Thursday, November 11, 2010

If Your Students Posts Are Not Being Commented On By Other Students, Their Audience is Not Authentic!

I had a great and very valuable discussion with Melanie McBride a couple days ago. It centered around commenting on students blog posts. Melanie made the point that students need to be creating peer networks through their blogging and commenting just like we adults do. She wrote that teachers using their social capital to generate comments is "an artificial model of how community works...peer developed networks are what kids need to learn."

This brought to the front something that has been bothering me for a while. The original idea was for Comments4Kids to be a way to identify student work that could be commented on. My plan was and still is to have my students leave comments on these posts. Of course I like to leave comments on the posts too, but the value in the process needs to be experienced by my students too. 

Do you really believe that students writing for other teachers is any different than writing for their own teacher? How authentic is the audience when they are virtual teachers? For our students to write for an authentic audience, that audience has to be their peers. Peers that have no "educational" agenda. Peers that are reading the posts because they are interested in what the author has to write.

I am not saying you should not comment on student blogs. What I am saying is the students won't find the value in your comments like they will from another student. Make time for your students to comment.


Anonymous said...

I see both sides to this. I want my students to create their own networks with other students and build a community with fellow student bloggers. I also want my students to know that there is an audience out there that can include, and should include, myself and other teachers.

In previous years before I started student blogging, my class made books. We made classroom books for much of our work throughout the year - compound words, idioms, prepositional phrases, etc. We shared the books with our class and sometimes with other teachers and other classes. This meant the world to them! They loved that other students saw their work, but they really loved that other teachers saw their work.

I guess this is why I still see the value of commenting on my students' blogs, and the blogs of other students for that matter. My students have an audience in their own classmates and in the other 2nd grade classes that I teach. But they also have me as their audience. They still think it's pretty special when I comment on their posts and are motivated to write more.

So yes, have other students comment, but know that they DO still value your comments as well.

Jabiz Raisdana (Intrepid Teacher) said...

Great point Will. I agree that some random teacher leaving a comment that says, "Great job!" is not an authentic audience. But if we can get classrooms or better yet individual students to make connections with students from a variety of blogs we may be on the track. The problem as I see it is that few kids are writing meaningful blog posts that are not related to school work. And let's be honest that the only thing worse that n being forced to write a blog post for a class, is to be forced to comment on one someone you don't even know has written.

This takes us back to why we are doing all of this in the first place. We want to teach students the value of writing as a tool for reflections, expression, and connection. If we can foster an environment where kids are writing authentically, then connecting them to others is valuable thing.

If however everyone is simply going through the motions, then it is a waste of time for everyone.

I think Comment4kids is headed in the right direction. It allows teachers to find out other classes where kids are blogging. We should encourage our kids to leave comments and try to leave authentic comments ourselves. But we must be weary of simply commenting and blogging to say that we are. It all depends on the writing it always has!

Anonymous said...

I do believe some of the authenticity is lost when the conversation remains between the students and the distant teacher. However, some of my favorite teaching moments have been when comments from well intentioned teachers have led to larger lessons.

When a distant colleague comments on one of my class blog posts or posts crafted by my students, I have the opportunity to model both caution and netiquette. All initial responses posted by me are done with my students as co-authors. Teachers who comment are taking precious time to acknowledge what we are doing. These comments are appreciated by the students when we take the time talk about what may have led the teacher to take that time.

By collaboratively writing a quick thank you we can talk about how and why we both use caution when replying and how to write an appropriate, well sculpted response. By strategically creating a question to further the conversation, students learn how to continue those conversations they deem most relevant to our project.

Across the curriculum we strive to release the learning responsibility to our students. We progress from modeled, to guided, to independent as a way to build confidence and skills. This same strategy can be a part of comments4kids as a way to add some structure and support to the students. If the goal is to broaden the audience, why shouldn't the audience include distant colleagues along with their students?

Differentiation is key for engagement. We know that a few of our students may come in with some skills to handle social media independently, but most do not. By being a presence in the discussion, we can allow all students to participate in the social learning experiment with varying levels of support and guidance as we learn and discuss together.

LeeAnn said...

Right now there are only one or two classrooms in my building who are beginning to blog. It is so new to them that getting comments is the important thing for me. My main goal is for their teachers to see the far-reaching powers of blogging. When I posted a video of a 5th grade class I worked with and they received a comment from a teacher in New Zealand, they were THRILLED and more importantly, the teacher was excited. I guess what I am saying is maybe it depends where the teacher and student are in their "technological advancement." For beginners, posts from outside their sphere create excitement, whether they are made by teachers or other students.

Wm Chamberlain said...

@Kristina and @LeeAnn I agree getting comments regardless of who leaves them generates excitement in the students. I have seen it myself. I think this speaks to the fundamental reason for blogging, creating conversations. Can we have real conversations without trust? Do students trust adults more than other students? Can we foster relationships between different students so that they can start to build learning communities outside of the classroom?

I believe that blogging and commenting can be a much richer experience than most of us have created so far. My next big push is in developing peer relationships (communities) inside and outside of the classroom.

@Jabiz Of course you are right about what we would like to see our students become. The reality is very few adults write, and even with excellent teaching and exposure a large group of our students won't want to either. Do we drag them along with those who find their voice, or do we adjust and try to find different ways to engage them?

@Crista It doesn't look like you have been out of practice :) As a teacher of older students I tend to think of them when I analyze things. I believe that creating communities is appropriate for junior high students, but I am not sure how low to go. I would definitely argue for fifth graders being ready, but I am not sure about the lower grade levels. Maybe at your students age group it would be more important to have the adults leave the comments?

Anonymous said...

As a future teacher I'm trying to figure out how to teach students to blog. I think it could potentially be useful, but would it center more around the social aspects of their social network and social capitol instead of the more information oriented professional type? I'm not saying students will write professionally, but would it turn more into a game than education? I think all ideas discusses above are incredibly valid.

Wm Chamberlain said...

@Anonymous I think all blogs revolve around social capitol. We all want an audience. The real question is will your students see the blog as a place to post work or a place to create conversations?

Jane Hake said...

I know my young students still see the blog as a place to post work. They enjoy any audience they can get. At this point, the fact that a blog post reaches outside our school building is huge to them. Until we have one to one access to computers in our school, student time on the computer is too limited to have a great converstation via blog comments.