My students are amazing bloggers, but they mostly blog in class. They write about authentic topics (ones that they care about), but they don’t seem to transfer into their home life. Originally, I had envisioned a teeming community of student bloggers who are blogging about their lives, their interests, and their academic endeavors. I had imagined that their blogging space would become like a second home for all of their thoughts. For the most part, however, this has not been the case.
Some students blog because they have to. Some students blog because they enjoy using the technology. Some students blog because they like their choice of topics, but very few of my students blog because it is the life-blood of their communication. They don’t see it as their primary or even secondary way of putting ideas out into the greater world and getting validation for those ideas. This saddens me as much as it sobers me. I have been putting off thinking about it for a while because I believed that this kind of community would exist out of my classroom eventually if left alone. Unfortunately, I don’t think that a laissez-faire approach is going to do it.
That is why I now believe that every student blogger need to find a niche, a type and style of writing that best fits them and draws in a larger audience. This niche should not just be an understanding within the blogger him or herself; it should be a well articulated part of their writing.
So I say to my student bloggers:
You cannot create an audience from thin air, you must go in search of an one. You must write about things that make sense for you, that you are passionate about. You must go and find your niche. Subscribe to other’s blogs about sports. Find those interesting voices that you would like to become a part of. Link to them in your blogroll and in your posts. Start commenting on things that are outside of our small writing community. Break out of the repetitive storytelling that can lead to feedback loops within small groups of friends. Use Google Blog Search or Technorati. Use Netvibes or Google Reader. Work to find what you are looking for in your own writing. It may take longer to write your next post, but once you find your niche, you will be able to work within that framework that you have set up and never again be at a loss for words.
I can’t take any credit for this idea, though. I was inspired to try to make my blogging community a part of the greater conversation by two presentations at the K12 Online Conference. If you haven’t checked out Sustained Blogging in the Classroom or Initiating and Sustaining Conversations: Assessment and Evaluation in the Age of Networked Learning, you really should. The latter may be the best presentation on blogging in the classroom that I have ever witnessed.
Although I believe that my classroom blogging community is working, it has a lot more potential energy than kinetic at this point. I think only now am I really able to admit that to myself. I have found one of my own niche again: reflecting upon what goes on in my classroom.
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Honest, thoughtful, introspective. This is an excellent post. This is always the challenge for all of us. All kids don’t love to blog, anymore than all kids love to do math. It is not a panacea. It is about trying to find ways to release the potential energy as you say. A blogging community thrives and drives, dips and curves. It has its high points and its low points across a school year and for each individual student. There are times when it all seems to be coming together and others when it seems to be falling apart. While it may never be central to your group of kids, don’t ever think any efforts to expand their voices and give them experience working with an audience is wasted effort; beacause it simply isn’t. Thanks for sharing.