There seems to be a truism in education, that once something becomes so popular as to be adopted in common use then someone has to develop a set of guidelines or procedures that specify how and under what conditions the activity will be conducted. A quick check across many curriculum documents will show reference to, all manner of processes such as the writing process, the scientific process, this particular method of teaching spelling, etc, etc.
I can remember many years ago attending a series of professional development activities around how to develop writing in students. One of the presenters in particular had sought to analyse the way students developed their writing in comparison to the way professional writers author their work. He then sought to extrapolate from the latter to the forma. In order to make his model understandable he had to make a number of generalisations. In a discussion of his work he did make the point that far from being linear in moving between these generalised stages the professional writers constantly moved back and forth between them in very many random and different ways. This meant that any diagrammatic representation of the author at work would be largely incomprehensible. As a means of analysis of where children’s writing was developing, however at the time his work was groundbreaking.
As so often happens however, this body of analysis was turned upside down and became a set of procedures for teaching. The generalisations became stages through which each student was expected to move. Each of these stages was then furhter segmented and codified and presented as small discrete blocks with the notion that students were expected to master each before they moved to the next. Whilst some proponents acknowledged that students might need to move backwards and forwards between these stages, the realities of the classroom often meant that children were not given the time and opportunity to go back over their work in this way. Often, because of the way schools work, most students were also reluctant to go back over their work and opportunites foe enlightened development of the teaching of writing were lost.
Soon, all manner of curriculum support documents and even the dreaded blackline masters popped up in various educational publishers’ catalogues. Before too long what was a great way to gain insights into how students were developing as writers had become a set of hoops through which all prospective writers had to jump. Sometimes the reasons for this codification are commercial, publishers quite rightly want to sell books. In addition, most teachers are time poor and are on the lookout for ways that make their job a little easier. Sometimes to curriculum developments like these are in response to perceived community and parent desires.
What’s this got to do with the world of Web 2.0? Well, an experience a couple of weeks back suggests that the codification of “The Way To Blog” may already be happening. Some colleagues, whose students have been blogging now for some time all of a sudden were confronted with an edict that they felt uncomfortable about. Whereas previously students were given the option to blog and comment as often they felt necessary, one or two parents in the school felt it was unfair that their child was doing regular entries and comments whilst other students were more laissez-faire in their attitudes. A couple of these parents made their feelings known to school administration, whose response was to suggest that the teachers needed to mandate more clearly the expectations related to the blogs. It was decided by the administration that all students had to write at minimum one blog entry per week, as well as make a minimum of one comment per week. In order to make sure that students were doing this, all teachers were also expected to closely monitor and report back to parents on how their children were progressing. All comments on the blogs are moderated by the teachers so all have to be checked.
Thankfully, the teachers involved were astute enough to realise the flaws in this “solution”, though not without considerable heartache. I happened upon the group of teachers not long after they had been told of these new expectations and was able to offer counsel and a couple of supporting arguments as to why the “solution” would be counter-productive. The idea of timetabled mandated posting and comment is essentially counter to the creative and reflective nature of blogging in much the same way as teaching in isolation, a set of stages of writing is to how writers who make a living out of their work go about their work. In addition, the idea that the teachers had to more closely monitor an increased stream of posts and comments that in all likelihood would be less clearly thought through and enunciated was also a concern. Because they saw the benefits of the blogs the teachers were more than prepared to give valuable out of class time to responding to students’, however, adding all students every week to this monitoring process was also going to quite significantly increase the teacher’s workloads.
Fortunately, the teachers were able to carry this argument to the administration and the idea of mandated posts and comments has been replaced with strong encouragement and inducement for students to post and comment. In many ways this was a win-win all-round. I wonder if other teachers are facing this dilema of the instituionalisation of blogging?
But hang on a minute, maybe I’m missing a marketing opportunity here, surely I can come up with a photocopiable master of the blogging process just help out those teachers who are not sure what to do.