I just read a book on using digital technology in a writing workshop.
Prior to reading this book, I had been dreaming of having each of my students set up a WordPress blog on which to post their writing assignments. Troy Hicks helped me think through some of the rationale and logistics of having students blog. For one thing, blogs give students a genuine audience. This would almost certainly motivate students to increase the effort they put into their work and would give them the satisfaction of knowing their work is going to be read outside the classroom. As Troy Hicks points out, “Writers write to be read” (82). For another thing, blogging is a real-world activity many students will continue to engage in after graduating from school.
At some point I would have to assess students’ blogs. Hicks suggests having students prepare for that assessment by compiling a digital portfolio showcasing some of their work and growth as a writer. The portfolio could easily be set up right on the WordPress blog. All students would need to do is add a page to the blog called “Portfolio” and create a linked table of contents to each page they want to include in the portfolio.
Blog page assignments could include book reviews (in place of old-fashioned book reports), photo essays, creative writing pieces, and even re-posts (forcing students to read other blogs). Students could also be asked to respond to each other’s posts. Hicks suggests having students request specific types of responses from peers:
Writers…are asked to tell readers whether they want their work to be “blessed,” “addressed,” or “pressed.” If you are new to the online community, or feel that your piece is very personal and do not want it to be critiqued heavily, you might ask for a responder to bless it by simply offering praise. Inviting readers to address the piece means that you have specific questions about it, such as about character development or the flow, and want feedback on that. Finally, if you want a reader to press in his response, you are willing to accept any critiques that could help you move toward a stronger version of your writing. (83)
My main concern with this whole idea is students’ privacy, but in many ways helping my students to learn how to navigate the cyber world safely may be one of the most practical lessons I can teach them in English class.