Academic journal article English Journal

"Can We Blog about This?": Amplifying Student Voice in Secondary Language Arts

Academic journal article English Journal

"Can We Blog about This?": Amplifying Student Voice in Secondary Language Arts

Article excerpt

Picture this website: a header image of some lone explorer, venturing into a sunset valley. Over the image float icons inviting visitors to follow him on social media websites, read relevant news, or make purchases on Amazon; the site banner reads "WELCOME TO THE BROTHERHOOD." Below the first fold of the page follows his commentary: posts with titles such as "President Barack Obama and Atticus Finch," "America, Too, Is Worth Its Song," and "Amazon Prime- The Grand Tour." The content of these posts ranges from reappropriated poetry to television series reviews, incorporating text, video, memes, and comments from readers.

Rico, the author, is 15 years old.

He, like my other ninth-grade English students, is a member of the first generation fully immersed in the Internet's "participatory culture," a community in which there are low barriers to expression, strong encouragement for content creation, and readily available mentors (Jenkins et al. 3). Those characteristics encourage participant contributions, learning, and teaching within the community. Rico and his peers are active members, whether as gamers, social media consumers, or YouTube video creators. Inside the classroom, participatory culture can engage learners and provide them a space to teach one another. Blogs are one example of this culture in the classroom. Research on classroom blogging suggests digital composition leads to self-directed learning and improved student outcomes by "generating one's own learning goals, planning how to tackle a problem, evaluating whether learning goals have been met, and re-planning based on this evaluation" (Robertson 1643). Additionally, blogs expand opportunities for class discussion, opening a wider window of time and expression for students learning how to encode their thinking into words (Kahn 17). These findings led me to implement blogging as a regular writing practice in my ninth-grade pre-advanced placement English language arts classes. My goal was to "teach writing as a verb, rather than writings, as a noun" (Heller 12; italics in original); posting traditional assignments electronically or teaching the blog post as another genre of formatted writing would not accomplish this goal. Instead, I focused on building a digital community of authors and improving our craft collectively: goals that had little to do with genre. We wrote frequently, published to a peer audience, and reframed writing as a method for seeking understanding, rather than a recording of already-refined ideas. This practice, feedback, and concept of writing to learn meshed with popular and pedagogical culture: I found deep connections both to participatory culture and writing workshop approaches in our practice. In particular, writing workshop's elements of student choice, continuing revision, discussion of craft, publication, and process orientation mesh well with digital composition (Hicks 2); these were inextricable from our blogging practice. Blogging in the classroom improved students' perceptions of themselves as writers, increased peer feedback among students, and provided us with authentic opportunities to write for real audiences: all of this pushed our classes (and me) to become better writers.

Our Classroom

I teach high school in a working-class community of St. Louis, Missouri. Our district is extraordinary in the state for its socioeconomic and racial diversity. Of our student body at the district high school, 79.1 percent qualify for federal free and reducedprice lunch (Missouri Department of Education). We are the rare exception in our state without a clear racial majority, serving a group of 39.9 percent African American, 33.5 percent White, 16.3 percent Hispanic, 2.2 percent Asian American, and 7.7 percent multiracial students (Ritenour School District 3). These demographic data mean we have a rich variety of experiences within our community. Some groups have found themselves voiceless in a traditional curriculum, making me deeply invested in amplifying that voice. …

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