Friday, January 27, 2012

Hitting Publish (Once a Week)

For someone who spends massive amounts of energy working on and advocating for student blogging, I rarely blog myself these days. There are, of course, many reasons for that, but it is something that must be remedied. As part of our faculty's "accountability initiative" I have set for myself the goal to write and publish at least one blog post each week.

Normally, it takes me quite a while to organize my thoughts enough to hit publish. Many posts sit in draft, many more stay in my mind. So I am going to do what I ask the students to do, and that is just write. I'm starting out with low expectations- once a week, sit down at the computer, write, publish. Get it out there, let it go and move on. I'm using the Seth Godin/Karl Fisch model "Just write poorly. In public. Every Day" (except my writing is hopefully not that poor...and once a week is the best I can do right now.)

Godin's premise:

No one ever gets talker's block. No one wakes up in the morning, discovers he has nothing to say and sits quietly, for days or weeks, until the muse hits, until the moment is right, until all the craziness in his life has died down. 
Why then, is writer's block endemic? 
The reason we don't get talker's block is that we're in the habit of talking without a lot of concern for whether or not our inane blather will come back to haunt us. Talk is cheap. Talk is ephemeral. Talk can be easily denied. 
We talk poorly and then, eventually (or sometimes), we talk smart. We get better at talking precisely because we talk. We see what works and what doesn't, and if we're insightful, do more of what works. How can one get talker's block after all this practice?
I've been sharing this post with everyone- teachers, parents, anyone who will listen. It speaks to my core beliefs about learning. And writing. And teaching. 
We learn through practice. In musing about the practice of yoga (and relating it to other learning situations) I wrote this:
In school classrooms, we break the learning into parts. Instead of practicing reading and practicing writing, we try to break reading and writing into pieces and parts, skills and standards. I wonder why we don’t just practice what we want to learn in its entirety by showing up and doing it- just reading and writing every day.
I believe that in order to teach something well, one must actively practice that thing. I have been testing the waters of that idea and have had some interesting discussions on Twitter and elsewhere about the truth or falseness of that assertion. 
Is it possible to coach a sport you used to play and of which you have intimate firsthand knowledge but no longer do yourself? Is it possible to teach something you learned way back in school but no longer engage in as a learner? 
Tough questions with lots of nuance. I believe that the best teachers will be in some way engaged with the process of what they teach as a learner themselves. In other words, maybe the coach no longer plays football himself but is still actively involved in learning about the game. In yoga it is said that the teacher teaches for herself and practices for her students. Teaching is part of the path of the learner. 
When we practice something, we can't be overly concerned with mistakes. We can't worry about criticism or who is watching (or not). We just do it, secure in the knowledge that practice will lead to growth. 
We need to give the students blogs and let them write and publish without fear. Let them write for genuine communication and a real audience. As adults, we need to let go of our fear of mistakes, of students' writing being imperfect. How many times have I heard that if we let students publish writing that has errors in spelling or grammar it will make the school or teacher look bad? Does my yoga teacher look bad when I lose my balance in an asana? 
And, as teachers of writing, we, too, must write.

8 comments:

Kai Lopez said...

My name is Kai Lopez and am currently assigned by an EDM310 class to comment on your blog post. I think that you are making a good decision to start blogging at least once a week. I am new to posting blogs too and I am still trying to get the hang of it. It takes me a while to hit publish too because I really care about what people read on my blogs. I am always afraid that I misspelled a word or wrote a sentence that does not make sense. That is why I have some one proofread my blog post, so that I will not make a mistake. I agree on “Teaching is part of the path of the learner” because I coached a little league basketball team and through out the season I learned more and more about the game of basketball and the rules that apply. We get better as we teach and learn new things about ourselves and other people.

Tracy Watanabe said...

Hi Andrea,

One of the reasons I started blogging was to practice what I preach. But, the reasons why I continue to blog include the many benefits that come from thinking through ideas, sharing with others, connecting with others, etc.

I'm still very new to the online world, and am learning many things as I go. I wonder if people believe I've been doing this much longer than I actually have been. For example, I volunteered to judge an online PBL, and was sent to a Ning discussion board to learn more about it. Well, it took me a few weeks to figure out where to actually look because I wasn't familiar with that environment and was rather lost. I keep taking some risks to learn more, and hope that others don't mind being patient with me because we all have a starting point somewhere.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and questions. It helps me be more transparent in voicing my thoughts and questions too.

Kind regards,
Tracy

Andrea Hernandez said...

Tracy,
Thanks for the comment. I know what you mean about the learning curve. I imagine people assume that a blogger has a certain amount of skills. Really, though, I think that it's all more of a mindset than anything else. You have the mindset to figure it out, even though it sometimes takes time.

Ultimately, as teachers/coaches, etc. we don't have to know how to do everything. Sometimes it is better model how we learn and problem solve.

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Constance Dixon said...

I really enjoyed your blog. The post that you put up on not having talkers block was a very good one. I have never thought of it in those terms before. If we practice writing more and do so daily then we will grow as writers. Even if we are only to write in a journal or if we blog. You made a very good point on if we actually can teach something that we no longer practice on the regular. Your statement that a teacher should, "teach as a learner themselves", was very true. It reminds me of the statement that teachers should learn from their students.
-Constance Dixon

Lacie Brothers said...

Andrea,
I am a student at the University of South Alabama and am also enrolled in the EDM310 class. I really enjoyed reading your blog not only because of the subject matter but also because of your insight. I love the idea about teachers practicing writing, as well as their students. Also, having students conquer the fear of rejection by publishing work that may or may not contain mistakes really hits home for me. Personally, I enjoy writing poems and up until about a year ago no one knew. Now, I thoroughly enjoy sharing my poems and receiving their constructive criticism all because I conquered that natural fear of rejection.

Lacie

Andrea Hernandez said...

Constance and Lacey- Thank you for your comments. As you can see, I haven't met my goal of publishing once a week!
Lacey, that is interesting that you felt that I was saying that students should try to conquer their fear of rejection. That wasn't what I was thinking at all. What I was trying to say is that learning to write well is a process, and I think that sometimes in schools there is too much emphasis on making everything perfect before publishing. I do think that written work should meet standards, but I think that we also need to allow students to learn by doing, mistakes and all.

Allison Cullars said...

My name is Allison Cullars and I am in Edm 310 at the University of South Alabama. I love the idea of allowing your students to write blogs. I haven't long started writing blogs, so I am not that perfect at it. It takes me forever to click publish, because I can not really gather my thoughts of what I want to say. Also, I am afraid of making grammatical errors.I like your saying that the majority of people do not have "talkers block." I believe that with practice we will get better. I agree that the students can learn best my doing. Mistakes are not always bad, they can help people improve. Overall, great post.