Youth Blogging: Tutoring as Collaboration & Co-Authoring Lesson Plans
Recently, a friend called me with concerns about her daughter’s disinterest in the writing she was doing in school. Like many parents, she has fears about writing skills and what this might mean for her child’s future. Most of our conversation was spent alleviating those concerns. We spoke about the various writing practices that youth engage with in our current culture and I assured her that the out of school writing was just as valuable. In fact, I argued, her daughter is writing and reading all the time: on social media sites, through texts, emails, and in her journal. I ended up making a suggestion: would her daughter be interested in working with two of our university writing mentors, both of whom plan to be future teachers? We met all together and were excited about the possibilities. And we decided that the focus should be on developing a young person who saw the value of writing in her life, not just in school.
With that in mind, our two mentors, Anthony and Macie, set out to design a series of plans to engage a young writer in blogging. All three created blogs and learned about the practice together. Macie and Anthony offer a few of the lessons as a series of resources that can be used and adapted by parents, other writing mentors, or teachers.
Out of school Blogging: Lesson One Introducing Multimodality
by Sarah Macie Skipwith & Anthony Miranda
Integrating multimodality into a personal blog is not only a key component to individualizing blogs, but it also introduces students to the diversity of expression. At first glance multimodality might seem simple (just embed a video or cool series of photos, right?). Not quite. The challenge is to support students as they think about how videos, photos or sound clips would benefit the topic they are writing about. Simply talking about how these videos, photos and sound clips work inside a piece of text with the students models the idea that multimodality is not just flair for their blog post. In fact, they may begin to see that these videos, photos and sound clips are working to drive their argument or topic forward so their audience can fully understand what the author is writing about. Integrating multiple modes into a blog is also introducing students to the importance of including other sources into their writing, which supports students’ understanding that all topics are a part of a larger discussion.
When working with a student, we first look through example blogs from other kids who have been included in the list of “Top kids blogs on Edublogs” to introduce multimodality. While perusing these blogs, we start simple and just point out the kinds of things we saw that made these blogs special to the author. We notice font color (maybe each paragraph is a color of the rainbow), font alignment (the centered sentences seem to be important/dramatic), some words are bolded or italicized (did the author want us to pick up on some kind of emphasis on that word?) Some authors narrate through photos and some even post videos of themselves speaking rather than writing. After going through and finding all the varieties of these blogs we have a debrief discussing why the author chose to type in different colors or bold specific words. Was it because the author is having fun with both their language in their text as well as how it is visualized? Do you think the addition of photos helps the audience understand the subject the author is talking about? And do videos make subject matter more interesting because you actually see the person talking?
After engaging in a conversation about these questions we (the writing mentors) also make sure to create a model of how blogs look with multimodal features. In one instance, I decided to do a vlog (a video blog) so we could expand on the multimodality knowledge that we accumulated from the earlier blog models. The best part of being able to model my vlog was the fact that I am new to vloging and because of this we were able to not only discuss why a vlog was more appropriate for the subject matter I was covering, but we were also able to talk about the steps in creating a vlog. Together, we create steps to creating a vlog: brainstorming, outlining, recording, editing and then posting. Finally, we discuss how some people are more comfortable with blogs while others may feel more awkward about posting a video, but none the less, we finish our break out lesson with an understanding that blogs have the capability and affordance of being multimodal.
Out of School Blogging: Lesson Two Connective Writing & Connective Learning
by Sarah Macie Skipwith & Anthony Miranda
We ground our thinking of connective writing, as defined by Will Richardson, as the ability to publish in a variety of media with the intention of connecting and sharing it with others who have an interest (or passion) in the topic. Blogging concepts all relate to each other, so to reflect the connective nature of blogging concepts we start each lesson with a mini-lesson or “daily doses” lessons. The idea of daily doses is borrowed from Jeff Anderson’s book Mechanically Inclined, which focuses on teaching grammar. We apply his approach for teaching grammar to the teaching of blogging concepts. Anderson’s “daily doses” exposes students to grammar through a text that they are currently working with in quick 5 – 10 minute lessons, and then after the quick exposure, the students revisit those grammar concepts and think on the function and meaning of those specific grammar concepts. We find Anderson’s “daily doses” practice to be applicable to learning aspects of blogging, so we altered his approach to align with the teaching of blogging.
We start each break out lesson with a mini-lesson “daily dose.” The mini-lesson/ “daily dose” includes first revisiting the concept we went over in the previous break out lesson (multimodality), and then moving on to introducing the concept we were covering in the current lesson, which in this case, is connective writing. The way we revisit the last lesson is by simply recalling the big concepts of multimodality through conversation and by looking at the blog that our tutee wrote to see if she practiced/applied the concept from the last lesson. After the swift review of the last lesson, we move on to quickly introduce the concept of connective writing in blogging. Similar to our breakout session activity in the previous lesson, we use our blogs to model connective writing practices. We frame a brief discussion around how blogging can serve as a connection to conversations with other bloggers and an audience of the web. Using our own blogs as models, we introduce how using open-ended questions, hyperlinking, and commenting can all serve as ways to engage in dialogue with an audience.
Out of School Blogging: Lesson Three Freedom in Blogging
by Sarah Macie Skipwith & Anthony Miranda
As we mentioned in our overview, we see blogging as an opportunity for students to reflect or explore their personal interests through writing. The blogging that students do stands outside of the academic sphere, which provides them with a space that they are in control of and that they own. This space allows students to take on their own voice, stylistic approaches to writing, and avenues of expression. Students’ approaches to writing in less restrictive environments can provide educators with the opportunity to dive into the students’ personal writing and teach concepts and mechanics from what the students know, what they find interesting, and what they find relevant to their lives. But blogs are not only about providing students with freedom, they also introduce the concept of a live document. Unlike final academic papers that they turn in at school, students are actually encouraged to go back to their blog post and revise, edit, and expand the ideas that they may have not finished completely in that post. Due to the living nature of blog posts, editing, revising and expanding become “just part of the process of writing” because they have an audience who is reading their blogs and deciding whether they are credible writers. Along with the freedom that blogging allows students, they must also acknowledge the fact that freedom comes with responsibilities.
Launch/Activity for revision:
After our mini-lesson/ “daily dose” of revisiting connective writing, we move on to explaining that we can use pictures to express ourselves because blogs allow us to be free in the ways that we present our ideas. We begin to simply discuss the editing/revision capabilities that blogs have. We are very specific and point out the “save” button on blogs, which is helpful when you are interested in posting a blog later. We also point out the dashboard and demonstrate how to edit a post that may have been posted a couple of weeks ago. We show these editing and revision capabilities because we want to emphasize how the process of revision is a norm in writing blogs. To further our mentee’s understanding that revision is a part of the craft of writing, we introduce another student writing site called 100 Word Challenge.
Together we review the 100 Word Challenge website and read a couple of the posts. After reading them and very quickly discussing how much revision these students probably had to go through to get their writing down to 100 words, we challenge our tutee to take one of her posts and revise it to 100 words. Asking young writers to revise can be challenging, but using the 100WC our tutee can understand that each word counted (literally) and that she needs to work concisely to get her idea across.