Monday, September 3, 2007

Two Great Reads

For a while now, I have been waiting for a local article to focus on the benefits of blogging as related to student writing on standardized tests. The easy thing would have been to do it myself, but then again, that just makes too much sense.

A teacher in the middle school I work in, Erica Hartman, (go check her out!!) brought this article from to my attention through her blog, The itclassroom. In it, Bradley A. Hammer, a professor of writing from Duke University, summarizes why he blogs with his freshman students:

High schools and their curriculums are failing to keep pace with those same advances. They remain focused on "standards," asking such questions as: Do blogs prepare a student to take the new SAT? Does an e-mail message train a student how to write a traditional college-level essay? Clearly, the answer is no.
However, he goes on to say that blogging with an eye towards academic rigor goes a long way towards marrying those elements. This fact is something many of us know already; if you are going to put something out there for the world to see, you'd better have done your research and polished it. His statement strikes at something larger, something more sinister involved with blogging: its negative connotation among some teachers.

To quote Hammer from the article:

In contrast, "standards-driven" high school writing is hindering student interest. Without opportunities for students to publish their writing, they will assess that they write not for meaning, intellectual discovery, communication or understanding but rather in obligatory, outdated, punitive and proce dural ways to obtain grades. Consequently, as students spend their years of education consumed with standardized tests, they learn to write -- and think -- in ways that fail to offer rich and critical contexts for learning.

Teachers seek opportunities for writing to engage and challenge students to think critically throughout the processes of intellectual debate. Writing courses that remain wedded to the genre and methods of the past merely limit students' ability to imagine their work as real. The traditional argumentative essay does not force students to engage critically with complex reasoning "about" an issue but rather merely instructs them on how to argue "for" or "against" it.

Erica, like myself, feels that there is a way to successfully bridge the gap between social networking and the writing associated with that, and successful, critical reading and writing:
Eventhough this article pertains to college writing, I am thinking about how it relates to grades 6-8, especially the mind numbing preparations we do for the GEPA, I'm sorry the ASK8.
Seems to me this is more evidence that each student should create and maintain their own blog.
When we began publishing student writing last year on Writingthecity, we immediately noticed several things happen with them:
  • they began to regard audience as driving force behind how much time they spent polishing their writing.
  • undercurrents of healthy stress through competition for "reads" began to circulate among the classes.
  • word of mouth "press" about whose story was good and worth reading, or in more technical terms, critical review.
So what is stopping us? What are our concerns? Because, if it is safety, we've got that one handled. If it's fear that this type of writing won't help come test time, well, that's up to you and how much rigor you supply.

Flickr image credit to Merrick Brown's Photostream

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