The Selfishness of Blogging

There's a feeling I've been trying to stuff down lately, but it keeps popping up like a Whack-O-Mole at Chuck E. Cheese. It's been churning in the back of my mind since the spring.

Mondays have been buzzing by at a blistering rate. The last day of school came and went. The dog days of summer disappeared as quickly as they came. The new school year has been in full swing for three weeks now. And that feeling is still there. The feeling of the necessity of writing.

I can't help but write. It's what I do. It's how I think, reflect, and process the world. It's a necessity for me. But, for whatever reason(s), I haven't been blogging.

I haven't been taking enough time for myself lately, and I'd forgotten what a wonderfully selfish thing blogging can be. Don't get me wrong. I like sharing my thoughts, I enjoy the comments, and dig the community. But, it's selfish because it is primarily something I do for myself. Blogging makes me think a little deeper and organize a little clearer. It makes me better. And better is good. I'm looking forward to getting a whole lot better over the next few months.

A New Year's REVolution

My students and I came up with New Year's REVolutions to celebrate the start of 2012.  We started by going through this Prezi I made titled Resolution vs. Revolution.

Most of my 4th graders had heard of resolutions.  They had seen their parents try to lose weight or quit smoking.  If parents only knew half of the things their children say about them at school...  We dicussed how a revolution is different.  It's not just a solution to a problem.  A revolution is a fundamental change in thinking.

We began listing problems, issues, or unsatisfactory things in our lives.  One of these would turn into our goal.  For example, one irritation I have is that I read too many books concurrently.  I get started, but rarely finish.  I'm emabarrased to say, but I rounded up all the books I started, but didn't finish in 2011.  It was close to 30.  Whoops.  My goal is to only read one book at time.

The revolution comes in my change of thinking about this problem.  I'm not just going to solve this problem (resolution), I'm going to change my thinking about it.  This happens by outlining a few process steps.

Next, my classes and I wrote three action steps that we could take to make sure this goal was reached.  These steps are critical.  I told them each step needed to be do-able and start with a verb.  Here are my three:

1. Commit to only reading one book at a time
I promised myself I would keep this up.  I actually modified it a bit to include two books- one novel and one non-fiction.  I figured those are different enough.

2. Make a list of books to read later
This will keep me from panicking that I'll forget a title I want to get.  I'm going to keep this as an Amazon wish list so I can get to it easily from my phone while I'm out.

3.  Write a review on Goodreads when I finish a book
This is a little treat for completing something.  I only get to write a review on my Goodreads page when I finish a book.

So far, so good.  My current novel (that I started in October, by the way. Yikes.) is Catching Fire, and my current non-fiction is Notebook Know-How.

Be sure to check out all my students' revolutions on The Bloggers' Guild.  Wish us well!

What I've Been Writing

I haven't been writing much here lately.  I've been having a blast on my personal blog, 404 Father, writing about what video games mean to me.  I created a Most Memorable Nintendo Games list to keep me focused.  I've been hacking away at it for a few weeks now.  It's been so great.

This list has forced me to write almost daily and publish just about as much.  It's been good for me.  So often, as writers, we don't know what we want to say until we start writing.  Most of these Most Memorable Nintendo Games posts ended up being about so much more than games and much more meaningful.  Especially the top five.  But I never would have found that out if I didn't start writing.

So go write something.  Anything.  All you have to do is start.

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And please check out my list if you want to know a little more about ten-year-old me.  I gotta warn you though- it gets a little nerdy and a little nostalgic.

Most Memorable NES Games on 404 Father

[Image courtesy of GameFAQs]

E-mail, Cyber Bullies, and Parental Concerns

I finally got an e-mail.  It wasn't a bad e-mail; it wasn't a good e-mail.  It was a concerned e-mail.  I haven't received any parental response (good or bad) about student blogging this year. So, I guess some response is better than no response.

The e-mail basically stated that this parent was going to restrict her child from blogging because of security uncertainties and the possibility of cyber bullying.  The parent also wanted clarification on the purpose of the student blogs.  I tried not to show my frustration, but I'm down on myself because we have been blogging for five months this year with almost no parental interaction. 

Here is my response:

Thank you so much for your concerns. 
Our student blogs are public and available for anyone in the world to read.  We have two buddy classes that we blog and write with- 2nd graders in Alabama, and 5th graders in Pennsylvania.

Absolutely everything on both sides is moderated.  No post or comment can be made without approval.  This means that that the chances of cyber bullying are essentially zero.  Every interaction the students have is monitored.  I feel that the security is very good.

I am committed to teaching my students not only about 21st century writing skills, but also about being responsible digital citizens.  Cyber bullying is a big deal to me.  We talk frequently about how to handle ourselves online.  We talk about making responsible choices and treating people the right way.  I am constantly reinforcing the fact that "the Internet is forever."  We also often talk about what is and is not safe to share online.  These are such valuable lessons for 4th graders to learn.

The purpose of our class blog is simply to share.  We share our thoughts and our learning.  We collaborate and comment.  But, most of all, we share the experience together.  Almost every curricular goal for writing is practiced in the context of these blogs.  Your child is a smart and responsible young person.  Please continue talking with your child and keep an open conversation.  I feel that student blogging is a safe and worthwhile experience.  I am urging you to reconsider your restriction.

Please check out their work at  Read a few posts, and ask your child to show you how to comment if you would like to leave your thoughts.

Let me know if you have any other questions.


4 Thoughts on Why Clarity Trumps Content on Student Blogs

I had an interesting conversation a few nights ago on Twitter with William Chamberlain (@wmchamberlain).  He is one of THE people on Twitter speaking about students and blogging.  His excellent class blog has inspired me more than a few times.  And, of course, the amazing Comments4Kids, which I highly endorse.

Our short conversation was thought provoking for both of us.  He left feeling inspired to write a new post, which you can read at Education Debate at Online Schools.  The post received some good comments and Education Debate at Online Schools wanted to know my take on it.

Clarity Rules the Kingdom of Expression
Chamberlain said that it is a serious mistake to believe that everything a student publishes online needs to be a final draft.  I definitely agree.  But, I do think it is a great place for some final drafts.  Just like Chamberlain, I am excited that blogs give students an opportunity to express their voice and ideas.  But, I believe that clarity will trump content every time you are trying to share an idea.  You may have the most incredible idea in the world, but if you can't communicate it clearly, then that incredible idea will be lost.

Polished Not Perfect

I tell my fourth graders that I won't publish junk.  If we are going to go through the effort to write and publish blog posts, then we need to respect our readers enough to make our writing clear and readable.  Ideas worth sharing are ideas worth clarifying.  I use blogging as an authentic context to teach the writing process.  Students submit their drafts for approval.  I look them over and approve many of them right away.  However, I do send confusing or unintelligible posts back to the students with feedback for revising and editing.  I think conventions pave the road of content.  I also think it is foolish to demand perfect conventions at the price of creative expression when there is no loss in clarity.  Chamberlain echoes this in his post and comments.

Process & Product

Both have value.  Which one has more more?  That is the balance teachers must find for themselves.  It can be a moving target, so you have to keep your eyes open.  Obviously I'm going to hold my fourth graders to a different standard than I would first graders or high school freshmen.  Now I'm not one of those crazy, slap you on the knuckles, and rip your work to shreds grammar nazis.  If a student forgets some punctuation- fine.  If a student types an entire draft without using any periods- not so fine.  Misspellings happen to everyone.  I'm not going to nitpick, but KidBlog.Org has a spell check.  I teach my class to use it, and expect them to.

The Burning Question

At the heart of all writing lies one whopping question- What's the point?  What is the purpose for student blogging?  At its minimum, blogging invites reading and feedback.  I am going to amplify Chamberlain here when he said, "Make sure your guidelines encourage the sharing of thoughts, not the overemphasizing of conventions."  And I'll add- Just make sure your thoughts are clear enough for others to enjoy before you click the publish button.
Photo Credit: jnpoulos