Candy’s Dog

I’m in a room surrounded by bloggers.

Thirty fourteen year olds and I are all working on laptops and chromebooks writing posts that we hope might entertain and tell a meaningful story. Constantly circling us, like a benevolent shark, an inspiring English teacher peeks over shoulders, offers prompting and praise, asks questions, and challenges us to “stretch ourselves” as writers.

photo 1It’s Freshman English, and midway through Of Mice and Men students have paused long enough to do a bit of flash-research and creative writing on a post called: “Candy’s Dog: An Alternative Ending.”

In-class blogging has emerged as an interesting variation on the kind of writing English teachers have been assigning since before Steinbeck wrote his novella. It’s nothing new to see students answering writing prompts, but as I’m learning first hand today, putting their answers into a blog has every student in class focused on developing an “answer” that they feel proud enough to post.

This class is using a program that allows the teacher to share the posts as much or as little as she likes. This could be with peers within the class, students from multiple of her classes, or students across the school. The students seem aware that their audience might be more than their teacher sitting alone at her desk after the bell has rung. the result seems to be a greater level of care and focus.

dogPart of today’s assignment includes finding a picture of a dog and putting it in with the text, a task our teacher has warned us shouldn’t take all of the half hour or so we have to build our post. I went with a picture of a dog I had the pleasure of escorting off campus a couple of years ago; a friend had snapped our photo when he saw how much joy that pup had brought to my morning.

After an initial ten minutes of laughter, searching for photos and quick research on how elderly dogs get treated in contemporary society, the volume of the class has sunk to zero. Keyboards quietly tick as students, and I, hurry to finish our posts before the end of the period.

I leaned over to ask the fellow at my elbow what program they were using to blog; a few minutes later he leaned my way to ask how to spell “infinite.” I’m curious to read his post. We’re working side by side, a teacher never far away, and an audience for our work just around the corner.

I see the hands of the clock sweeping closer to 1:30, when we’ll need to bring an end to our work and send our posts out into the broader world. I’ve promised myself that I’ll live within the same constraints as the students in the class, allowing myself a similar experience and the joy of camaraderie that a challenge like this offers.

We haven’t used words like “paperless” or “21st century learning” today. Students haven’t marveled at something new or different. Instead, today’s blogging challenge feels natural, a simple manifestation of the world in which they learn and live.

I taught English for more than a decade, and wish I would have had the flexibility to share student work that blogging allows. I wish my students might have known that the audience for their work could extend beyond me. If blogging in the classroom is transformative, and it very well might be, it’s a quiet transformation, and one that doesn’t feel as revolutionary as it does a normal part of our world.

Blogging, in the classroom or out, isn’t a new trick, but it seems a nice way to celebrate learning, even for an old dog like me.

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