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A Rationale for Writing and Teaching about Blogs

This post by NCTE member Gary Pankiewicz first appeared 6/15/18.

 

With 10 days left to the National Day on Writing, we’re sharing a series of reflections from members and professionals who demonstrate why writing is vital to everything we do.

 
 

I’m in the midst of ongoing collaborative study in the genre of multimodal argumentation—mostly through a book study of Turner and Hicks’s Argument in the Real World and some action research with a team of K–12 and college educators to support the need to explore blogs with students.

At this point in my lesson work (see my pilot blog lesson, “Initiating Blogging,” for more), the students identified a topic for their writing, we reviewed some sample blogs—charting important characteristics on a classroom anchor chart—and I modeled a think-aloud of my teacher-writer approach to prewriting, before releasing responsibility for the students to do the same.

In the spirit of Donald Murray, let me share my teacher-as-writer rationale for my blog writing process as I formulate a plan to teach blog writing with students. My central claim is this: Blogs should be integrated as a genre in our writing canon.

I’m mindful of the following rationale for my blog writing:

  • Many students seem to use social media constantly—sometimes reading multimodal arguments. A better knowledge of the blog text structure will help students to be better readers and composers of blogs.
  • The varied modes give students an opportunity to make meaning in a different way through their text. For example, students could integrate pictures, videos, and music into their blogs to develop a multimodal and remixed representation of their ideas.
  • First-year university writing programs, such as the program at my local Montclair State University in New Jersey, prompt students to develop multimodal pieces as part of their writing portfolio. In a sense, blog composition contributes to college readiness.

Some things I’m learning along the way:

  • With all of our “academic writing” expectations, students are doing less personal writing in formal classroom endeavors. Our curriculum makes room for formal narrative writing, but personal narratives are saved for informal journal work. The blog provides opportunity (and permission) for students to use personal narrative to convey their ideas in a formal genre.
  • A blog is a worthwhile authentic assessment at the end of a document-based argument unit. Along those lines, a conclusion to an argument essay makes a good starting point for a blog–especially if you encourage conclusions that answer the question, “So what?”
  • Writing your own blog as a teacher is essential to developing your teaching points. For example, I’m developing another lesson that uses Creative Commons.org and Unsplash as the search engines for multimedia additions that are mindful of copyright laws, and I’ve noticed how Hyperlinks have the potential to dramatically change the meaning of a text.  Most would agree that these multimodal pieces are highly aligned to skill development in determining importance and text-based analysis (e.g., you need to really think through your intended meaning in order to integrate a good pic, link, or video).
  • Research described in Digital Writing Assessment & Evaluation (Chapter 7) suggests that assessments should be kept as formative. We must remain flexible and responsive in our feedback and evaluation–especially since the innovation in the blog genre makes it a moving target for our expectations.
  • Our teaching does not need to be done from scratch. There are a ton of great instructional videos available. I shared this one with my college-level writing class in a different blog lesson.

What needs to be done to promote the genre of multimodal argumentation:

  • If this blog makes sense to you, share it with other stakeholders in your district. Even further, review my pilot lesson and revise it and teach it based on your students’ learning needs.
  • I’m fortunate to work with smart and responsive colleagues who made it a district goal to develop digital literacy and multimodal argumentation opportunities. We will no doubt rewrite curricula to make room for this important innovation. Does your curriculum and instruction make room for blogs?
  • A true blog is posted on the Internet. We are continuing to think about protocols for online publication, but you can start now with mock blogs as Google docs or posting on sites with private permissions. In other words, well-considered and user-friendly protocols need to be created to support a more authentic approach to blog instruction and publication. This recent blog encourages the use of Youth Voices.

It’s a new day–join me in a proactive exploration and development in this newer genre. Start by composing a blog; next, share this innovative gift with your students.

Gary Pankiewicz is the K-12 Language Arts and Literacy Supervisor in the Fair Lawn, New  Jerse, School District and an NCTE member since 2003. He is also an adjunct professor and doctoral candidate at Montclair State University. Twitter: @gpankiewicz