August 31, 2007

The might of the mouse?

The Times Education Supplement carries a story this week of the journal-writers of Grangemouth High School (The might of the pen). In a sci-fi-esque refinery town most kids have a desire to leave, writing a regular journal in a hardback book has increased confidence in themselves - and raised attainment.

The same writing skills, putting into words what seems so abstract and confusing at first, and the increasing of confidence are developed through writing blogs, although the audience goes from one to, well, potentially hundreds or thousands. In the Grangemouth English class the advantage of having an audience of only one, the teacher, has been that students have written about things they had not been comfortable discussing with anyone else: bullying, school problems and so on.

The differences could be perplexing for teachers who want students to open their minds to the wider world through blog writing, although the simple process of writing and improving one's writing only for oneself, and not for the audience, is probably more worthy of note. Perhaps the same mentality is at work when students write blogs - are they really aware of that larger audience or are they still writing just for themselves?

A second similarity with the virtual journal is that not all students want, or are compelled by their teacher, to write a journal. What about those who choose not to engage? Clearly, they are given a different task, albeit with potentially less return for them, but even in paper form we have a 'digital divide' - those who can express themselves effectively and those who cannot.

To assess or not to assess?
There is no question of assessing these journals, either. They are not there to be assessed, they are there to build up the process. Since they are in paper form I bet this seems perfectly inoffensive to most educators. The process improves students' ability and the summative examination takes care of itself. Why, then, when talking about students' work on blogs do so many jump to the question of "how do we assess this"? The answer should probably be: "we don't".

Mentorship a must
A final vital point, which relates to the point I was making yesterday about the importance of regular intensive mentorship in online communities, is made towards the end of the article:

Mr Petrie admits: it is time-intensive, reading and responding appropriately to the journals. A “good work” scribbled in red ink can be more damaging than anything. “If they think you aren’t engaged, that you don’t really care, then they stop doing it,” he says. “What’s the point?”

When student blogs fail to take off it's normally because of the time factor on the part of the teacher, even if other students, initially, are keen to comment. When teacher comments are non-existent or if the "very good" variety, then it's no surprise that student comments fall off, too.

Whether journals or learning logs are in paper form or through a blog, their success lies entirely in the hands of the teacher. Journals and blogs do raise achievement in writing - writing so often with feedback, it stands to reason.

The question, is whether all teachers are prepared to take time on those journals, maybe dropping something which is less effective, in order to see that achievement, and confidence, sky rocket.


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I couldn't agree more. I have been using blogs as a way for my students to have a global audience. Blogging has served as a vehicle for change for many of my students. I read each blog, comment on it, but never assess the blog formally. The students that benefit the most are those that are not engaged when writing on paper with an audience of a few. I have also started a wiki at my school... not much info on it yet, but there will be!

Well put Ewan. I make the point to teachers that blogs are not about technology but about writing, confidence building and the other soft aims of the Curriculum for Excellence.

Hi Ewan, I found this piece really interesting - esp as the relationship between writing and confidence is just my thing!

I'm not entirely sure what the answer is on audience/readership. We write differently in our private journals from those we write in the knowledge that someone else might read them.

A lot of people say they write just for themselves and that's where their confidence comes from. I agree in a lot of ways, because you need to find that confidence in your own voice, to shake off the inner editor telling you that your views and words are not good enough.

But in fact the buzz of sharing our words on-line, making a connection with other people or even just one other person, getting that acknowledgment and feedback, that validation somehow... well I think that gives a pretty turbo-charged boost to the confidence.

It was great to meet you the other day - will be back here for more, for sure!


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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.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

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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