Participation Engenders Competence

I was in the staffroom today and overheard a couple of teachers talking aboout the amount of "marking" and "correcting" that they have to do this week before parent-teacher interviews. A couple of hours later, while looking at my day planner, I noticed the following: "Finished reading blog entries. Excellent work. Can't wait for more connections to emerge."

That's when it occurred to me that I have stopped "marking" or "correcting" and started reading. I do not mean that my students are no longer evaluated, that they no longer receive grades. They do. But my approach has changed dramatically. It's taken over a year but I have become a teacher-blogger and I am recording this change because it is crucial to my thesis and my professional development.

I have become a teacher who reads, who looks forward to reading, who comments on student entries and can't wait to see the responses, who can't wait to see where the conversation takes us. I have become a teacher who sees my students as writers, as people with voices who can contribute to and initiate insightful conversations.

When I think of blogs, I think primarily of what this technology enables my students to accomplish. When I look forward to reading their entries and comments I am really looking forward to thoughts made visible.

And so, when they write, I don't want the journey to end with me as it inevitably does when the teacher is the audience. I want to be part of the collective journey. I want to lurk and see how my students develop their ideas. I want to see how conversations grow. I want to hear their voices booming through their entries. You can't have that when you're busy correcting spelling and fixing sentence structure.

My approach to marking has become more holistic. I've discovered that students who participate in communities of learners begin to care about their writerly voice. Gradually, what emerges is greater awareness of how to make that voice heard and how to effectively communicate one's ideas. The most valuable part of this community is that this awareness emerges as a result of online interactions, of hundreds of entries, comments, and connections made online as part of a collective journey. It comes from within because the students need it to emerge. It is a practical skill that they need to keep contributing as members of the community. It is not imposed by my rubrics.

I remain inspired by the words of Etienne Wenger:

What does look promising are inventive ways of engaging students in meaningful practices, of providing access to resources that enhance their participation, of opening their horizons so they can put themselves on learning trajectories they can identify with, and of involving them in actions, discussions, and reflections that make a difference to the communities that they value.

Participation engenders competence.