I've been meaning to comment on this post by Anne Davis for quite some time. The issue of inappropriate comments is one that I often address when giving presentations and talking to teachers about embracing blogging. Anne Davis argues that inappropriate content is really an opportunity to discuss with students their responsibilities as bloggers. Her thoughts reminded me that one of the things I keep emphasizing both with my students and as a researcher is that blogs have the potential to create a community. As members of a community, my students realize that they are building something together, that their voices, while individual and unique, contribute to something greater than the sum of its parts. A classroom blogosphere is a polyphonic entity where each voice has the power to effect change. Once students learn to see themselves as writers, once they experience the rush of "being read," they also quickly learn that with this experience comes responsibility, that a community is not a random collection of students but a place where its members work to figure things out collectively.
Last year, one of my students made a comment about immigration that the rest of the classroom blogging community vehemently disagreed with. What ensued was a very critical and lively discussion and an invitation to the student to expand upon and further explain his thoughts. I was proud of my grade eight students because they did not attack the one member of the community who seemed to adhere to a different set of principles. Instead, they questioned and challenged their classmate until some of them came to the conclusion that his thoughts were not racist or discriminatory as they had all intially assumed. The boy in question learned that he had not paid as much attention to clearly articulating his ideas as he should have. His classmates learned that the issues they were discussing were much more complex than they had thought. The whole community learned something about the power of civil discussion, the complexity of social justice, and the importance of using clear, well-articulated prose. No one resorted to personal insults or inappropriate comments. The whole issue resolved itself rather effectively. My only input consisted of guiding my students towards relevant online content that helped them appreciate the complexity of the ideas they were discussing.
And so, Anne Davis is right. Students
like having a voice. They like that someone cares about what they are writing ... Give them a voice and give them some ownership. They will amaze us.
After a week of stormy blogging and commenting on each other's work, my students realized that they had helped co-construct the unit on social justice. They contributed their thoughts and the texts they had found online to a conversation that went beyond textbook readings and PBS videos. It was their own conversation, supported by texts that they themselves had found and quoted. Every individual blog became a contributing text, every student a contributing writer.