Scattered Reflections: Using Blogging to Get Students Reflecting
Last year I had my students blog in my honors history class. It was my first stab at student blogging, and I wasn’t completely happy with the results. I wanted them to reflect, and what I got were carefully crafted essays: wonderful, insightful essays, sometimes, but essays nonetheless–not reflections.
And reflections were what I wanted. I know that Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows is something that many people disagree with, but I find it makes sense to me, that being bombarded with electronic inputs undercuts reflection. I value reflection. I believe that not only does it help you learn, it also fosters the kind of character–deep, insightful, wise–that I want to encourage my students to develop.
But I concluded that my students didn’t really understand that reflecting was my goal in having them blog. Reflection is hard enough as it is. Reflection without clear guidance wasn’t possible. As a result, they just didn’t understand what the goal of blogging was, that it wasn’t just writing, it was a particular kind of writing. So I rewrote the assignment, hoping to make it explicit. And I’m happier with the result:
“Why do I have to do this? Reflection is a key part of learning. By reflecting on what we have studied, you will come to a deeper, more personalized understanding of the history. Some of this reflection will happen in class, but I also want you to reflect outside of class, in writing. Promoting reflection is the primary purpose of blogging in my class.”
Beside knowing the point, it also helps to have some tips. So I gave advice:
“This is very important: write when something occurs to you. If you have an idea, write it up right away and post it. If you see a post or comment by someone else that gets a reaction from you, go ahead and respond. Don’t wait. The beginning of reflection is learning to notice and then think about your own reactions. You can’t do that if you wait until the ‘deadline.’”
I’m hoping that, with a little more explicitness about my goals, and about how to write, my students will meet my expectations.
Often teachers will advocate for blogging as a way to get students “writing for an audience.” And I love it when students see their blog posts are read by people from Croatia or Japan or some other faraway country. But I think it can be equally useful as a preliminary writing tool. This is not blogging as often practiced–for example, here on EdSocialMedia. These aren’t polished pieces. They aren’t designed to impress. They are reaction pieces, catching thoughts as they form. They are scattered ideas, slowly coming together to form an image. They can be a vital part of teaching our students to think, and to take intellectual risks.