Archive for Blogs

Week in Review: Blogs as Text

Friday Dialogue from 

                                      Your Two Favorite Educators 

As Emily and Aubrey look back over the week they use their razor sharp wit to discuss if Perez Hilton really could best Harry Levin from TMZ and/or if reading substantive blogs provides excellent supplemental reading.  

1.  What relevance is there in using blogs as “texts” for students?

Emily:  One thing I really like about using blogs is that they are usually brief, What does Emily say?which allows students the opportunity to study one thing really well.  Too often students don’t read our assignments.   They are “too” long and students can be lazy or intimidated.  Choosing blogs that engage students helps ensure they actually read and gives them the chance to express their opinions and beliefs.

Aubrey: All I want them to do is read.  I take that back.  I don’t want them to read crap.  Let me try again.  I know they’ll read it but I’d like them to be able to read it and identify it for what it is.  Then, I’d like them to read something that isn’t crap.  How’s that for articulate?  As goofy as it sounds, I love good blogs.  They give me a fresh perspective every day.  Plus they exist within a space that seems as conversational and personal.  Remarkable blogs allow me to show students that good writing exists on topics of interest.  No fights.

2.  What makes it difficult to teach blogs, videos, digital literacy and all things media?

Emily:  I recognize the irony here, but blogs are so ubiquitous. Everyone has one, including students.  I think the hardest part about teaching blogs and things of the such in the classroom is trying to differentiate quality from crap.  I’m afraid that blogs are encouraging people just to put whatever they want on the worldwide web and people are taking it for fact.  I think we have to keep modeling for our students what good writing looks like and how to evaluate the sources they consult for their “news.”

Aubrey: I think there are quite a few problems.  Finding reputable, thoughtful media is time consuming.  There is no list of great media to use in my classroom.  Teachers often advocate for students writing via blog but it is rare that I find anyone who suggests reading via blog.  To find good blogs takes time we don’t have.  I also think that even when I get students a list of credible sources, blogs, writers, they skip the list.  The result?  The most impossible and ridiculous sources of information.  This of course pushes my delicate mental state over the edge.  No matter how many times you offer examples they still struggle to follow guidelines.  When it comes to online content it’s a necessity.  And so, that can be discouraging too.

3.  What importance do you place upon inquiry research within the English classroom?  Can reading a blog lead to self-selected research and perhaps even, gasp, global citizenship?

Emily:  Absolutely.  In fact, I think that this might be the only way for students to engage in truly meaningful inquiry.  If students are taught to look beyond the immediate they will be much more analytical and thoughtful thinkers, a skill highly coveted in this day and age.  However, the key is how to foster the intrinsic motivation to want to pursue more information about a topic found in a blog.

Aubrey: Inquiry research is so important but it takes many steps.  Fostering that intrinsic motivation is tricky because it requires that they ask more than just base level questions.  That puts a great deal of burden upon us to teach and reteach.  I do believe that sometimes you just can’t get there through fiction.  Because they are such literal thinkers they need non-fiction consistently.  Reading a blog from a news outlet is a step towards making them thoughtful and capable of empathy.

4.  Pop culture gets a bad rap and sometimes, so do those blogs with the same focus.  In what capacity should popular culture be used in the classroom?  In light of my pop culture blog resources from Thursday, how do blogs change how educators handle pop culture?

Emily:  I think it is important to approach using pop culture in a way that brings about scholarly discussion about life, society, our country.  I’m afraid that some What does Emily say?might naturally resort to discussing pop culture events only, which would encourage students to only look superficially at a topic and think it is permissible evidence for arguments.  I think it definitely has a place but that typically it should be used by students only to really highlight what is wrong with our country.  As a result, I think teachers need to be cautious about celebrating celebrities instead of using pop culture as a catalyst for meaningful inquiry about real issues.

Aubrey: I agree.  It can be difficult to get students, in general, to move beyond the literal.  When it comes to integrating pop culture with learning,  I think that step becomes much more difficult.  Most of us treat pop culture as if it’s trash.  And while there’s certainly a lot of trash, it’s a readily accessible “text” if treated thoughtfully.

5.  In a cage match between TMZ founder Harry Levin and blogger Perez Hilton who wins?  What if I change cage match to dance off?  Sing off?

Emily:  Oh….so tough.  I definitely think Harry is smarter.  He is a former lawyer, you know.  But Perez seems like a diva with a mean backhand.  I think I would pick Perez above Harry in every category.

Aubrey: Oh please.  Harry would win every single time.  He is certainly stockier and he always seems to be drinking a protein shake.  This doesn’t necessarily make him suited for singing but I’ll take my chances.  You and Perez are going down.

Blogs as Text: Sports & Pop Culture

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As a continuation of yesterday’s post, today we’ll focus on using pop culture, sports and current events blogs in the classroom.  It’s easy for me to sell any teacher on the idea of implementing blog reading that delves into current events; students need to be global citizens.  But pop culture and sports blogs can tricky.  Students need to gain more than the latest gossip and team scores.

While TMZ and Perez Hilton have their place, the blogs I’ve chosen to highlight today cover all of the same issues but with the type of style and “smarts” that makes them attractive to classroom teachers and still engaging to students.  As with anything you aren’t simply looking to entertain your students.  While offering these blogs can be part of a reading “choice” program, expectations should still remain high in terms of the social, political and cultural commentary students construct in response.

Ultimately, all of these blogs offer up “news” in varied formats but more important, they provide commentary.  Often the arguments they formulate are both relevant and engaging.  It is this type of writing that enriches student reading and knowledge.  The fact that it’s a blog simply makes it a tech forward and readily accessible choice.  Don’t forget to see our lessons for writing and annotation extensions.  They are ready to implement along with any blog driven reading assignments.  And remember, all of these are simply suggestions and starting points.  Always check The New York Times blogs for more choices.

The blogs overviewed are the best choice for offering content and commentary.  Also included but not overviewed are blogs that provide substantive information on the areas of focus and less commentary.

Current Events

Analysis & Opinion-Reuters

Anything dealing with current events demands that students read and choose based on their interests.  Reuters’ blog about current topics spans the globe and offers lenses through which to interpret the news they provide.   While posts can be challenging, they will engage students in online opinion pieces that debate global politics and the role of the U.S.

Don’t forget to examine The New York Times Room for Debate site.  While not a blog it is still an incredible useful supplement for students.

Information driven blogs include: The Two-Way, The Lede, Global Spin

 

Sports

Sporting Scene-The New Yorker

I can’t think of a better scenario.  The New Yorker, with all its style and grace, creates a sports blog.  Every post is so well crafted you will think you stumbled upon a non-fiction treasure and your students will never stop thanking you when you tell them that they can supplement their reading with a sport blog.

Information driven blogs include: The Early Lead, ESPN Sports Blogs

 

Pop Culture

Monkey See-NPR

This is by far, one of the best pop culture blogs to use with students.  Post include thoughtful commentary on TV, film, literature, and everything else popular culture.  These blog posts don’t just identify current trending topics.  Instead, they evaluate the usefulness of these trends.  Nothing is better for teaching students argument evaluation and the larger implications of pop culture.

 

Information driven blogs include: Celebritology 2.0, Media DecoderThe TV Column

Blogs as Text: Technology & Science

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It’s easy to think that all blogs are gossip driven.  Perez Hilton rules supreme.  But most major news publications today run a significant amount of blog based content. And this content is well written.  Whether these are blogs from The Chronicle of Higher Education or The New Yorker, the goal is always the same: find good writing on interesting topics that can reach a high school audience. Consider your goal with using blogs as supplemental texts as twofold.  First, you want to provide students choice and engage otherwise unwilling readers.  Second, you want students to practice assessing and evaluating textual arguments in a variety of mediums.  Don’t forget to examine yesterday’s post in order to peruse lesson plans for writing and annotating ideas in regards to reading blogs as “texts” in the classroom.

In an effort to help “jump” start this process I’ll highlight science and technology blogs today, current events/popular cultures blogs tomorrow.  My “picks” are simply a starting point for you as you make the decision to implement more blog as supplemental reading.

The New York Times is an amazing resource for blogs.  Be sure to checkout their index before beginning any blog reading assignment.

Science & Technology Blogs

The New York Times

Bits

From apps to cyber security to the online presence of celebrities, this blog has a little bit of everything for the student interested in technology, business and policy.  Often posts even discuss big picture implications and the role of technology in society. 

 

The Washington Post

Faster Forward

This blog focuses on stories about technology, specifically “gadgets.”  The writing is easy to read and posts include video and image which allows students the challenge and satisfaction of working in different textual mediums. 

 

Wired Magazine

Geek Dad

These posts are written by parents about everything from poetry to film to tech. Since the posts are written by a variety of authors, studying voice throughout is a great focus. 

Wired Science

Videos and image populate this blog.  Posts range from nature to outer space offering a variety of lenses through which students can read and experience any element of science blog writing that might engage them. 

Danger Room

A personal favorite, this blog deals with national security, technology and current events.  Interested in safety at the London Olympics?  Concerned about how military technology adapts? The posts are incredibly engaging even for an English teacher. 

NPR

Krulwich Wonders

We’ve highlighted Krulwich Wonders before.  It’s a great blog of just about everything you could ever want including, but not limited to, the science of language, architecture, nature, etc.  It will easily become a student favorite. 

All Tech Considered

Posts about tech on this blog range from information about start-up companies to the ethics of tech in modern culture.  Very readable and engaging for any student. 

13.7

All of the contributors for this blog are comprised of professors with science specialties, as well as one philosopher.  The posts are engrossing and deal with a variety of big picture arguments that are rooted in science and philosophy. 

Blogs as Text: Assignments

It seems that the expectations assigned to English teachers becomes larger and more nuanced with each year.    Teach technology.  Read a variety of texts.  Create global citizens.  Nurture critical thinkers.  Produce analytical writers.

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Implementing blogs as “texts” is an easy way to address all of these issues at once.  You might consider having students read blogs daily, weekly or 2-3 times per quarter depending on your time constraints.  Since many English teachers implement an exploring the issues, or a follow the columnist assignment adapting such an exercise that focuses on columns/editorials could easily be adapted for a blog reading assignment.

When students can actually choose a credible author with journalistic presence and style who blogs they win.  Instead of one column per week students could follow their “blogger” each day or several days a week via your classroom.  Even better, students can follow a blog that focused on a certain type of content that they find highly interesting.   The New Yorker, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Wired, The National Geographic all have blogs.  Well written and small in size they are easy for students to “digest” and they provide thoughtful writing and meaningful content.

By following a respected blogger students can become experts and global citizens.  We complain about their lack of knowledge and their inability to assess arguments and style.  Reading a blog of merit is a means towards achieving this goal.  Below are some basic ideas for you to implement along with a blogs as text unit. Tomorrow I’ll provide a list of blogs to give students as choices

Reading Blogs as Text Assignments

  1. Have students read and construct a SOAPSTone chart and précis paragraph.
  2. Ask that students annotate using a tool like awesome highlighter or Evernote.
  3. Ask students to identify explicit/implicit arguments in the blog post.  Even ask that students identify the values/morals of the writer based on their voice.
  4. Instead of summarizing ask that students construct a list of essential questions as they read.  These questions should identify the big picture arguments of the author and pose them in the format of moral/ethical questions.
  5. After having read several posts or for several weeks asks student to do a style analysis of their author.
  6. Ask students to construct argument prompts in the fashion of the AP Language and Composition test or the SAT based on the moral/ethical arguments consistently raised by their “blogger.”  Provide them with a list of ideas or a starting point for prompts based on the debate topics Emily’s previously identified in her GRE post.

Blogs as Text: Overview

It is difficult to get 6-12th graders to read.  This isn’t even an argument about getting them to read well, closely or critically.  They just don’t read.  Sometimes they don’t even read things that they would actually enjoy like The Catcher in the Rye or The Things They Carried.  And it’s infuriating.  As teachers, we often bemoan the lack of reading our students do. But what’s to be done?  Offering student choice is important but it can be daunting even for a seasoned teacher.  Finding resources that are well written and engaging can prove exhausting.  And in light of technology’s effect on publication shouldn’t students be reading a variety of online texts?

It’s no wonder we struggle.

My argument is not that we do away with Heart of Darkness or The Scarlet Letter or even the glorious Light in August.  Students need to be challenged and held accountable.  But I do want students to read texts they find enjoyable without sacrificing journalistic and literary merit.

So many educators argue the need for students to critically analyze a variety of texts.  And so many more argue the importance of using blogs in the classroom.  But frequently those two arguments don’t overlap in a way that identifies blogs as texts to supplement student reading.  In all fairness, it can be difficult to find blogs that students can read consistently for style, argument and substance.  And yet, they do exist.  It is the goal of this week’s post to identify them and discuss how to use them in classroom.  These posts will consider a variety of student interests (i.e. science, technology, cars, pop culture) without sacrificing quality in hopes that as an educator you can have students spend a “unit” or even a quarter towards studying and reading blogs.