Grading Conversations

Nancy McKeand writes

I guess I believe that blogs should be graded - or at least that some blog posts should be graded. The criteria should be spelled out and understood before the class actually starts. I think it should be graded in a portfolio format where students choose their "best" posts. It seems obvious that the student who writes more would have more to choose from and would, therefore, be likely to produce a better portfolio. That would seem to cover the question of frequency and content and, to a large degree, subject matter, as well.

I have given this a lot of thought lately, primarily because I had to redesign the exam in order to make it work as a culminating activity after almost a year of blogging. I agree that blogs should be viewed as portfolios in the sense that they represent student writing over a longer period of time. I have also graded students on the quality of the conversation that they were able to sustain between their own work and that of their classmates. I have found that, generally speaking, those who took the time to comment on the work of their classmates (using comments or their own blog) have improved as writers. Most have become very adept at incorporating ideas into their writing and relating their own thoughts to ideas mentioned by others. In addition, they have become very aware of and sensitive to the content of the entire class blogosphere.

What this means to me is that grading blogs (especially at the elementary level) has to be a very holistic process that focuses not only on the quality of their work but also on the extent to which their work reflects the context in which they work. I think that student bloggers should be recognized for writing as part of a larger community of inquirers. Some of my most successful writers are those who are aware of what their friends are writing about and who participate in conversations with other bloggers in their class. This is an important part of knowledge- and community-building, especially when (as in my class) students investigate and write about related ideas. When the whole class is engaged in investigating human rights, for example, the interactions that occur among bloggers can have a strong impact on individual writers and the communal sense of knowledge-building. Students quickly become aware that they are all co-constructing knowledge and begin to spend a lot of time commenting on other blogs and other entries. When I mark their contributions, a part of their grade is given for showing that they are an integral part of the blogosphere and not just an isolated writer.