What I wrote in 2009, plus, plus

In 2009, I joined a few other professionals to start a blog that didn’t really get off the ground. Here was my initial post, in part:

The desire to start a collaborative blog didn’t really come from a place where I have managed to create learning experience after learning experience where students are engaged and transformed into active constructors of their own knowledge and learning experiences. It is not as if I have reached a summit from which I can dispense wisdom. I am not sure I have even reached base camp yet, although I am hiking!

Instead, it comes from the place where students stare back blankly, underachieve, skip school, or lack support for learning challenges. It’s not that I haven’t had flashes of authentic student engagement and development – I have. It is powerful and thrilling to witness when it happens. It is just not as frequent or sustained as I would like.

What I am looking for is a way to focus my attention, through writing and discussion, on some of the strands I am trying to weave together to improve the learning and engagement of the students in my classroom and school.

What are these threads? Student interest. Universal design and differentiation. Assessment for learning, Integration of technology. Authentic products.  Accountability. Play.

It looks easy and common sense when I write it out, but then – enter the jumble of variables that come into play. Individual student need and interest. Curriculum. Time-pressures. Testing. Group  dynamic. Personality. Vast differences in experience and ability. Age and developmental issues. Attitudes about grades and learning. Life.

Not much has changed in the last three years. I continue to have some strong successes. I also produce mediocre results (my students do, anyway, but it feels like the same thing). I still want my writing to help me gain some focus.

I have been thinking about a couple of ideas that are circulating around the twitterverse. The first is the idea of the FedEx or Google 20%. The idea is that I direct the learning for four of five days, and the students direct the fifth. This is actually something I have been working on through the use of the Multigenre Research Project. My goal is to have students in charge of their learning for about 1/3rd of the time in my English classes. So far, I have been incredibly impressed by the work SOME of my students completed. Other students have been overwhelmed by the task. And, I assess the work they do.

The idea some teachers are putting forward is that this work should not be assessed. Students would journal about their learning, and then share it with the class. Love it. But.

I know. I shouldn’t say but,. I am actually more of a yes-person than a but-person. But.

But first the second idea, which is student blogging. This is also a common topic found in the twitterverse. I have had students post on my blogs. For example, my History 12 students post to a current events blog. My English 10 students posted to their Lit Circle page on my blog for their dystopian novel unit. However, I haven’t tried individual student blogs yet.

I love the idea of getting kids working on a digital footprint which is part of their professional rather than their personal lives. They could use this blog for all classes, for all of their high school career and beyond. It provides a way for us to talk about digital footprints, protection of identity, authentic writing and more. Yesterday, I ran into this video on Twitter:

Cristina Milos got me thinking and connecting the idea of student blogs to the Google 20% with her post, Assessing Kid’s Blogs, Or How it Becomes Another Assignment.

My plan is to get my students to set up a personal blog for school. I will give them time to pursue interests of their own, and then blog about it as the means of presenting to the class. I will not assess it, but I will comment on their ideas and work. I will not assess it with a grade. That is incredibly hard for me to say.

Somebody please tell me what to do when student x does not do it. Obviously, I will cheerlead, jump up and down, point out options, be enthusiastic, cajole, even beg. Then what.

I will try not to be a control freak. I will try not to be a control freak. I will not be a control freak.

I hope it satisfies some of my threads: authentic products, student driven content, differentiation, integration of technology.

Okay. No buts.