Blogging & Teaching

One of my highlights of NCTE was doing a panel on blogging with Laurie Halse Anderson, Maureen Johnson, Barbara O’Connor and Lisa Yee. The panel was put together and moderated by Denise Anderson, who was just splendid and had done a tonne of research. I was very impressed. They’ve all now blogged about the panel. (Links to their posts are on their names.) All except for me and Maureen. As I think it’s a sign of deep failure not to blog about a panel on blogging I am now fixing my omission. I doubt Maureen will, however, because hers is not that kind of a blog.

The panel was aimed at teachers and concerned with demonstrating how they can make use of authors’ blogs in the classroom. Denise observed that many of her colleagues were unaware of authors blogs and was on a mission to open their eyes. I suspect, though, that most of the educators in the audience were well aware of blogs and that was why they were there. Certainly the questions we were asked were very knowledegable.

We authors took the opportunity to ask the teachers not to set writing to authors as an assignment. Yes, that’s right, we whinged. We explained how much time it takes for us to answer questions especially when there are forty students writing us at once. Volume is not our only issue. The students tend to write asking us questions that are already answered on our sites, revealing they have the skills to find our email addresses, but not to find the answers to their questions, which are also in plain slight.

We also mentioned that some of the letters we get from students are flat out rude:


Laurie asked the following question: “Should we continue to spend classroom time on letter writing or has the time come to teach how to compose appropriate email communication?”

Our panel gave a very emphatic yes to the second half. Teach them how to write polite emails, please! I saw many heads nodding in the audience.

Another concern we had was students leaving comments on our blog making their phone numbers or email addresses public. We made it clear that we delete such information but thought that was another thing that could be addressed in the classroom.

We were all very clear that we love hearing from our readers and try very hard to answer them all. It’s just the students demanding we do their homework that we’re reluctant to respond to. We write for a living. Our novels are our top priorities, any additional writing comes after that. Which is why most of us started blogging in the first place—to have a method of communicating directly with our readers. We all agreed that the comments are the best part of blogging. Laurie said that she feels the readers of her blog have become family.

Laurie also mentioned that if they ever have parents wanting to remove a book from the school library or prevent it being taught they should get in contact with the writer because often the writer’s been through this before and can offer support. (Oh, look: it’s happened again, this time in Kentucky. And Laurie Halse Anderson’s Twisted is one of the books.)

Hmm, we seem to have agreed about many things. The only disagreement I can think of is when we were answering a question from the audience about the relationship of our blog writing to our novel writing. I said that I found blogging much more relaxing and easy than novel writing. While I craft it, the writing here doesn’t go through any where near as many drafts as my fiction does. Nor is it professionally edited, copyedited or proofed. It also has a different voice than my novel writing, but I do still think of it as writing and it has an influence on my novels.

Maureen said that she views all her writing the same whether it’s a novel or a blog post or a tweet and that it all has the same voice. Which I think is one of the main things that makes Maureen’s blog so different to most other blogs I read. Every entry reads like a story and the voice is indeed very like her novel writing voice (but quite distinct from the Maureen I know). And is why a post about a blogging panel wouldn’t work there.

Sadly I can no longer remember Lisa or Laurie’s response but Barbara was very clear that she did not see her blog writing as real writing at all. It’s completely distinct from her fiction.

I have to admit that before I was contacted to be part of this panel I had not given much thought to the use my blog might have for educators. For me this panel was an eye opener to look at blogs from a different point of view. Not just from the “this is fun” pov.

Though blogging is fun. I feel like that’s the one thing we didn’t talk about. Maybe next time.

Do any of you have any comments or ideas about blogging and teaching? Do any of you use blogs in the classroom? Encourage your students to read blogs? To blog?


  1. Jude on #

    Thanks for this post, Justine. I link to several author blogs from my high school library page, and I promote blogging among our teachers (generally unsuccessfully). I love reading author blogs (well, all right, I love reading lots of other blogs as well–roughly 480 of them). I share posts with students and teachers. I live in a blog-enriched world and a Web 2.0 enriched world, and I’m astonished how few people I know participate in that world. I just taught my best friend, a music teacher, about RSS. We subscribed to his dad’s bread blog and one music cognition blog, but he hasn’t yet developed the habit of checking his feeds. Instead, I tell him, “Your dad blogged about Thanksgiving” and then he goes to the website. It’s kind of like that with the teachers I work with. I’m like their personalized StumbleUpon service because I read so many blogs.

  2. Justine on #

    Jude: That’s exactly what I keep finding. We who live in this “blog-enriched world” (I like that!) sometimes forget that we’re a minority. Most people don’t blog or read blogs. While on tour I discovered the vast majority of booksellers and librarians and teachers have little or no experience with blogs. Very eye opening.

  3. Tobias on #

    Maureen’s blog is indeed very different from the other blogs of authors I read. You use yours to get information across, while Maureen uses her’s for entertainment.

    I agree with you that internet usage should be taught in schools. How to act online, how to find information online and how to check whether that information is in any way correct.

  4. niki on #

    Tobias: are you saying justine’s blog is boring ??!! 😉

  5. Justine on #

    Niki: Are you saying information is boring? (I will admit this is not one of my more scintillating posts.)

  6. Tobias on #

    @niki: I didn’t say that, or intended to say that.

    I’ll admit Maureen’s blog is more fun to read then Justine’s, but I don’t think Justine aims to have a blog which is funny. (you can correct me if I’m wrong Justine)

    But are you implying that getting information across is by definition boring?

    (and I should add that Justine also uses her blog to get her opinion on things across, not sure whether that counts as “information”)

  7. Tobias on #

    @Justine, great minds think alike? =P

  8. Justine on #

    Tobias: I’m pretty sure Niki was just kidding.

  9. Devon on #

    I’ve used blogs in my middle school English classes as a way to get kids discussing what they’re reading. Usually the assignment is something like, “Write x number of words about your reading this week and comment on two other students’ posts.” In the best cases, it can lead to really fun writing, where students write in the voices of their characters or pull out some very insightful observations and sometimes even get into discussions and debates that go well beyond the requirements. (Can we say, “Team Edward vs Team Jacob”?) At worst, you get dry summaries and comments like “Cool book.” Or everybody trying to post and comment all at once at about 10 pm Sunday night. 🙂

    But it’s an interesting idea to incorporate author’s blogs–I’ll have to think about how I could do that.

    I’ve also thought some about assigning students to keep a blog as some kind of journal/daily writing/response type thing (still fuzzy on the specifics). It’s tricky, though. Not all students have a reliable internet connection, some parents are skittish about their kids posting stuff on the internet, and it makes grading difficult… Hopefully one of these days my school will get a program like Blackboard or something. We’ll see…

  10. Jennifer on #

    I recommend some author blogs to teens wanting to write (I’m a public librarian). Along with Justine’s excellent advice, I tell students to follow Patricia C. Wrede and Gail Carson Levine. Most of them want to write fantasy and I’ve noticed these three blogs have consistent and excellent advice for novice and experienced writers!

  11. ithiliana on #

    I teach at the university level, creative writing for both graduate and undergraduates. In recent years, I’ve tended to not assign a textbook for the classes but have given students a list of online resources for writers, primarily the blogs of writers, editors, and agents. My current graduate course is assigned to find online resources for their own project as well: there is NO textbook that can provide the up to date information about writing, everything from the writing process (I highlighted your series on NaNo for the class) to information on contacting agents to the recent debates over Harlequin going into vanity publishing. One of the top items on the list is the Writer Beware Blog, and I warn students constantly about the possibility of a scam. For all that people outside education love to complain that students spend all their time online, I have seen that my students (I’m in a rural area in TExas) are remarkably unaware of the resources that do exist online, or even of the possibility that such resources might exist. A friend (in Composition) and I are discussing the possibility of a practicum on “public writing,” i.e. a course that will deal with public writing including blogs for our students. We have in fact assigned blogs in past graduate course, but it’s a complicated area–a few students (often those already active in social networking areas) take to it happily, but most find it very difficult and boring and see little use in the activity.

  12. Michelle on #

    I’ve included construction of a blog and consistently updating/posting as part of a course in instructional technology and media for upper level college students and surprisingly they did not embrace it. I thought for sure they would view it as a fun, cool, different way to work through an assignment but really all I got was a bunch of blog postings where students simply copied and pasted content from wikipedia and other sources.

    Now, I will say I think that if the blog is of a more personal nature or if a student is given more freedom as to what is posted about this aspect might slip away a bit. But in the end if it’s required it’s required and a student will put in only as much effort as they see they need to in order to pass. I’ll be curious to hear of experiences those educators who work with younger students may have had.

  13. Justine on #

    Devon, ithiliana and Michelle: I suspected as much. That assigning your students to construct and update a blog would be tricky and probably backfire. Aside from all the access and privacy issues, it’s just not something people can keep up unless they’re really into it. I read somewhere (too lazy too google) that the vast majority of blogs don’t last a month let alone a year or more.

    Thanks so much for your responses. It’s fascinating.

  14. Kristan on #

    I agree that professional/polite email writing is a necessary skill in this day and age, but… I guess I don’t understand why letter writing skills don’t translate better? Like, if you can write a nice letter, you can write a nice email. I guess people just don’t treat them with the same level of consideration?

  15. ithiliana on #

    14/Kristan: I don’t think that people are taught letter writing skills in this day and age (besides being an English teacher, I’m 54). I may be biassed by being in Texas where the disintegration of education due to high stakes testing is so marked. I teach a sort of technical/business writing class at times, and my students do not even know the rudiments of a business letter (or the format). I’m sure there are people who do know how to compose letters and think emails somehow don’t count (and I’d even argue that there are new conventions regarding email–I notice I’m one of the few on my campus who sticks in a salutation and valediction in my emails). And since we’re talking about our students, I’ll note the last time I taught the writing course, the two best writers in the class (at the start of the course) were two young men in computer science who were running their own gaming site online and had a vast amount of experience in real communication situations! (They stood out because generally the computer science majors on our campus are not the strongest writers.)

    13/Justine: I’ve used both LiveJournal (back in the day when it was a bit harder to use, before it got simplified) and blogs (I prefer LJ because I think that blogs lead to what I call monoblogging: the incredibly fantastic discussions we have can in LJ are not often replicated on blogs from what I’ve seen). I prefer LJ (In fact, I’ve syndicated your blog over there so I can read on my LJ flist!).

    There are privacy issues (I have warnings on handouts), and I never require graded work be posted there (that’s what the password protected online class program is for). I’m currently experimenting with a wiki (program downloaded and our the university servers) for collaborative writing (people in all sorts of jobs, businesses, and careers, have to learn to write both individually and collaboratively), but I’m running into incredible student resistance there as well.

    As a fan, I see all the incredible stuff online, including the open source programs, especially all the writing (my current creative writing class was inspired by NaNoWriMo–i.e. my students are all writing 50,000 words in the semester without revision, to get a large part of a draft done), but it is very hard to bring that into the classroom which may be because of the nature of classrooms.

  16. Edi on #

    I was about to teach Econ a few summers ago and used blogs. Students were able to see that writing was actually a tool for communication–they were writing to read each other’s work, not just to give something to a teacher. They often complained that they couldn’t read someone’s work, and this is important in a school where students can’t pass mandatory graduation tests. Students were able to experience the collaborative nature of web 2.0 and I think that’s important for our future workforce. Unfortunately, most of the teachers I work with don’t understand blogs and don’t use them. I’ve heard of teachers having students blog when reading different pieces of literature and inviting the author to join them. I think that could be very interesting.

  17. Joe Iriarte on #

    My wife teaches creative writing and has some sort of a blog-reading component. I’m fuzzy on the details, but her students are supposed to read some authors’ or agents’ blogs and comment, but nothing like the bad example you gave. It’s not demanding an answer to a question, but rather, I think, encouraging the kids to join the conversations taking place in the writing community. (And the kids have to get permission slips filled out to participate.)

    Jude, I’m a teacher and I blog, but I don’t call my students’ attention to my blog. I want to feel like I’m off duty when I’m blogging. If someone stumbles across my blog and I’ve cursed or committed some other faux pas, well, I’m willing to fight that fight and defend my actions. (We teachers in Florida certainly don’t have the same right to personal lives that folks in other professions enjoy, but I’m not blogging anything that’ll get me fired.) The idea of keeping a second blog, where I only talked about things that would be relevant to my work persona . . . sounds like more work than I want to do. 🙂 (It also sounds like the sort of thing I’d be pretty bad at keeping up with.)

  18. Amber on #

    I am a student teacher, and hope to find a job once I graduate. I read blogs – yours and others – but I also love to write and have had my own blogs on xanga and myspace, etc. before I ever taught in the classroom (my friends and I just carried it over from high school… so I guess we’re different than most teachers in that… I do not know if any teachers I’ve been under blog, but one of them had vast knowledge of various authors, and I think she might have gotten that info from their websites). I’ve never referred students to a blog, but I think I’ve referenced it in the classroom in relation to writing, since many of them do.

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