“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”
― Andy Warhol,
When I first started out on this COETAIL journey, I was seeking enrichment. I wanted to invest in my own learning, I wanted to invest in myself. Was I worried about finding the time? Of course. Every COETAILer will tell you that working through the courses is time-consuming, all great learning is. How we spend our time matters. What we make time for communicates our values. As a teacher, I must make time for learning. As a learner, I must make time for disruption.
Throughout my own bloggings during COETAIL, I was able to reflect on the ways I have shaped blogging in my classroom. When I first started blogging with students six years ago, it looked much different. It was messier, I was experimenting. Today, I’m still experimenting. If I want the blogging culture to be relevant, it has to keep that experimental vibe. This leads me to one of my biggest take-aways from this final COETAIL project:
Blogging must fit your specific context.
Every class, cohort, school is different. Honor that. When I first joined my current school, blogging as a habit–as a network, wasn’t a thing. I had moved from a school with established blogging, and bubbling bloggers to an environment which was much more conservative. Change needs to happen slower in conservative schools. But conservative schools also need risks to be taken, and examples to be provided. If you are going to be that risk-taker, you need to have a thick skin. But hey, don’t all educators need to have a thick skin? If we want students to take risks, it is nice if they see teachers doing the same.
It took almost a year to have the blogs in a place where the momentum was pushing ahead. At the end of my first year, I shared the progress at a full staff meeting, where different departments were asked to highlight specific achievements made under the theme of ‘technology.’ Here is the video I shared:
Essentially, I wanted to rebrand the blogs as a space for collaboration. Blogging isn’t solely about the tech. Blogging is about the community, the creativity, and the many, many skills that go into braving the act of learning in the open.
As I neared the final course for COETAIL, I knew I wanted that time investment to be about student ‘thought-leadership.’ In order to have the blogs empower student ownership and voice, choice was going to have to be at the core of the routine. I also knew that in order to make this pivot palatable, the blogs would also need to reflect ‘academic’ outcomes. In the MYP Language and Literature course, there is a specific assessment target which highlights ‘production of text.’ I developed ‘Semester at C’ as a way to target Criterion C, and invest more classroom time in blogging. I introduced this new wave in blogging to my students in a similar way that COETAIL mapped out the course for us. Students were asked to track their posts, use the menu–or go out on their own. They were also asked to leave comments on a set number of other posts. The most important tool in this step? Time. Without providing time at this stage, it would not have worked. Did I have to sacrifice other aspects of my course? But do I have many dividends to point to now? Absolutely. Do students engage willingly and enthusiastically in writing? Yes. Do students feel more confident taking creative risks? Yes. Are students forming networks, and building community? Again, Yes.
So what were my specific targets for my final project?
A way of rephrasing those goals is to say that I wanted students to feel intrinsically motivate to blog. I wanted students to invest in their own ideas through blogging. In attempting to do this, I learned even more about the power of audience. This is something Kim Cofino recently blogged about here.
I love this TEDx which takes that sentiment further:
Weeks from now, I’ll still be thinking about this take-away:
How do you galvanize your creators and your audience?
If I could go back and do any one thing differently, I would have put more time investing in our potential audience. I think a great step forward for schools new to student blogging is to recruit readers. What if I had asked a set of parents, teachers, and administrators to sign up earlier to leave at least one comment a week?
I did send individual posts to targeted readers, and almost every time, the teacher I asked to leave a comment did. Comments matter to students. Nothing motivates student writers in the making more than the feedback of their community. And as a community of learners, there is a moral obligation to be a community of idea sharers. I think this post from @langwitches sums that up even better.
Documenting of/for/as learning: Look>Capture>Reflect>Share pic.twitter.com/eElS54k47G
— Silvia Tolisano (@langwitches) February 3, 2016
An indicator of success in meeting my goals is that students have moved past my menu of blogging prompts, and are now opting to come up with their own. The key redefinition is that they are now writing for students beyond the boundaries of our campus. As a month long initiative that I promoted via Twitter using #March2C, I managed to connect with two teachers in Abu Dhabi (thank you: Mary Lawson and Matt McGrady!!!) and our students commented on one another’s posts which are still gathering here.
When my grade 9 students served as ‘mentor bloggers’ connecting with those 6th grade bloggers in Abu Dhabi, their comments demonstrated a level of what I’ll call empathetic engagement, have a look:
Encourage students to target a specific audience.
The reality is, our bloggers are not ‘writing for the world.’ This doesn’t mean they can’t target specific readers far and wide. When one 9th grade student did write a post inspired by best selling author, Austin Kleon, it is certainly a redefining moment when he takes a moment to appreciate her work:
While time and resilience are essential tools in building better blogging communities, there are also practical (clickable) helpers too:
Resources / Materials:
PERSPIRATION: tools to allow your blog to launch
For a full look at my UBD unit planner, click here.
Without further ado, here is my final COETAIL Course Five Project. All photos/videos are my own, the music is Creative Commons, as cited at the end of the video, but if you would also like to use “Dig the Uke” by Stefan Kartenberg via ccMixter in your own video, here is where to find it. Thank you to those of you taking the time reading this, and watching my ten minute recap. If you are passionate about student blogging, and you’d like to connect to talk about future blogging projects, please do connect with me on Twitter, I’d love to hear from you!
As I prepare to publish this post, I’m wondering what COETAIL could do to set up a COETAIL jr program for students…if you have thoughts on that, please leave them in the comment section below.
Thanks again to Flickr for providing the following amazing images used in this post: