This year, my AP Literature students had the opportunity to participate in a poetry blog share with students from other AP Lit classes across the country (shout out #aplitchat squad!). I liked the idea of this writing opportunity from the get go for several reasons—students would have an authentic audience, sharpen their critical reading skills, have the opportunity to see how other students develop insights about complex texts, give and receive feedback, and have a long-term, self-directed writing opportunity.
But what appealed to me the most? The chance to turn my kids loose to write in the wild. Recently, Hattie wrote about growing independent writers through blogging and Tricia put her finger on the many ways blogging is both powerful and useful. And this week my friend Brian wrote about the ins and outs of his blogging unit.
To tailor to my students’ needs, my poetry blog requirements have remained simple and flexible: Student blog posts must analyze a self-selected contemporary poem. Easy enough, right? Right. But there’s a ‘but.’
Our quest this year has been to narrate our ideas, insights, and conclusions about literature in our own unique and authentic voices—aiming always towards engaging, effective, sophisticated, and intentional writing that is conversational (but not a conversation), and offer readers not just proof of reading, but a depth of analysis that is interesting and thought provoking.
It’s a tall order, I realize. But that’s why student blogs are awesome. It gives students a chance to practice writing in a virtually fail free zone, and they learn important lessons not just about reading and writing, but themselves as writers and what it takes to craft engaging, effective writing. But the freedom of blogging is what makes this type of self-evaluation and practice possible.
My students have embraced this, too. I love the message of Ashton’s headline.
Here are 5 things your students can learn from blogging. (I know, because I’ve learned them, too.)
Voice and style
Think of blogging as the anti in-class essay.
Of course, you can focus student blogs on any topic, theme, or style to meet any academic purpose, but for me, blogging frees my students from the constraints of what they believe assigned essays should sound like.
For starters, there’s no official rubric or handbook, the style is incredibly familiar, and the pressure of page length is off. Because blogs offer students creative control of layout and themes, it’s this same ownership that encourages not just a unique layout but a considered style and voice in their writing.
My students are discovering over time that who you are on paper is who you are, so they strive to show how interesting and intelligent they are with the voice and style of their writing.
Mentor text habits of mind
It will come as no surprise to you that every author I’ve heard speak this year has this one thing in common: all of them read. They have influences and mentors and other writers they aspire to.
The beauty of mentor texts is they’re all around. In our blogging project, students have taken cues from mentor texts we’ve studied in class, but just as importantly, they’ve paid attention to the writing of others, both professional and non. They’ve assessed what works, what doesn’t work, and what makes for an interesting and engaging post. And blogging provides them a safe space to play with different craft moves they might not try in class.
This risk-taking and awareness is difficult to teach. So the prize goes to blogging.
Last month as I was drafting a post for WVCTE, I knew I was writing something that I was going to be proud of. Conversely, I’ve written plenty of posts where I’ve left it and let myself feel quite the opposite — sometimes a tinge of disappointment or even a cringe. My students are learning this, too.
Because of our blogging project requires students to comment on one another’s posts, my kids are learning what kinds of topics, format, analysis, and style elicits comments from their readers. My students are learning that depth of thought, voice, and authenticity win over their readers far more often than fancy formats or photos.
I hope my students are discovering the awesome balance of professional and personal in their writing. That yes, they write for their audience, for me, for the grade and the assignment, but that their work and their writing is far more satisfying when it’s writing they can be proud of.
Speaking of readers, how great is it that blogging offers students an opportunity to be published writers? My students have shared their posts on social media, tweeted them at the poets who penned the poem they analyzed, and even extended their blogging into personal topics, as well.
What I like most about giving students a real, living, and available audience (who isn’t me) is the intrinsic drive to craft quality writing.
Writing on a deadline
Students are used to copious due dates and deadlines in their academic lives. Teachers, of course, live by deadlines as well, the bells signaling us constant reminders of what we need to do and when. But writing on a deadline? That’s its own animal.
I realize I’m going to contradict myself with Quality Control, but sometimes, you just have to crank out the words and get the job done. This is a fitting lesson for my seniors who are so close to crossing the threshold into demanding college majors.
I’ll thank blogging once again for reminding my students of the grit it takes to meet your deadlines and get the job done the best way you can.
Are your students blogging? I’d love to have you tell me more about it!
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