At this time of year, we see many people sharing their beginning of the year activities and strategies. You see tweets, blogs, Pinterest pins, Facebook posts, articles, and Back to School Conferences. Many people asked me how we started our year, so I shared some of our activities in the post Our First Day(s) of School. In that post I also explained that I felt like it's not so much about what you do as it is about how you do the activities. Are you nurturing a learning community that communicates, collaborates, thinks deeply, and puts the learning into the hands of your students?
As I mentioned in that previous post, one of the activities that we begin the first week of school is blogging. My students set the criteria for themselves. They know what is expected of them when they blog because they set those standards. Blogging is one of the most powerful ways for me to get to know my students, academically and personally. Through their writing, I get to know about their thoughts and expectations, their strengths and weaknesses, their hopes and dreams. They reflect on their own learning, discuss the things they wonder about, and generate meaningful conversations on a wide variety of topics.
I have written several posts about the drastic decline in my students' interest to read. When conducting a survey in math about favorite school subjects, reading has fallen at the bottom of the list every year for the last three years. So when a student posted the following comment in a blog last week, I saw an opportunity to facilitate a blog conversation with the class. He wrote,
I asked him to clarify what he meant and share his thoughts on those statements. He obviously understood the relevance that reading has in everyone's life when he replied with...
This was like throwing a match on extremely dry tinder. It ignited a heated discussion among my students who expressed their frustration in our prescriptive reading program and all of the different aspects of it. No one had ever asked them how they felt about it. They shared how much they wanted to be able to just read books, articles, blogs, comic books, and graphic novels for fun. I found it interesting that they began to formulate ideas of how to work around all of the required practices to include what they found meaningful. They weren't complaining, they were problem-solving. All of this dialogue was generated by one student who stuggles in reading because English is his second language and not spoken in the home.
This just reaffirmed what I already knew. Students need a voice....every student. This is their education. Let them discuss it, try new things, and find their own solutions. The learn to communicate effectively and critically analyze. It empowers them and sets them on a path of being a highly-motivated lifelong learner in spite of obstacles they may face.
When people ask me which tech tool I find most valuable, I find it difficult to come up with one tool because we use so many to support the diverse needs of my diverse students. However, with blogging, my students have an avenue to share, discuss, reflect, dream, plan, and debate. It has greatly enhanced the way I teach my students and the way that they learn. If I could only use one tool, blogging would be my choice. Because with blogging, my students each have a voice.