Monday, November 8, 2010

Blogs promote critical and analytical thinking

A workshop participant’s passionate enthusiasm about blogging resulted in SURN launching its first blog in 2008. Today, there are six blogs, one focusing on education research as well as five content area specific blogs discussing how content literacy strategies are used in middle and high school classrooms. SURN uses the blogs to extend the professional dialogue about content from professional development and build connections to support teachers in expanding their professional network.

How do you use blogs to connect professionally? What do you think about blogs as a learning resource for students?

Dr. Denise Johnson, an education professor at The College of William and Mary, recently had an article published in the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy that focused on how blogs can be used to expand students’ connections, collaboration, and creativity. Her article specifically addressed the use of blogs written by children and young adult authors as well as the benefits of when students engage in blogging. The article is summarized below. Educators, regardless of content area taught, can take away ideas from the article to apply in their setting.

“Blogs promote critical and analytical thinking and allow students to create content in ways not possible in traditional paper-and-pencil environments," (p. 172) wrote Denise Johnson. She provides examples of how she uses blogs to expand students’ understanding and interactions with authors and text (see the text at the end of this post). She highlights resources for finding, managing, and organizing blogs, as well as tools to create your own blogs in order to make the use of blogs more viable in the classroom. Teachers need to: (1) model how to use, organize, and manage blogs to engage in the back and forth dialogue that can occur, (2) teach students to find engaging blog communities, and (3) students in engaging in the reciprocal process of posting and commenting in appropriate and critical ways so that conversations are created and thoughts are sparked.

The blog is not a substitute for a paper-and-pencil response assignment, rather it is an effective way to encourage students to read as much as they write and critically respond to each other. Further, the blog could be linked to other internet resources from video to articles. Dr. Johnson summarizes the research on online literature discussions as:
  • “an opportunity for students to develop and verbalize ideas with others,
  • promote in-depth responses and reflection and careful consideration of multiple perspectives and thoughts,
  • encourages peer affirmation, and
  • provides opportunities for more teacher-student and student-teacher interaction, “ (p. 180).

In sum, investing time in developing blogs as instructional tools and resources can result in student sharing their expertise, thoughts, and reflections in a dynamic and interactive way.

How are you using blogs in the classroom or with your faculty?

For those interested in how the blogs of children and young adult authors can be used to support the teaching and learning of English literature and 21st century skills, keep reading.

Johnson writes that children’s and young adult authors use blogs to connect with their readers in a way not possible even five years ago. Prior to the advent of blogging, readers could access a publisher’s website and get basic information, read interviews, and write a snail or email letter that would be filtered through the publisher and might result in a response months later. With blogging, posts and comments are immediate. It is an opportunity for authors to share their thoughts and read contributions from their readers.

Dr. Johnson teaches with blogs which, “creates powerful connections, collaborations, and creativity that promotes learning and challenges thinking,” (p. 174). She shared how she used a particular author’s blog to help students learn the depth to which an author struggled in her teen years. Print interviews basically convey that the author struggled, survived her teenage years, and grew up to be a happy writer. The blog lent the perspective that this author still struggles with her high school issues when the author shared an experience of going back to her old high school to watch a play, even walking in the school doors made her want to run, yet in the end watching the students perform the play resulted in her feeling connected and proud.

Another example is using blogs to read about how authors feel and perceive particular topics. For example, one author had a book that a group challenging its appropriateness for inclusion in a school library. The author posted a video podcast in which he stated his perspective on his award winning book. Through the blog, students could hear his perspective and make their own informed decisions.

A third example shared is how blogs can inspire and support students’ writing. An author example from the article had blogged about how she conducted background research for her book establishing the necessity of a writer to use research to construct an accurate and detailed historical environment. Other writers share their writing process and how little revisions can have a large impact on the work.

Finally, the use of live blogs can extend the dialogue about literature. Some authors will set up live blogs so virtual author visits are possible in real time. Another example was about two English teachers who set up a live blog for their classes to discuss with each other.

Want to read the article? Johnson, C. D. (2010). Teaching with authors’ blogs: Connections, collaboration, creativity. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 54(3), 172-180.

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