Heading Home from ELI–Lessons and Leanings

atlanta from the hotel

This is what usually happens when I head home from a conference–a bundle of perhaps disconnected thoughts needing sorting out..so be forewarned that this is one of my slow-blogging kinds of posts.

Highlights of the conference included meeting Gardner Campbell again (and seeing his colleagues’ adventures with Web 2.0 tools in a new program of first-year seminars), catching up with Steve Warburton, Lanny Arvan, Leslie Madsen Brooks, Cyprien Lomas/a>; and meeting Bitch Ph.D. and Scrivener when we took a field trip to Emory to hear The B talk (which Leslie blogged and I captured on my camera). The star autographs the poster

Of course there was also the delightfully provocative and right-on-the-mark talk by Bryan Alexander, the excellent keynote by Chris Dede and a great intro to ambient mobile video as learning tool. But the best part was watching Barbara and our two student co-presenters deliver their powerful stories (In a few days I will post our talk). Lizi Rocks

For all the talk during the conference about the Net Gen’rs, who they are and what they need and want, and how the work world demands a new system of education, I heard little about how to help students apply critical approaches to their use of technology, or about how to set up effective learning communities that really help students engage in real-world-based learning without the professor looming front and center. I heard a lot of excitement around social software and Second Life and all kinds of tools, lots of ideas for how one might use them in the classroom, lots of reasons for WHY we need to use these tools and how to think about goals and objectives for the learning, but I really heard nothing about the absolutely critical piece in the puzzle–setting up the environment for learning –and I don’t mean physical space, I mean the contact zones, the places to engage in the cycles of disruption and repair of learning, the uneasy space of failure–effective, messy ways of working towards real collective intelligence, the ways in which the learning network will engage across class, culture and circumstance, how the syllabus itself and evaluation rubrics must come out of those first conversations.

Okay, this means that I’m still on the fringes. I get it. Someone called me the grandmother of classroom blogging (sheesh, and I’m not even yet 50), someone else likened me to the teacher to the rest, but I don’t feel much like either. I still stumble along in my practice, searching for how to make the learning experience in my classrooms really account for something worthwhile, scaleable, and lasting–something real. So, I come away from the conference with no answers at all, but once again due to some excellent conversations between and around the sessions, I am re-invigorated, re-radicalized and ready to write what I hope are a couple of good keynotes for European conferences this spring.

Although we had a small audience (interesting in itself that we were overlooked by so many when our students really contributed significantly to the greater conversation about 21st century learning…) , people were engaged and asked excellent questions at the end. One question, in particular, dogged me through the rest of the conference. And wouldn’t you know, it would be Lanny who asked the question (he has pushed me on blog and off to clarify, deepen and explain my thinking and pedagogy more than almost anyone over the past year or so). A concluding observation I made was that most students weren’t yet, at least in my experience, bringing the kind of deep, connected, reflective practice they experienced in the blogging classroom out with them beyond the class at semester’s end. Lizi had explained that she was no longer blogging, that there didn’t seem to be anything to blog about during her senior year in the way I had asked her to do in my class or she had discovered on her own in Siberia. In the Q & A and in a follow up email Lanny voiced his concern that students didn’t find their ordinary lives worthy of this kind of reflection.

He’s put his finger on something that has been bothering me, too, something I didn’t hear other speakers touch upon–that we are not yet really having a lasting impact on the relationship our students have with their learning, bridging formal and informal learning, taking the classroom out of the box and letting it stretch and find its new shape in the world. We aren’t paying enough attention to the participatory gap–to who really gets to talk in the classroom, who really feels ownership of an ongoing blogging experience and why. This is not new territory to be sure, but it is essential territory. Yeah, sure, all of my students take to this active engagement in certain kinds of classroom situations and do quite extraordinary things when given a good deal of responsibility for the course design, implementation and evaluation (alongside their prof who makes sure the opening weeks are devoted to questions of learning communities and what we need to learn in this discipline and why). But even so, they return with remarkable ease to the read-lecture-test scenario, snapping right back into their old student-as-recipient-of-knowledge-and-grades personae.

Sure, former students bemoan the fact that one of the only classes that really asked them to drive their own learning or created a lasting bond between learners as well as a sense of confidence and efficacy was this Motherblog-centered course. They belly-ache about lecture classes, about turgid textbooks, about professors who do all the talking in discussions. But they do so quietly or with their friends on their social network spaces. They’re resigned to the realities of our classrooms, and pretty darn docile about it. After all, it takes a lot of energy, commitment and passion to learn the way I’m asking my students to learn. Very few of them take the reins of their learning squarely in their own hands by finding ways to make it real, to make it their own on their own. And that’s not their fault. It is ours.

The students who do move the blogging out into their lives want to do independent studies (with credit) rather than using reflection-connection-observation as a way to connect to others with similar intellectual and artistic interests and to deepen their learning outside of a graded or a study-abroad experience. In other words, are students still just going through the motions of whatever a teacher puts on their plate whether it be lecture-test or blog-create? Are we blogging teachers really rather altogether too smug and self-congratulatory about our results?

I want to start exploring the reasons for this elastic-band behavior (students will return to the “old” ways once out of our “new” classrooms) and ways I can help students to keep pulling down the silos. Here’s my first take on why my students, once out of the classroom, continue to shoebox their classroom experiences –even those that are transparent, connected, out in the world blogging experiences, why they accept plodding through the traditional academic paper and test and report and project in the classroom in a never-the-twain-shall-meet kind of spirit after they have had a taste of something else.

The first and obvious reason is that thinking deeply about the connections between their courses, between their courses and the world and their own lives seems unnatural to them. Why should they do this? Why would they do this? We’ve only ever shown an interest as teachers in what we design and assign to them–that is the world in which we co-exist with our students. Do we ask our students about their other courses? Do we invite them to bring that learning and their learning from the world into our classes? Rarely. Few teachers seem to foreground active, connected, transparent reflection and written conversation across communities as valuable; when everything in a course is designed and assigned for them, of course that is how students view formal learning–of course that is how they view even this kind of wild experience of the open-walled blogging classroom: something to do as long as someone else is telling them it is what they should/need to be doing. The inner motivation isn’t there. They don’t really get it. They have only done classroom work for the grade. What I am asking here is too risky. They are vulnerable because they are building resumes, traditional accomplishment-based resumes.

Blogging the abroad experience makes sense as it is a “Letters Home” thing: the blog broadcasts their experience to friends and family while serving to expand their own thinking and understanding of their experience. It archives the experience and who they were going through it for themselves and whoever wishes to read it. The more personal pieces are reserved, as makes sense, for their social networking spaces. This kind of blogging feels serious, weighty, and needs something driving it that is BIG, INTERESTING, SCHOLARLY i.e. studying abroad.

But when they come home, slow-blogging outside the classroom feels unnatural to them, especially blogging-about-learning when they are doing it in a vacuum (no instant, motivated community)–apart from the one blogging course and the abroad blogging, they have no experience with this kind of writing or community-building, no place to root it in their lives just yet. It feels risky, too, for other reasons. Who will read it down the road and think poorly of them for their thoughts? They’ve been groomed to be correct, to be the best, to be “on.” I am very concerned by this need to occupy performative space, this disturbing trend of future employers being interested in what a college student wrote about the experience of learning (not to be misunderstood for the kinds of dangerous and/or harmful publishing to the Web that some young people insist on doing). It’s absurd. We are losing the ability to learn for the pleasure of it, for the wonder of it.

Also, my students know what it takes to do deep blogging well, or slow-blogging as I like to call it, and in school they just don’t have time for those kinds of extras. (I certainly know how it feels to be overwhelmed with work–trying to find a clear place in my head to think about my teaching and learning is tough during the semester, but it has been invaluable to my teaching, it is a part of my teaching.)

It also has something to do with blogging outside a community–they can’t imagine anyone wanting to read about or respond to what they think about their studies, and they don’t want to blog to themselves alone.

Teachers like us are working right now in ways that are really making no difference in a sense–students been so encultured, the lessons so engrained about doing what they’re told, that not only are they uneasy when enter our fluid classes, they often snap right back into the old mold when they depart…they only bring in their lives outside the classroom when we ask them to… and yet their lives leak into the classroom at every turn. This continued dichotomy between what can happen in such a classroom and what happens beyond and after is something I want to discuss with my students from the past six years as I start to plan new courses for next year. I need their help to make the classroom more relevant and worthwhile than before–much to learn.

And so as I head home to snowy, frigid Vermont, I’ve got much to keep me warmly engaged, and that means it was a useful conference.
Lake Champalin from the sky

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12 Responses

  1. You write, “Who will read it down the road and think poorly of them for their thoughts? They’ve been groomed to be correct, to be the best, to be “on.” I am very concerned by this need to occupy performative space, this disturbing trend of future employers being interested in what a college student wrote about the experience of learning (not to be misunderstood for the kinds of dangerous and/or harmful publishing to the Web that some young people insist on doing).”

    I find it interesting to note how much the cultivation of fear continues to play a role in the educational system, as it does in society as a whole.

    Be afraid, be afraid, of what someone might think, of what some future employer might think, of what some unknown stalker might think. Be afraid that you’re not good enough, that your marks aren’t high enough, that your life is just banal. Be afraid.

    Sad.

  2. Barbara – This is a great post. The realizations in it are not uplifting, to be sure, but it is really good because it is defining the essential problem. You’ve gone quite a bit beyond what I was asking about during the session. It’s good to see that more complete picture of what’s at stake.

    I would, however, observe that intellectual non-course related conversation can occur in many forms – blogs are but one possibility. The fear is that this is not happening in any format. There was one remark during the presentation, I can’t remember which student made it, about discussion on the blog not having a counterpart in other types of discussions the student had in or out of class. So I would guess that if there was a hunger for intellectual conversation that blogging would emerge as a part of it. But I’d be ok without the blogging if I knew the hunger was there.

    Lanny

  3. Ah, Stephen, I know you know all about the fear-mongering that threatens to undo the little bit of good we’ve seen sneak into our learning (and living) environments. What so complicates our ability to move past the fear is what Bryan pointed to in his ELI talk (and I’m cobbling together my notes here): “The world has changed; our discourse has not. We’re no longer surprised at being photographed, videotaped, recorded… Students have found ways of coping with it… they limit access to their profiles (66%). Privacy is in fact the great ideological divide of our time…” Fear of being compromised, fear of being attacked, fear of being watched, fear of not being watched.

    I sure am glad that you are fearless…

    Lanny,
    I absolutely agree that it doesn’t really matter what vehicle we choose for our conversations, but as Lizi wrote in a comment here on my blog a couple of years ago, “Last week I was on my my blog, reading one of Megan’s comments about landscape. A few minutes later, I travelled over to Barbara’s blog to take a look, and Megan had commented below my comment, this time about the idea of blogging.
    In a period of 10 minutes, I’d met Megan in two different contexts, and had “conversations” with her that, I doubt, we’d have had face to face. There’s links on the internet that don’t exist in real life. It’s natural on blogs to think. It’s not so natural in day to day life.”

    There’s something about the letter-writing slowness of blogging, I think, that opens up the conversation in particularly rich ways…

    ~Barbara

  4. I was going to comment on the same thing Stephen did–this whole culture of fear. I had a group of students this year who had been bombarded by the media and by their parents about the dangers of social software. They almost all had closed off Facebook accounts and they wrote on our blog very reluctantly and I even had one student who asked to revise her work after she got home. She was worried because she’d used a cuss word in her post. It was a good post. At least she didn’t take it down.

    I think someday though, that there’s going to be too much information to sift through and it won’t be worth anyone’s while to find every potential employee’s blog or flicker account.

    I’ve often counseled students to “blog smart,” but I think I’d add to that “blog smart, but blog your heart.” (couldn’t resist the rhyme)

  5. Barbara,
    I don’t think I’d even taken note of the real significance that I’m not blogging at Middlebury. I figured that I was overwhelmed with other work, and slightly uninspired. But your analysis is truer than unmotivated students like myself care to realize.
    I hadn’t even made the connection that blogging is the one and only thing that I’ve ever done as both a classroom activity and a personal interest. I’ve never thought it strange that our learning remains contained to the classroom. I have a distinct memory though, when we were reciting poems in your class, of one student starting to recite a translated poem and me realizing that we had memorized that same poem, in Russian. I almost didn’t say anything,though, because I felt strange sharing my experiences from another class.

    I didn’t feel vulnerable when I blogged because of future employers or later embarrassments, but maybe it was because I already considered to be, even in your class, a personal activity. Since we had that freedom, and we were writing personal things, I think the blogs quickly lost their connection to academia. For some reason, students (myself included) are still assuming that their projects and time are categorically divided between academic and personal development.

    I don’t know if it’s technology or blogging that will bridge our lives with what we’re learning in class, or teach us to not take ourselves so seriously. But it certainly is an outlet, and, so far, none others have managed to challenge the learning traditions.

    Lizi
    ps I remember that last picture!

  6. Laura,

    We sure missed you at the conference and thought of you several times (in particular, when you were quoted during the University of Mary Washington presentation, and of course when we met Bitch Ph.D). I am dismayed but not surprised to hear of your experience with the FEAR FACTOR in your classroom. And as for your little rhyme, hey I doled out “design and assign.” We’re even, I’d say!

    Thanks, Lizi, for responding! Glad to see you aren’t scared to write comments–heheh–you’re not one of the students I felt was fearful, just that you hadn’t really stepped back yet to find the connections between what you were learning, that this year you haven’t really been driving your own learning. Living the experience, immersing yourself in it is important, too–there’s got to be a balance between action and reflection. What I am after is a dismantling of the factory-model of education for a networked-learner-centered approach, and right now, using social software because it is both transparent and connected, seems to me to be one way we can effect some change. There are other ways to be sure. Your observations are helpful, and your frankness during our presentation fabulous!

  7. Barbara – I’ve wanted to respond to your last few posts for quite some time now, but I kept waiting and waiting for a moment I thought I could reserve. You say “[we’re] groomed to be correct, to be the best, to be ‘on'”– Well even in starting to write this post, I am more anxious about getting the words right than getting them out at all. But oh dear, I will not, because what I have to say is probably more important than spending all the time to write it right.

    We’re scrambling when we’re not on the blog, and by blog, I mean, another medium to formulate our thoughts, express them, and then share and converse. I took the Creative Process with Claudio Medeiros this fall, and we developed a similar community. Adding blogging to that community might have taken it to another level, but the reason why Claudio’s class works is

    1)because the class is focused on process, how we move in and out and between stages, how we balance between reflection and action.

    2)because of its interdisciplinary expectations — our performances were rooted in that bridge between the autobiographical and scholarly, the person and the artist. Who we are and who are becoming–in the context of history and our fluctuating present–mattered.

    3)The mediums for exploring art/creativity/self/history (however you’d categorize the “discipline”) were not limited to books and papers. No, the mediums for Claudio’s class involved our bodies, our voices, our pastel fingers, our writing, film, music, and dance.

    Now of course on BannerWeb, this class is listed under the Arts Division. So of course there’s going to be ART.

    Your class was a Creative Writing course, so of course there’s going to be writing.

    And neither classes have the same responsibility where most of our more scholarly and regimented disciplines are held accountable. However, something both you and Claudio and Jonathan Miller-Lane (from the Teacher Education department) have–is a vision. You have a working vision of education that you reflect and respond to day after day. You make modifications based on your reflections. You obviously sought out blogging as one of these modifications, and a big one it was. You allow your vision of education to evolve. And it’s not that we forget, Barbara. Ever since your class, I’ve been struggling to define and redefine what education and learning means for me. And I go back and forth. I remember your class and the very few others I’ve had like it, and I wonder — well, maybe it was really just me. Maybe, this type of learning is only limited to the arts. Yes, Barbara’s class was great–but now I have to find a major and stick with it and follow its rules. You say the blogging stops after the class. You’re right, it does. But the reflecting doesn’t stop.

    I also took a sociology course, Students in Higher Education, with Peggy Nelson this past fall. One of many books we read was Ira Shor’s, Critical Teaching & Everyday Life. I remember staying up the whole night to write my response paper on this book, because it was talking about the very type of experience that you seem to be trying to create, and that you do create. Shor is a professor at CUNY, thus he works with community college students–students who have a life beyond academia. Unlike us, many of them have families, they work another job, and obviously don’t live on campus. Shor focuses on liberatory learning, on developing critical consciousness by starting from his students’ dailiy lives. He talks about reification and how we throw around concepts in lecture, in dialogue — but without making them real first. What I find so fascinating about Ira Shor is his ability to the interdisciplinary experience. He uses a Anne Sexton poem, the history and current controversies over marriage contracts, the feminist movement, and creative writing to set the stage for a COMMUNAL PROJECT.
    So I started to think — wait, yes, this type of experience is possible beyond the art classes.

    Our classes at Middlebury could be like that. Departments could be more communicative. Perhaps, there wouldn’t be a need for the Independent Scholar major if we were all in fact “independent scholars.” Professors across the board could utilize blogs. We could all meet in rooms where the chairs were arranged in a circle, or Coltrane Lounge was multiplied. In fact, professors could be blogging with one another across departments about educational visions. Perhaps, there might be more service-learning; perhaps, we’d have an Education major; perhaps, student clubs and organizations would then transgress boundaries, and those perspectives might step into the classroom more fervently. Would we be more active?

    But what makes blogging so special? What makes Jonathan Miller-Lane’s class so memorable? Why is it that something about Claudio’s class remains with me? Well, these questions make me think of my Jterm class, Children and the Arts with Gregg Humphrey. We’re attempting to create art integrated lessons. The average elementary day has been reduced to Math and Literacy. No wonder fo many kids are bored at school. But shouldn’t the excitement and beauty of teaching exist in one’s opportunity to reinvent his/her passions in strange, challenging, and joyful ways–and by reinvent, I mean reinvent EVERY DAY.

    We go to a liberal arts school where study across disciplines is valued, but how many changes do we see in the structure of that system?

    You write, “It also has something to do with blogging outside a community–they can’t imagine anyone wanting to read about or respond to what they think about their studies, and they don’t want to blog to themselves alone.”

    Of course we “don’t want to blog to [ourselves] alone.” Blogging means very little when no one is listening. Reading blogs without the ability to comment is far less interesting than having the kind of communication Lizi spoke of in her comment.

    I think blogging is an amazing asset in which many individuals can come to call their own, but it is definitley not the only way, nor should it be. What is beautiful about you and blogging is that you have made it your own. And your students can feel that. If it was just another script from a pre-planned curriculum, we probably wouldn’t buy it. We buy it, or I bought it, because you as the facilitator, the professor–bring to the class a living example of how your vision of learning — whatever — is possible. And you do it creatively. And creativity is critical thinking at its best, and then we as students respond in a similar manner — but one of our own that we only come to understand as we reflect and respond ourselves with one another.

    I’m ranting, yes. But I’ve been going over all this in my mind for what feel like a long time, and yet it’s only been a few years. A good friend of mine reminded me the other day of the invaluable qualities of lecture-driven courses. I stumbled defensively. I agreed with him, but I wanted to say more.

    If anything, Barbara, you are helping students push at their definitions of education. Pushing at those limits helps us to decide for ourselves what we believe, what we want. However, it is still very difficult on this campus to go after the education you want when there still seems to be so many barriers that get in the way.

    I’ll miss you in the spring, and I’m sorry I never stopped by in the fall. Nevertheless, there’s still the blog 🙂

  8. Megan,

    Thank you, thank you for such a detailed, insightful, generous comment. When students such as you and Lizi take the time to respond to my rambling posts, I feel very lucky indeed, for you provide me and other readers with your own keen observations, experiences and understanding. In fact one of the most valuable parts of my blog is the response from you all.

    I have much to say in response to your comment, so much that I will write a full post, pointing to your insights once I’ve had a chance to think about them.

    (I wish you were blogging these thoughts—how helpful they would be to those researching and puzzling out next steps for our schools.)

    ~Barbara

  9. I just have two more comments. You say, “slow-blogging outside the classroom feels unnatural” for many students. I agree and disagree. It’s not that blogging beyond the classroom, keeping in mind what blogging really means, feels unnatural. Regardless of whether one is “blogging,” reflecting on the connections and disconnections between different parts of one’s life–this is very natural, I think. We all reflect every day to some extent, right?

    But I agree with you in that there are very few formats for making the connection between formal and informal learning.

    Not all students want to “accept plodding through the traditional academic paper and test and report and project in the classroom in a never-the-twain-shall-meet kind of spirit after they have had a taste of something else.” But we’ve been told in so many words that regurgitation is an important skill for staying competitive in the world. We must learn to synthesize, paraphrase, and articulate the bank of information given to us. And no one disagrees that these skills are invaluable. Where people seem to disagree, or not even really disagree, but where people seem to get stuck without even really knowing they’re stuck — is in how we introduce, practice, and utilize these skills.

    Time is another issue, as far as blogging. I would love to blog, but I’ll be honest, I don’t want to blog alone. Perhaps I am mistaken in making that assumption.

    Sometimes I feel as if I need permission. Not just to blog, but to make connections with what I’m learning to my own life. I still can’t tell sometimes if it’s selfish, if it’s distracting to the intellectual standards of the conversation. Frankly, there is information professors must transmit to their students. Lectures and summative testing are the first two obvious ways for transmitting and evaluating that knowledge. But on the other hand, it’s like putting on a mask every time you enter the classroom–the PC mask. How honest are we with each other wearing that mask? What goes left unsaid? Who chooses not to speak? Who does? Why?

    I can never tell if it’s my own personal problem when I find myself struggling with these questions. Are these reflections just a guise for my low self-esteem and the fear of failing to articulate verbally? Or the fact that I learn differently, just as we all do, from other people and it is my responsibility to acquire the skills Middlebury demands of me? Or are my reflections valid? Do they warrant a discussion of change? Even more importantly, do they resonate with other students?

    But they’re all valid questions. And if they’re all valid questions, they at least deserve to be asked. And one of the goals of education is indeed to provoke questions.

    Oh bother, I’ve gone on again. I plan on writing my thesis on this sort of thing, so maybe we can talk more next year. Back to my *real work.*

  10. Here’s why I blog during my year abroad: because I’m not taking a creative writing class. Plain and simple. If I don’t have a creative outlet, I go a little mad.
    Beyond that, a few things you mention stick out, Barbara.
    When you speak of our ability to post on our own social network without censure, one thing to keep in mind is that we are “talking” to our friends, people we know, people who saw us drunk last weekend, who we brush our teeth next to. For most of us, the classroom is still our equivalent to having a real job, it is a professional place “of business.” And you’re right that we have an academic mentality that keeps us from expressing our own, sometimes half-formed, ideas because it goes against everything we’ve ever been taught. The entire reason we got into Middlebury is that we know how to write without “generalizations” and we use “it seems” to stand in for “it is.” We are taught our opinions don’t really matter unless they can be backed up with more experienced opinions that have made it into peer-reviewed journals. It’s just a mentality.
    Another obstacle to habitual blogging is, while not solely a Middlebury issue, lack of time. We are so overloaded at that school that we have learned to sacrifice anything edifying, anything “extracurricular” that can’t fit into our planners. If you remember, back at the very beginning of our EL 170 class, you were basically having to FORCE us to post. And, by the end, we all liked it, we relied on the blog, we checked it every morning the way we check facebook. But that was because we were all comfortable with each other. We had shared our fiction – our creative works – and what, really, could be more embarrassing and bonding than that?
    Plus, the internet is just scary. You highlight this well in your post. If it were closed to our class, we might have been more comfortable jumping in.
    But, the other crucial issue I feel needs to be looked at when discussing the merit of a motherblog in a classroom environment is the lack of conversation, in general. I had a discussion with a professor of mine at UCLA and he was utterly confused by the reticence of his students to open their mouths in class. He couldn’t understand that. I said, “Well, it’s kind of your job to do the talking. You’re the one with the overhead projector and the pre-printed reams of handouts.” And I’d never really realized I felt that way before. Because I, as me, don’t actually feel that way. I will always open my mouth, usually not to a beneficial end, but I will. But most people are terrified of their fellow students. You, the teacher, go home at the end of the day, you remain aloof. We live together, we eat together, we party together, and then we’re forced into this artificial classroom environment where we have to seem knowledgeable without being condescending, and supportive without being overly-friendly.
    I have found it to be different here at Oxford. I’m quite surprised by the extent to which people talk about classwork outside of class. I have tea in my room every Friday afternoon for all ten of the freshman English majors. And we talk about lectures from the week, or reading, or trouble spots on the papers. It’s refreshing. But it’s a conversation, an instantaneous exchange. The blog is like… the gap between watching an action from a distance and hearing the resulting sound ten seconds later. There’s a disconnect. And once a camaraderie has been established, then the gap is not a problem, as we saw with the 170 blog come week eight. Maybe the way forward is to begin with mandatory, but informal meetings where students can get to know each other face to face without the guidance of the professor. Maybe suggest some discussion topics, or assign reading before hand, but set them up with coffee and let them go for an hour. Because I think, if I had to pinpoint it, after we had dinner at your house during the term everyone got a lot closer. Because we were off campus socializing, and yet still being productive.
    Anyway, just my immediate thoughts.

  11. The student comments are very interesting to read, especially about the social context in which blogging is done by them.
    Here is a different thought from a guy named Donald Murray, who was a journalist and taught writing in the 60s and 70s. I only found out about him a couple of years ago, but a lot of what he says makes sense to me — we write to work out ideas, writing is a way to learn. If this is true, it can be done without any regard to who is doing the reading. Whether that writing is then made available to others in a blog or is kept privately as a journal is a different matter, but first there is the question of whether there is a perceived need to write to work out the ideas. I find now for myself I really like the writing because of this, but I’m not sure I would have felt that way when I was a student.

  12. Julia and Megan,

    Thanks for the valuable insights, especially, as Lanny puts it, into the social context in which you blog. Your comments are far too helpful to stay inside the comments, so I plan a new post soon to weave together your thinking here with mine. You are still teaching me though none of you (that includes Lizi) has studied with me for a couple of years!

    Lanny,

    Don Murray was one of my first inspirations as a young teacher in the early 80s. He was one of the real touchstones for me in terms of making teaching of writing real, of needing to write myself if I wanted to teach writing, of bringing the good sense (and humor) of a journalist into the rather stiff halls of composition. He helped many many teachers right up to his recent death–and he wrote a heck of a column for the Boston Globe, too. Glad you discovered him! I do think, however, that more young people would find writing-to-learn, writing-to-find-out-what-they-think not only valuable but pleasurable if we teachers didn’t make writing such an onerous chore, the final delivery mode of achievement.

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