I write in general). It happened yesterday when I wrote this sad little cry for help or encouragement or a kind word. I wrote an essay about my mother breaking her arm, but by the third or fourth draft, I realized it was also about my divorce.

This puts that whole "just sit down and write" thing in another perspective, the advice that you need to sit and keep writing until you get to a point. Maybe that point is on page five or fifteen. I used to think that all the stuff you wrote before that point was then thrown out. But Klein helped me realize that it's much more complex. Those words won't go to waste. You might use them somewhere else, just not on page two. Or you may learn a lesson in editing or radical revision, even, and that is part of writing (back to the lesson about your words not being gold). Writing is messy at first, because our thoughts are messy. But that's one reason why we write. To make out thoughts less messy. To look at them. Mess them up again. To make them visible, tangible even. Move them around and see what emerges.

I had this philosophy class my second year of college. It was at a community college. Some my most memorable professors are from that year. This philosophy professor was great and I wish I could remember his name. He was a former preist, I think? Which is strange, because I went on to have a nun-turned-agnostic-trans-man World Religions professor.

But I digress. In this philosophy class, we discussed how language began as a tool that humans made, but now this tool makes humans. It affects our physiology; our noses and mouths and tongue and lips have evolved over time to have millions of little muscles that shape our ability to speak. Our thoughts, well, those are words now, and often our memories are words. I wonder if this is why we can't remember things from before a certain age, because we were pre-language. Our thoughts become words. They are, in this way, controlled and limited by our language.

But by writing, we can, in a small way, becomes masters of our thoughts. I say "master" and not "control" because those are different ideals. Control implies blind-authority, whereas mastering, well, there is a authority, but it's more skilled. As Masters of Our Thoughts, we can coax them out, perhaps even accessing other functions of our brain, make connections between images, symbols, feelings, and our word-thoughts.

Well, I just went down a writing-thought-philosophy-rabbit-hole, much further than I intended.

My other favorite point she makes is this: "Blogging teaches you that you need to do things in your own way — in a way that fits the way you live and the way you think — or you will never feel satisfied."


Blogging (or writing) sucks when you feel like you have to. But it's awesome when you feel as though you must write or something terrible will happen.

All of these points I've made now bring me back to the title of this blog post: blogging in the classroom. Can we, as writer-teachers, use blogging in the classroom to teach our students these lessons? Would it be the same if we forced our students to blog X times a week? The reality is that we must make them write, because that's the subject of the class. And it doesn't have to be blogging. Journaling could work in a similar way (of course, it's less public and one could argue that audience plays a big part in the blogging). But I wonder, how can we recreate these lessons? Would it take two years? Can it be condensed into a semester?

Maybe the answer is that we can't recreate it. Students might just have to learn that part on their own. Maybe we just need to give them some tools for writing and send them on their way after three and a half months. Hope for the best. But I can't help but wonder if there is a way to transfer Klein's lessons to the writing classroom.

What do you think?


DJ Vorreyer said...

A lot of the answer depends on the age of the writers. I could NOT require my students to blog at the middle school level, as we have restrictions on what information can be shared by students over the web. For instance, student work can be posted with a student's first name, but no other identifying info, WITH the permission of the parents. Some parents choose to have their students listed as "no photo/no sharing" - they can't have their photo even hanging in the classroom, much less post personal writing on the web. 

With college students, I think it would be a valid part of the writing classroom. But some students may not be comfortable with wide-open blogging platform. For instance, I mostly write about writing on my blog and occasionally mention my family, but not by name. I don't want the whole world knowing all of my personal business!

Laura E. Davis said...

Privacy issues are important. Obviously with the younger age groups, you have boundaries. I know teachers who have had classroom blogs and then have students write "guest posts" which are simply posted by the teacher (really, they have to be posted by the teacher because you can't have a blogger account if you are under 13). 

You can have a blog with a limited audience though. With college students you could tell them they can blog about whatever they want. Though that might open doors to fun issues with censorship and topics that are off-limits. I like the idea of students commenting on each others' blogs though. Having this outside dialogue. I also know that Moodle and Blackboard have features like this, so it could all be done internally and you can then avoid the privacy issues.