Education Opinion

Blogs Rule

By Emmet Rosenfeld — February 15, 2008 7 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

After two years of growing my own here on Teacher, I am finally using blogs in my own classroom. And I’m wondering what took me so long.

This is a real live example of the pace at which technology gets integrated in a meaningful way into one’s practice. These days we throw a lot of money into Smart Boards and other electronic widgets for our schools. Some take, some don’t (what ever happened to laser discs?). The good stuff is only good insofar as we teachers are able to use it effectively. Not as shiny tech bells and whistles, but as tools that help us do what we do—reach kids—better than we could the old way.

Patrick Welsh, who has taught long enough at TC Williams High School in Alexandria to tell the truth on a regular basis in the Outlook section of The Washington Post, recently wrote about how lots of fancy technology has come along with their newly renovated building. His is a cautionary tale about what happens when teachers get tech gifts they never asked for and may or may not be ready to use. (“Technolust: A School That’s too High on Gizmos, Sunday, Feb 10, 2008)

On the other hand, useful technology with appropriate support in the hands of a willing educator can eventually pay dividends. For me, I’m starting to see these payoffs with blogs my students are writing about The Canterbury Tales, The Inferno, Candide, and Gulliver’s Travels.

Instead of taking lit-book-sized bites of these canonical works, I decided we should read them all at the same time. In this unit I call “BTB’s” (Big Travel Books), kids had the choice of which classic they wanted to tackle in a reading group with their peers. I structure lessons along the way to facilitate their understanding. For example, each group is doing research now on the context and time period in which their book was written.

But, for the most part, I’ve done my best to stay out of the way. I want these kids to encounter the Great Books-- all books-- head on. Struggling to make meaning, drawing on other things they know… in short, doing all the stuff that makes reading so demanding and rewarding. What I don’t want them to do is take my opinions about the book and spit them back at me. And here’s where blogs strike gold.

Blogs give people license to think. Out loud, and at some length. And what makes them even more powerful is that blogs think back, via readers’ comments. (This dialogue becomes especially fruitful when I can compel students to respond thoughtfully by giving big points for writing comments. Read below the fold for the how-to info I gave the kids).

Before I share some tasty morsels, I should explain where I learned to cook. I was first exposed to educational blogs through professional presentations given by other teachers in the Northern Virginia Writing Project. Teachers teaching teachers… imagine that. Eric Hoefler told us about all things 2.0 a couple summers ago. When I first heard him talk I suddenly felt old.

Shortly thereafter Teacher Magazine took a pass on my offer to write an article about my upcoming attempt at National Board Certification, but sent me to the online guys who immediately suggested a blog. Having heard the word used a few times, I felt eminently qualified to write one. “Certifiable?” was born.

Last year, I wrote about my education blog as one of my documented accomplishments in Entry 4, for which I was tragically dinged. Ironically, this year I’ve moved a few steps further down the path and started using blogs with my kids. So there really is student achievement in them thar hills. It just took a while to find it.

Do blogs really help kids learn? Check out this excerpt from the comment board, where students discuss Voltaire’s vision of human nature in Candide (emoticons theirs).

S writes:
I find it interesting that by reading this book, people assume that Voltaire is displaying the nature of mankind - greedy for gold, reaching for power, so on and so forth. Okay, maybe a generalization isn’t the right way to go - but it seems like it would be easy to squeeze that idea from Candide. It’s interesting though, because Voltaire actually believe that all men…were born with kindness and pretty much - good characteristics. So by showing us all of these emotions - what exactly is Voltaire trying to tell us? =]

K writes:

In respose to S, I’d have to say that Voltaire is displaying truth.

By showing us the two polar opposites, Pangloss and Martin, Voltaire presents to us the different perspectives in which we can view the world, but by making both of them equally ridiculous, there’s some other message involved. That’s where the question comes in, what is the other message? Form the 2/3s we have read thus far, I think it may be something along the lines of “the world is not a perfect place where everything is for the best, nor are all men inherently bad. It’s an imperfect world with a mixture of all kinds of people, and that’s what we’re going to have to accept.” I may be completely wrong, but if that is indeed the message, then I agree with Voltaire.

In terms of J’s insight about Biglugs with no money, I have to disagree. I don’t Voltaire was actually showing that uncorrupted nature is good with the Biglugs. First of all, he was himself a part of civilized society and disliked Rousseau, who propagated the theory that uncorrupted nature produces the best results. Thus, I think he was trying to satirize this aspect as well, by showing how the Biglug women loved monkeys and how the men were such savages, who would have killed him for being a Jesuit (which is no better than civilized society). But I liked the fresh perspective on money, although my interpretation was completely different.

M. writes:

I sort of disagree with P. I believe that the people in Eldorado are both rich and happy because they don’t care about the money, and they don’t really need it. Everyone is rich, so everyone is pretty much equal and ordinary. It’s the very fact that no one in Eldorado cares about money and are so generous that makes the country the “perfect” place.

I thought it was interesting that even though Candide was suffering due to his newly acquired fortune and the change in the way he was thinking and feeling was apparent to us, he still thought that giving money to Paquette and Brother Giroflée would make them happier. We haven’t read far enough to see what happens to them yet, but I’ll bet that Martin was right; the money will only increase their unhappiness the way it did for Candide.

Pretty cool. Maybe reading isn’t just a lonely struggle after all, but also about the meaning readers make when they share the sort of immediate but informal communication to which blogs lend themselves.

I encourage all old and new dogs out there to learn blog tricks, when you’re ready. And don’t worry, if you find creative ways to screw up, there’s always a kid around to help. For example, this morning I sent a student this email: “Hi D- I don’t see a blog post #2 by you. Did I miss it, or did you?”

To which D. patiently replied, “I made my second blog post fairly early, it might be below some other people’s first blog post. By the way, there’s an option on right of the blog to filter posts by author, which lets you find people’s posts.”
Blogging “BTB’s” (Big Travel Books)

A blog is an online diary (short for “weblog”). It allows you to set down your thoughts in the flow of things, as opposed to more formal types of written response, which might be composed after an experience is completed. As we explore these challenging canonical works, I hope the blog format allows you to capture and share responses during your reading in a way that will lead to a richer experience than you might have reading alone.

Content: posts and comments
For purposes of this assignment, a post should be 200-400 words, and linked to a specific reference in the text. Your thoughts may be more expansive, but it must have this anchor for full credit. Feel free to make connections within and beyond the text (even to appropriate external links, if you want).

A comment can be any length, but yours will be evaluated based on engagement with the blog and the book (something like “nice job” wouldn’t receive a lot of credit). Comments are to bloggers as water is to plants. Nourish your peers and the garden of discussion will flourish.

How to
Each group member should post once per 1/3 of the book, and comment on at least 3 posts during that section. We will create a schedule for posting in class.

To access the blog, click on “BTB Blogs” in the course menu on blackboard. Then just click on your book> new entry (or “comments” on an existing entry). You’re on your way. Note that you can read any book’s blog, but only write on your own (I think).

The same rules apply as in other conversations we share. Be respectful and appropriate, though feel free to challenge someone’s ideas. Don’t write anything you wouldn’t want your parents to read.

Voice in blogs is welcome, and can be conversational, but let’s not descend to the level of informality that you might share with friends while texting (“lurl”). Also, please don’t jettison basic rules of punctuation and grammar. Nuff said…blog on.

The opinions expressed in Eduholic are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP