Tuesday, December 27, 2011

What is Quality (in a Blog Post or Comment)?

Our 5th graders took part in the Student Blogging Challenge this fall. This was a positive way to kick off our blog-folios; it gave students plenty of choice within a structure, as well as providing motivation to comment and be commented upon. Students were also to be assigned a teacher-mentor to comment on their blog regularly. All good, right? Well... sort of...

As is often the case, good intentions and good ideas for teaching/learning don't always result in high quality work.
I observed:
•teacher-mentors (and other adult commenters) whose comments did not model quality in either content or form
•in my role as a teacher-mentor, I visited blogs that had only one or two, poorly-written posts and then seemed to have been abandoned by the student-blogger (which to me says there was no follow through by a teacher or adult mentor/guide who most likely started the "project"
with their students)

I've also observed what I judge to be excellent, thoughtful, high-quality posting and commenting in a developmentally appropriate student voice. I am completely sold on student blog-folio-ing as a practice for many reasons (which I hope to outline in detail in another blog post), but the question is how to identify and inspire excellence.

Blogging is not a "one-off." It's not a worksheet. It's not an assignment. Blogging is a process- one that involves both reading and writing. By definition, a process is a series of actions, changes or functions to achieve a goal or result. If the goal is to run a marathon, would one day of running around the block qualify?Why then do teachers set up student blogs and assign a writing prompt or two- and then abandon the whole thing for other "assignments?" Blogging is game-changing precisely because it is a long-term practice- a blog is a platform for sharing in a variety of formats and can be a chronicle of student development. I'm going to go so far as to say that a non-blogging teacher can not possibly do justice to student blogging. I believe that you can not teach what you do not practice yourself.

And that is just the introduction! The impetus for this post is a meme started by Silvia Tolisano asking teachers to identify quality blog posts and comments. Silvia is working on an incredible series of posts for teachers that breaks down and explains the entire process of blogging. Called "Stepping it Up- Learning About Blogs FOR Your Students" this is a MUST-read for any teacher even remotely interested in student blogging.

In part VII of the series, she tackles the elusive issue of quality- identifying it and evaluating it. As part of that post, Silvia provides multiple examples of student posts and comments with a breakdown of what she feels exemplifies quality and what could be improved. The meme was created to challenge other teachers to do the same:

In order to gather more audit samples from a large variety of age groups and authors, I challenge you to publish a blog post with a post or comment audit.

1. Select a blog post or blog comment to audit (Professional or Student)

2. Take a screenshot or copy and past the post or comment into your blog post (be sensitive whether you want to reveal any names or references)

3. Include or link to the rubric you use to assess the quality of post or comment

4. Audit the post or comment by describing your train of thought regarding the level of quality you would assess your chosen post or comment

5. Suggest how you would coach the author of audited post or comment to improve

6. Tag (at least) three educators and challenge them to audit a post or comment

7. Leave a comment with the link to your audit post on Langwitches

Kathleen Morris has very quickly responded to the meme with a superb audit of student comments.

For my own participation in the meme, I must begin with an admission-- I don't currently use a formal tool for assessment. I have used a number of strategies in the attempt to teach students how to recognize and produce high-quality writing. A rubric is a good idea and one I will explore with my co-teachers.
One other thing that I find so valuable about engaging in this process is that it helps give me a barometer of what I can reasonably expect from a student of a particular age. Of course, all students are on their own path of development. That's another piece of the beauty of blogging- by it's nature it documents the growth of the individual in comparison only to him or herself. However, I've noticed that it's very useful for me to have "touchstones" (especially since I work with students of all grade levels. I think I sometimes tend to expect too much from my own students. When I view their work in the light of a larger sample, I am often very pleasantly surprised at how well they are actually doing :-)

This post was written by a 5th grader in response to the student blogging challenge prompt of "favorites." What I like best about this post is the introduction, where the writer explores the whole idea of what "favorites" are. That intro drew me in and made me interested in what else the writer had to say. I also appreciated that she didn't just list her favorites, but included a bit of additional info telling why she likes the things she likes. I felt that she made an attempt to tie her ideas together with the conclusion, by revisiting ideas from the introduction. Overall, I felt that this was a fairly cohesive piece of writing- with a beginning, middle and end.

There are several ways I could see to coach this writer-
•End sentences with proper punctuation (What are your favorite things?)
•Consider not starting a sentence with "like."
•I see that this student needs some instruction on when to use a comma.
•There is a mistake with matching a singular noun (animal) with a plural (mosquitoes). Those types of grammatical mistakes can often be "heard" by students if you ask them to read the sentence out loud and listen for what doesn't sound right.
•"I will tell you some of my favorite things...." -I could ask the student if she thinks this line is really necessary.
• Overuse of "smart and cool"- what are some synonyms for these words? What is she really trying to describe with use of the word "cool?"

I'm going to stop my audit here. However, this has been a valuable activity, and I thank you, Silvia, for tagging me. It is enlightening to take the the time to bring internal processes (that I have in my head after so many years of teaching) out into the open and think more deeply about them.


Tracy Watanabe said...

Dear Andrea,

I really like how you emphasize that blogging is not a check to be placed on an assignment or a to-do list, but rather a process in a series. It absolutely is something that becomes more and more beneficial the longer it become part of the daily norm.

Furthermore, teachers do need to model it just like we should model anything we want our students to do, or administrators should model anything they want to see in their school.

I am impressed with the student sample you shared. I agree with you about the introduction being fabulous! It hooked my attention immediately and has a strong presence. I wonder how the post's depth would change if the student linked to other sources such as soccer or snakes. Another idea is to link to another post he/she has written, or a post by someone in class or blogroll, if he/she believes it too is a quality post. I wonder how it would affect the class to work on their quality knowing that a peer might link to it.

Thanks for sharing your insight. I appreciate the candor, passion, and self reflection in your post.

Kind regards,

Andrea said...

Hi Tracy,

Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment on my contribution to the meme. I have been amazed by the conversation taking place in the comments on your blog and have been meaning to get back there to continue being part of that conversation. It's nice, though, when the conversation rounds the corner and happens in different places. That is when you know you are succeeding at building those learning communities that are really the value added in blogging.

The idea of suggesting linking the post to other sources is a great one. This is an example, too, of needing to model/do ourselves in order to teach- I know that linking to more outside sources is something I need to improve in my own blogging.