Writing is for a public audience instead of just the teacher. Students who write only for their teacher write to please their teacher. This creates a relationship where the teacher has the power and wields too much influence over the student’s process and the final product. When students write for a public audience they are naturally drawn to decisions beyond the teacher’s control. Importantly, they also put themselves in a position where they can receive feedback from an audience other than – or in addition to – their teacher. This multiplicity of voices increases the students’ ownership of their process. They synthesize responses to make decisions about revisions and future posts. They are liberated to pursue their own paths and to enter into meaningful conversations based on responders’ comments.
Students need to cultivate an audience by announcing their publication. The reality is that without an audience writing on a blog is no different from writing inside a classroom or a notebook or journal. The change occurs because the writing is public, because students are empowered to take the risk of exposing their thinking for anyone in the world to read. At the same time, however, the competition for readership on the web is nearly infinite. Therefore, students are encouraged to promote their blog project, to invite a readership to pay attention to what they write and to interact with it. It’s that interaction that makes a difference to the blog project, because it provides unmistakable proof that the students write for real readers. First they have to let those readers know there’s something to read.
Writing will tend toward the real instead of canned assignments. I decided to require the blogs largely without dictating the terms for the posts. While there are a few exceptions – students will post each of the semester’s primary pieces, with context – decisions on content, voice, form, length, etc. are pretty much entirely theirs. I look forward to seeing their progress over the weeks, as they each grow into their role of blogger. Even with the semester’s primary pieces, content decisions belong to the students. That ownership is amplified in the blog, where context matters with every post. To connect with readers students must communicate clearly. To communicate clearly students have to have a clear plan and a vision for fulfilling that plan, because a reader who visits a blog once will need a reason to return. Real writing – and the personality that creates it – will give readers a reason to read. Fake writing – that stuff that lacks context, that answers a teacher’s question, that is dry and boring – drives readers away.
Students will own their process by making critical drafting and publishing decisions. My students are required to post a blog entry every other week, and in the weeks in between they will read and respond to each other. They will also, of course, invite other readers to check out their entries. Students realized with their first post that blog writing is not like writing for class. They’re experienced college students; all of them want to be teachers. They know how to write. But most of them only know how to write for class. They quickly discovered that something was different. For example, some pieces started in class didn’t feel right for a blog, and students had to decide what to put on the blog and what to leave in the notebook. Many decided to create new pieces for the blog, wanting to use a first blog post to introduce themselves, to try out a public voice, to invite comment. The writing we did in class served other purposes, and they found their own purposes in their writing for the blog. They faced reality and embraced the challenge it presented.
Students will make decisions when they recognize that not everything they write will be included on the blog. The decision-making theme starts with the obvious: what to put on the blog. From there, the decisions continue: what to say, how to say it, what to do with responses, what to say next time. They have to consider their words carefully, and they’ll invest in their writing. However, this does not diminish the writing and thinking they do in class; instead, it adds to it. Students are being asked to move in a variety of directions; they have to stretch to meet my expectations and they will write a lot to complete the in-class assignments. And some of those will show up on the blog. At the same time, though, the blog is theirs, and they will stretch still more to meet their own expectations for posts there. And those expectations will be their own. They’ll give themselves assignments. They’ll find their own process. They’ll write for their own reasons, not just mine. And they’ll invest in a process that allows – and, at times, forces – them to grow. They’ll emerge smarter, better, published writers.
Students will think about a reader’s needs. We start many pieces in class, many of them with no intention of finishing. Students abandon many of them shortly after taking them on. But some stick with them, begging to be finished. And some of those – but not all – will end up on the blog. But students are not inclined to publish fragments. While they might turn in a fragment to a teacher – it’s all I gave them time for, after all – they recognize that an authentic audience wants to know the rest of the story, and will benefit from, and might even demand, certain details. So when they publish, students include those details. And when they read each other’s writing, they expect those details from each other. Thus they correctly assume that their readers crave information. Since they have it, they have it to share.
So what are your own reasons for having students publish on a blog? Share them here.