Friday, April 16, 2010

Informal / Formal Writing

While I have students who are blogging more 'recreationally,' I am requiring responses to about 7 or 8 'critical thinking' assignments over the course of the term that respond to readings in my LIB 200 class-a writing-intensive course, and also for ideas and 'milestones' on the upcoming research paper. This week, I created a printed form to give them some feedback (check, check plus, check minus with some instructor feedback). With our course 'blog roll.' a list of all blogs from class, it was easy enough to locate each blog and then dig in to see each post. (I'm following all my students' posts too, but that won't work for tracking a 'grid' of multiple assignments.) If you are requiring students to post on a number of prompts, it's a challenge to make sure you can find their posts on particular topics.

There have been some excellent and thoughtful posts. I'm reminded, however, how difficult it is for students to use sources in their writing with citations. (It's so much easier to respond to a source informally, like journalists or non-academic essayists do.) Actually, I wonder if blogging spells the end of the research paper (one day). While I have most of the class keeping up with these assignments, today I asked them for a research paper topic write-up (on old-fashioned paper). Only a few students got to this, despite a lot of resources and 5 research paper ideas. So we're back to the difference between informal and formal writing.... But I think the lower-stakes aspect of blogging has helped several of my students. The first papers (short papers with sources) came out well.

This all reminds me that there is not a 'one-size-fits-all' for our students' blogs. I think we should guide them, and even ask them to use certain kinds of writing. (There are many kinds of blogs out there in the wilds of Web 2.0.) And once they see other student's writing a certain way (using Standard English, not using texting abbreviations or profanity, showing respect for other writers, etc.), it becomes a self-regulating community, an audience that is, like any good writing workshop, 'important enough' as my old fiction writing mentor once said. Student writers should care enough to write for an audience of their peers, but feel comfortable enough to write freely, I know, a delicate enough balance to find.... I do hope my students will be able to transition to using blogs to explore their topics (that's post #3). Post #4 has them look at YouTube clips of robots from film, TV and real life on our course wiki and then blog about those.

Lastly, I have to say I've been very disappointed in my students' willingness to keep up with class readings. (LIB 200 is a capstone course, with 30-50 pages of readings scheduled for most sessions.) How do I get my students to understand that if they don't read the source texts, they can't write as well as they might? (Looking at YouTube clips of robots is one thing, but writing a research paper requires them to read and digest multiple sources, from class and from their own research.) Right now, I'm not planning to teach LIB 200 until at least Spring 2011 (since I have other courses scheduled for Fall 2010 including a new Creative Non-Fiction Workshop--with blogs!) I just don't think I will be teaching LIB 200 again in the foreseeable future. But I really have learned something so far about using blogs in the classroom. (Maybe one day when we all have cheap tablet computers, reading will be part of the exciting Web 2.0 experience as well, and we can convince students that it might be just as important as their blogging....)


  1. Thanks for bringing up the topic, Rich.

    I would also use the labels comfortable/uncomfortable. Blogs help make writing comfortable, even fun, for many students. That, I would argue, is a good thing, especially because many students have had their critical thinking/creativity squashed during their high school years.

    On the other hand, our job has always been to induct the students into "academe"--and the first writing test they must pass is mastering the academic essay. And writing essays is uncomfortable because the students have to do so many things to get it "right": read carefully and annotate, write clearly and coherently, acknowledge sources properly (which, BTW, has become a dozen times harder since our time, as print publications are now routinely digitized so students constantly think they are seeing a page from a website when they are seeing a page from an online journal), have a fresh p.o.v....the list goes on. Is anyone surprised that they avoid this work? As a matter of fact, I avoid writing my own essays sometimes, and I am highly trained....

    So, what I would like for us to think as a group is how what we are doing in the blogs could bridge into the uncomfortable writing so that it is not SO uncomfortable.

  2. I have problems with students simply not reading as well. However, if they have to write a blog about the reading, then they seem to read just fine. It is the traditional "read before class discussion" that they almost refuse to do. I suppose 12 years of education has taught them that they simply don't have to read! I am trying to change my class prep away from in-class discussions about readings and more towards online postings, but there are still days I need them to read beforehand. So, this term I have the following threat to my 101/103--"I will take away the last two blog series and convert those points into tedious painful quizzes that will suck for you to take and will suck for me to grade. I will make no attempt to make them fun or interesting. You either did or did not read and you will fail the class if you did not." So far, they've been towing the line. My 102, however, has been reading, but we are still on poetry, so we will see when we get to drama and fiction.

  3. Oh Rich-- You might be interested in one of my 102 students' posts.

  4. I'm interested in Rich's comments because I am experiencing the same thing--students love to blog but are not keeping up with reading--and I have resorted to the same "punishment"? as Jason and started giving quizzes--but it doesn't seem to have any effect! Something strange is going on...they love having discussions but even these are kind of random and out of control. There are more serious students in the class who want to learn--and they post the best ideas, thoughts and are even reaching out to others perhaps I can get them to raise the level of discourse...