Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Reading, Writing and Crunching the Numbers

Over the past few weeks we have been quad-blogging with our Grade 4 students as we are taking part in action research about the impact blogging can have on student writing.  At the start of this research we explained to students that blogging starts with reading - with reading blog posts that others have written, and then moves into commenting on those posts and finally writing their own posts and responding to comments they receive.  We are now in week 3 of the quad and the focus is on our students' posts.  This week we are asking students to reflect on the comments they are getting from the other members of the quad - students in Thailand, the Czech Republic and the USA.  Which posts get the most comments and why?  How could students increase the traffic to their posts by making them more interesting? What are they learning as a result of reading what other students are writing as comments?  Today I spent time with the Grade 4s who were blogging.  I asked some of them what they were doing in response to the comments they had received and this is what they said:

Mateo (responding to Adam from Team Thailand's comments) - "He said he liked the information on the cave biome, so I was persuaded to give him more information - I was inspired to give him more information - so I'm writing a post to give him more information on caves."

Nathan (responding to Ben from Team USA's comments) said:  "I like getting comments and they make me really proud of what I have done.  Sometimes I feel I could do better and I like getting comments that say I could do better because then it makes me try harder and I enjoy it."

Louise (responding to Zoe from Team USA's comments) said:  "I really liked how she gave me more details so that I can make it better next time ... she gave me lots of information about Jewish people because she is Jewish and she told me more things that they cannot eat and what they can and what they can't do."

As I was reflecting on this process last night, I was thinking about how reading other's posts and writing comments is also important to adult bloggers.  I also read section 90 of Seth Godin's Stop Stealing Dreams.   Seth writes:
Reading leads to more reading.  Writing leads to better writing.  Better writing leads to a bigger audience and more value creation.  And the process repeats.
Writing is the way our students are organizing their thoughts and connecting with others.  Seth Godin refers to writing as "organized, permanent talking, it is the brave way to express an idea."  When we write online we connect and spread our ideas to countless others too.  He tells us:
Teach a kid to write without fear and you have given her a powerful tool for the rest of her life.
But there is also a bigger picture.  We want our students to love both reading and writing.  We want them to continue reading and writing once they have left school:
Reading is the way we open doors.  If our economy and our culture grows based on the exchange of ideas and on the interactions of the informed, it fails when we stop reading.
Some time yesterday the readership of my blog passed the 150,000 mark.  I started to think about how this growth had occurred - was it just that I was writing more posts?  Was it that I was commenting on posts that I'd read and that those writers then became interested in reading my blog?  Was it that the people who found and liked my posts tweeted about them or shared them with colleagues they worked with?   It took 18 months from the start of the blog in December 2009 until it had been read by 50,000 people.  However the next 50,000 took only 6 months - from May 2011 until the end of November 2011.  Now, we are just mid-way through March 2012 and so it's taken just over 3 months to add another 50,000 readers.    I'm humbled by the number of people who read my ideas, who come back and read more and who think what I'm writing about is important enough to share with others.  I'm assuming that most of my readers are global educators and while some of those reading are people I've worked with or met face-to-face, most are those whose only connection with me has been by finding me online.  Yet what I know is that these people care a great deal about who I am and what I'm doing.  When I was thinking about moving to another school at the end of last year I was told by administrators who spoke to me that they were only hiring people who had a positive online presence - this is why they were interested in what I could offer to their school.  It's quite amazing to me that what I think and write about as a teacher in Switzerland, could bring me to the attention of some of the "giants" in international schools around the world.   Seth Godin alludes to this too when he writes about how "traditional" qualifications and testimonials are now less important in securing good jobs than what we are sharing:
In the post-industrial age of connection ... we care a great deal about what you've done ... because we can see whom you know and what they think of you ... see how you've used the leverage the Internet has given you, because we can see if you actually are able to lead and actually are able to solve interesting problems.
Photo Credit:  Blogging Research Wordle by Kristina B AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works 

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