July 22, 2005

Creative blogging: learning a lesson from Newsblogs

I am sitting glued to yet another twist in the tale of London terrorism: a man has been shot dead in a tube carriage in front of terrified commuters. I switching between three rolling news channels, consulting the BBC News site, and reading the more frequently updated Guardian Newsblog. It seems that just as the media begins to play their limited footage for the nth time that they are provided with yet another exciting installment to broadcast, podcast, print or blog.


Without wanting to belittle what is an incredibly serious situation for those living it in the Capital, the use of blogs to report on terrorism has begun to interest me, and I think there might be something teachers can draw from terrorblogging. I even came across my first Citizen Journo yesterday, some guy desperate to be the first in there producing poor quality mobile phone videos and digital photos of traffic jams and people hanging round on street corners.

But it's getting hits. Lots of hits.

This now leads to a question. Is there a way of using the same sense of urgency in the classroom blog, to encourage writing (in a blog) or speaking (in a podcast). Can we envisage pupils writing parts of an unfolding story over a period of a few days or weeks, consulting themselves to see what the next twist in the tale has been? Of course, we can.

Using blogs to help writing has been happening in the US for years, and they have also been blogging about writing: this is just one example from Lacey.

But in Scotland there is little evidence of creative writing coming from blogs. The events recorded by teachers and students at our own Auschwitz blog at Musselburgh Grammar School was used by American students to create two fictional plays.

I'm not going to be in the classroom this year, being out on secondment to Scottish CILT, but if I were I would be tempted to do my project on blogs, rather than just through oral discussion in the classroom.

The project involves pupils being read to: good, original versions of fairytales in the French written by Charles Perrault hundreds of years ago. They particularly like the graphics used to support the reading of gruesome tales such as La Barbe Bleue or Le Petit Chaperon Rouge.

Pupils then come up with an idea for their own fairytale, based on the lessons learned from their reading (magic numbers, repetition, unhappy endings, gore...!). This is done in English language, as the ideas at this stage are a little too complex for an S1 pupil with six weeks of French to articulate in the foreign language. This is the point where the blog could be used to get more ideas circulating, evolving, building into each other.

I still think there is a need for quite heavy intervention from the teacher at the point of writing up the French. Use of questioning to tease out prior knowledge, get pupils second-guessing Frenchy words ("just try saying that with your best French accent...") and getting pupils to use little rules that they have learned along the way ("if the word has an 'o-s' or 'e-s' in English there is a chance that it's an 'o' or 'e' with a circumflex in French. So what's a forest, then?"). Doing it this way is quick (about 25 minutes for one story) and involves the whole class in the process of guessing and trying out some fairly over-the-top yet impressive French accents.

I'll write more about fairytale writing in another post. But there is definite mileage in the urgency created in Newsblogs. Can we use the same in the classroom blog? I think the answer is a resounding 'yes', but I need to spend more time writing out the whole process.

All that from watching terror reports on the Guardian Newsblog? Time for another recap from Sky News, I think.


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I've used quasi-blogging as a way of encourging Creative Writing (in English) during the invasion of Iraq. The pupils read the "Where is Raed" blog (The Baghdad Blogger) and wrote their own version, using a familiar environment as the setting. It freed them up from the demands of "a story" and I had some very expressive stuff.
This was a mixed-ability all-boys' class; they enjoyed it immensely and only a lack of technological resource (the school) and know-how (me) prevented further development.

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

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School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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