Directing the Cognitive Traffic

Barbara Ganley writes about the importance of using class time to talk about student blogs:

As edubloggers are increasingly concluding, blogging does not replace the need for f2f time; quite the contrary--I have had to ADD a weekly workshop session to the course since introducing blogs. The students crave more time in class to talk about what transpires on the blog--the more they read one another's work (which now they can do freely and continuously, commenting, linking, trackbacking etc on the blog), the more they want to talk about it; the more they post open-ended, freewheeling discussion topics, the more they want to continue these discussions in class as well as online. The time in class enriches the blogging experience which extends the classroom experience. And on it goes.

I find that this is especially important in the lower grades. Blogs cannot exist only online, they have to be talked about during class time. They have to occasionally be extracted from their virtual domain and talked about as texts that result from and contribute to class discussions and everyday face to face interactions.

In fact, I find that one of the most effective ways of building a class community of bloggers (at the elementary level) is to talk about blogs in class, look at them in class, and read them together. I do not mean that we need “show and tell” sessions but I find that whenever I mention specific blogs in class, point them out for some specific reason, student engagement increases exponentially. They like being recognized for their work and when I do it online, on my own blog or in the form of comments, it does not often have the same effect. Yes, students feel empowered when their work is mentioned on my blog but, at the same time, the effect of mentioning their work in class seems to be even greater. They do enjoy discussing their own work and that of their classmates.

My experience so far has shown that younger students do benefit from this kind of interaction. They see it as an opportunity to verbalize their thoughts and talk about the writing process, about how they found ideas (online articles, interviews) and how they constructed their responses. These discussion sessions often lead to more writing - they have a tendency to refresh their energies and re-ignite that writerly spark which can wane if blogging becomes the only focus.

I have been teaching process writing for years but it wasn’t until I started using blogging that I realized how this technology encourages students to talk about writing as a process. It helps them realize that texts are not perfect documents that we learn to spew out. It helps them learn that texts are always in the process of revision. They learn that even after they post their carefully proofread entry, someone will inevitably come along, ask questions, and force the writer to take another look at the work he or she has written. Of course, we all know that it doesn’t take place with every text but, when it does happen, students learn what it really means to write.

While face to face discussions about blogs are certainly important, I have also found that my teacher blog has had a very positive effect on community-building. I find that my approach is similar to that of Barbara Ganley, who writes,

I stay off the blogs as much as possible. The blogs are for student exploration and discussion--not for me to guide and teach and dictate.

I do not get involved in the discussions and exchanges that take place online. I rarely post comments. However, I do maintain my own blog and use it to comment on what is happening in the class blogosphere, post prompts, refer my students to specific resources. When I first started doing this, I was concerned that the blogosphere might become teacher-centric, that my blog would dominate the blogosphere and become the central place from which all other blogs and ideas originate. I experimented and subsequently learned that instead of becoming the central blog of our community, my blog has been subsumed into it. My voice is not a dominating one. It has become part of the community, it has become one of the many voices that constitute our classroom blogosphere.

I should add that my voice does not dominate because I do not use my blog to impose ideas or assign work. I use it to comment on the activities taking place in the class blogosphere. I write my observations, comment on what I am learning from my students. I like to think of it as directing the cognitive traffic - the ideas come from my students and from their work as knowledge-gatherers and knowledge-builders. Since they are still very young as writers and thinkers, I find that an occasional "nudge," an encouraging remark, or a summary of their activities can be very beneficial.

So, I use my blog to direct traffic, to let my students know that I also go online, that I do read their work - not because I am interested in marking it but because I am genuinely interested in what they have to say. I direct the cognitive traffic of my class blogosphere by using my own blog to post links to student entries and write about similarities and differences in their ideas. I sometimes see my work as that of an aggregator. I do not produce ideas, I just "catch" them as they move around in the ever-expanding web of thoughts.