Learning from Learning: Documentation and Blogging

It sounded like a good idea at the time: The Documentation Project.

The end of August was rolling around and I was starting to think about the school year. What were my goals? What key pieces of instruction did I want to take on? What were going to be important milestones and projects?

In thinking about these questions, Angela Stockman (@AngelaStockman) posted in the Building Better Writers group on Facebook. She was offering a year-long session in documentation of learning, creating, a private group called “The Documentation Project.”

Currents were converging.

The offer of documenting learning would keep me honest about a goal, and perhaps help me to both step up my instruction and really learn from it.

At the end of August, all this sounded like a good idea. Last week, in the middle of a 20-point To-Do list, not so much. Additionally, Angela was pushing us along, asking What we were going to document and how we were going to do. Again, not so much.

However, last week and over the weekend, some stuff kinda gel-d for me. This blog is what I came up with.

I’ve decided to document the learning about writing that goes on in my IB English 11 class. We spent the first 4 days of class creating student run Edublogs, and populating them with several different kinds of posts and pages. Students will blog once a week, writing about either personal interests, mentor-text reading, or in further their thinking about current texts under discussion.

One of the questions that I’m asking about blogs is do blogs and blog writing create better writers.

I see the learning and documentation coming from weekly reflection on what I’m seeing in their blogs, and the lessons that I plan coming from this cycle or process.

For example, in the first round of blogging, I asked students to comment on each other’s blogs. Here, students are in groups of four, commenting on blogs in these groups to keep it manageable.

After the first round of blogs and comments were submitted, I asked students to reflect on what we’ve done so far. Flipgrid was an easy tool for collecting this feedback. The primary feedback I got was that commenting on other student work was the most difficult part of the process.

When I teach giving feedback–whatever kind of feedback that might be–I use the Stanford Design school technique of “I Like, I Wish, I Wonder.” This gives students a way of looking at student work and moving feedback from something personal to something constructive, and that is both positive and critical simultaneously.

Certainly, commenting on the work of others is a challenging task. No one would disagree. It requires us to carefully consider, to understand intention, to think about the effects of writing on our own experience as the consumer of a piece. Then, to articulate those noticings into writing.

Today, we’re going to look at some mentor texts by looking at public comments to the New York Times blogroll to see what we might learn about the moves we need to make as participants in a conversation.

I use that phrase, “participants in a conversation,” intentionally. From looking at blogs and my students reflection on them, my purposes behind blogging with them are clarified. Better writing means, for me, increased engagement in a conversation. I want them to participate with each other in a conversation of ideas and thinking.

Teaching commenting and giving feedback is one way to do this.

The other aspect that’s come clearer for me this weekend, was that blogging, for all its coolness, offers a challenge to today’s high school writer (and perhaps today’s high school English teacher): There is no right way to do it. In a Regents-exam driven classroom, where the answer for how to write the essay is clear and easy to teach, the blog form does not lend itself to “This is how you do it.”

Instead, the blog post is, perhaps, the most complex of rhetorical situations students might have to respond to. Worthy territory for writers, indeed.

2 thoughts on “Learning from Learning: Documentation and Blogging

  1. Oh, you have no idea how much I relate to your “notsomuch” right about now. My head is swimming with my own ideas for documentation, how I’d like to proceed, and then….all of the other, alternative pathways that I could take. And I’m swamped with the work that I’m…uh…paid to do every day. Oh! That! :))) I’m glad you found a viable entry point for your own documentation work, Keith. It’s also something I’m really interested in. Long ago, back when blogging was brand new, a teacher I supported in Lockport was using Ning with his students. He told me that he noticed that students who were reluctant to respond to questions or contribute to class discussions were positively prolific online. I’m wondering if you will notice the same. I’ll be honest: I’m more willing and able to make thoughtful contributions to conversations online. I have time to think, revise what I’m sharing, and even return and follow up in the future. I think it makes ME a better writer. I wonder if you will notice the same about your students. I wonder if THEY will notice things about the quality of their writing, too. I think the idea of using their blogs as primary artifacts for your project might ease your overwhelm, too. The kids are producing the data, and your platform is capturing it for you. It’s rather automated, that way. Looking forward to seeing how this progresses. Glad you were able to jump in!

    • Angela,
      Thanks for taking the time to respond.

      I’m looking to reflect on their posts and comments as soon as I have a moment. I’m thinking to prompt them into their own reflection about what they are learning. But, I’m wondering about what kinds of markers we, my students and I, can develop to measure ourselves.

      For sure, students write more in online environments. Twenty-two years now as teacher and it’s never been harder to build sustained discussion in class. So, online can be a great gateway for teaching students the idea of learning through conversation. But, it can’t stop there–it has to be a turnkey into then, talking face-to-face.

      I was wondering…for those involved in the documentation project…do we maybe want to have session together online where we talk about the value of blogging, and give those who are interested a forum for asking questions?

      Again, thanks! Keep us honest.

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