Monday, June 15, 2009

Book Review: Using Blogs to Enhance Literacy

I've kept a personal blog for about ten years now. I keep this blog as a sort of journal and a way to keep in touch with friends and family with whom I would otherwise not have as much contact. I've found this space to be a creative outlet and a great tool for communication and creative writing.

About a year and a half ago, I decided to create a blog for my students. I figured that I could reach out to parents with this blog and have a sort of reflective space where I could write what we accomplished in class for those who were absent and for my future planning. What I found is that students at first hated going to the blog because they wanted me to retell them what happened in class. As I got more and more into the routine of keeping a blog and using it as a tool to lead instruction, students used it more and more as well. Now, I don't even have to tell my absent students where to go to find out what they missed. In fact, if I forget or do not have time to post, I am chastised by my students. Also, several parents tune in on a regular basis to see what their kids are doing in class.

I've been using this tool without much of a firm philosophy about why I needed to do it. So, when I found Using Blogs to Enhance Literacy: The Next Powerful Step in 21st-Century Learning, I couldn't wait to read it.

I truly enjoyed reading this text because it has definitely helped me to firm-up my philosophical reasonings for blogging for (and now with) my students. I have truthfully seen a shift in student interest and attention whenever I mention that we're going to complete an assignment using their blogs. I've also heard from other faculty that my students talk with their peers about blogging in my class. I feel like this buzz creates a sort of pride and excitement for students who might otherwise be turned off from the traditional worksheet and notes approach to teaching.

Not that this is going to be the sure-all in motivating disinterested students! I know that there will be and are students who would rather write than type, who are uncomfortable using technology, and who cannot handle the freedom that using a blog allows. I've dealt with this in several situations, but I still feel like the benefits outweigh the minuses.

The book definitely addresses the fact that there are some dangers in using blogs with students. The author, Diane Penrod, talks about cyberbullying as well as online predators. In addition to providing warnings, though, the author cites a lot of research about how technology and gender and ethnicity play into the blogging interests and ability of students. She also addresses at-risk students in great detail.

In sum, I truly feel like blogs are going to be an essential part of a lot of students' lives. And, even if blogs disappear tomorrow and are replaced by another format or forum for online journaling and conversation, the skills and literacies gained in practicing with a classroom blog cannot be ignored. I feel like using the blogs has allowed my students a bite of reality and a vision for the types of writing they might actually want to do after high school. Internet communication and collaboration is not a fad; we need to update our practices to expose students to real avenues for personal expression.

Great read!

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