Whenever I "enter" our online community and start clicking my way through all the entries, I feel like I am in a very noisy place. It's like being in a tiny cafe where, around each tiny table, there are conversations that you overhear as you order your latte and check your pockets for change. It feels like a train station, or a concert hall before the lights go down, or your favourite coffee place, or, well, a classroom before the teacher walks in and all the voices stop. Except, when I "walk in," the voices don't stop. The din continues and the constant hum means that I'm doing something right because they're talking, they're writing. But it is not all chaotic and distracting. All these voices commingle to create a mosaic of voices that gives our community the right atmosphere. It feels like I'm in a good jazz club. And sometimes in that din, in that ambient noise that never really goes away, I hear a voice I never thought I would, not at this grade level anyway. And I am drawn towards it only to discover that, to my surprise, it does not belong to that student who just aced the term paper. No. It belongs to the girl who struggled and thought she would never finish it, or to the boy who often says "but I don't know what to write" and usually gets a C.
Lately, I've noticed that the "noise" level in my blogging community has been increasing. They're always talking, always discussing. They move beyond course content and explore ideas that interest them - they post their own poetry or personal thoughts and observations. Recently, one of my students wrote about a fight with his parents, another one wrote about the anxiety of starting high school in September. Some have been posting outstanding poetry. But they also discuss course content - they jot down their observations and often delve deep into a literary text even after we finish discussing it in class. When this kind of engagement happens, the noise level increases and I see the kind of writing that is confident and original. I hear voices that I didn't know I had in my classroom, and I know that my students see themselves in a very different light. They see themselves as writers, not students who complete assignments and do homework.
And so I see that the community is gradually acquiring a life of its own. I have a feeling that at this point it could probably sustain itself without my presence, without my prompts and contributions. When I log on, when I "walk in" and "hear" all these conversations around me, I know that they are learning, that my students are becoming writers. When a student's blog reflects her journey from Animal Farm, to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and then to human rights abuses in Third World countries, it becomes very clear that the freedom to explore, to share, to write, to "risk" learning is something that our students need in order to show us their best. True learning happens when learners stop seeing themselves as mere students who do homework and complete assignments. True learning happens when they don't see it as learning.
The best part of this is that whenever I log on to our class blogosphere, I never know what to expect. I know that there will be voices. I know that they will originate from class discussions and course content, but I do not know where they will lead, where they will take me or my students ...
... but when we finally get there - two, three, or eight entries later - the din gets louder. The community's buzzing and I know that in that noise they have found meaning, and that they have built knowledge.