A couple of days ago, one of my students wrote an entry in which he was rather critical of some of the blog posts written by his classmates. He referred to some of them as "generic" and was unimpressed by what he described as lack of personal voice in some of the entries. I thought that his entry was a bit harsh but did not comment on it at all. Within hours, many of the students posted their comments to this critique. No one seemed upset or defensive. Instead, every comment focused on the fact that the entry was too harsh, too critical, that some students might find it offensive, or that not everyone is a good writer who can write with a strong personal voice. In short, his friends seemed to be saying: "We've read your piece. We see your point. We're sure there is a better, more polite way of phrasing your opinion." The next day, the author of the critique posted another entry, an apology. He did not intend to insult, he was merely pointing things out. He said that he felt really sorry. This was not an attack - just an opinion that, perhaps, could have been worded differently.
All this from a group of grade eight students. The situation did not escalate, there was no name-calling. Instead, what happened was a learning experience - an experience that occurred without my involvement.
I want my students to become independent learners, people who can deal with criticism and misunderstandings in a respectful, civilized manner. I can now see this happening in the class blogosphere. I've spent the last four months building a community of writers and learners and, gradually, I am beginning to see results. I'm beginning to see many meaningful interactions. I am beginning to see texts that, to use the words of Gordon Wells and Mari Haneda, are perceived as "improvable objects." (Haneda, M and Wells, G. (2000) "Writing in knowledge building communities." Research in the Teaching of English, 34 (3): 430-457).
When children "interrogate" their own texts and those of their peers, they extend their own thinking and understanding. This happens because those texts are not perceived as definitive formulations of thought but as tentative attempts to engage with ideas.
I have reasons to believe that the entire class learned something from this experience. They have seen one more instance of writing as dialogue and I am convinced that it will yield even more positive results later on.