Powerful Possibilities in a Middle School Classroom

“If our purposes were to be framed in such a fashion, they would not exclude the multiple-literacies and the diverse modes of understanding young persons need if they are to act knowledgeably and reflectively within the frameworks of their lived lives. Situatedness; vantage point; the construction of meanings: all can and must be held in mind if teachers are to treat their students with regard, if they are to release them to learn how to learn.”

– Maxine Greene, Teaching as Possibility: A Light in Dark Times

As I think about “best practices” as a teacher of language arts and social studies, I am inspired and motivated by Maxine Greene’s words in her essay, Teaching as Possibility: A Light in Dark Times. Although Iread this piece in early September, its message carries great weight as I think about my past work as a teacher, my professional growth as a result of the Klingenstein program, and my future as a teacher and administrator. Next year, not only am I motivated to improve my teaching, but I also see incredible value in having “a space in which light can be shed on what is happening and what is being said” (Greene, 2003, p. 1) in the classroom. Next year, it is essential that I set both personal and professional goals – and boundaries – in order to implement much of what I’ve learned in this class and other Klingenstein classes. Professionally, I am passionate about creating a classroom environment where blogging, cooperative learning, understanding goals, and strategic reading are visible signs of my understanding of various aspects of cognitive research. Personally, I want to create time (and a space) for reflection so that I can continue to grow as a practitioner and leader. I’ve been thinking a bit about the blogging piece and I wanted to share some thoughts here…

The Power of Weblogs: Connected Writing and Student-Centric Learning

Throughout this class, I’ve been thinking a lot about the use of weblogs in the classroom. Rather than seeing blogging as another cool “Web 2.0” tool as many educators do, I believe that blogging has the power to transform both students and classrooms if introduced and taught in an authentic way. In Disrupting Class, Clayton Christensen claims that student-centric classrooms will come as a result of online classes by 2014, but I believe that student-centric learning is a possibility in 2009- 2010 when students are encouraged to write about curricular and personal topics in a public, connected space. Not only will students become more metacognitive in doing so, but teachers will gain great insight into students’ thoughts, feelings, and understanding of curriculum.

The three essential aspects of remembering, as presented my class on cognitive science, are elaborative encoding, distributed practice, and retrieval practice. Since teachers must beware of “inert ideas” or “ideas that are merely received into the mind without being utilized, or tested, or thrown into fresh combinations”(Whitehead, The Aims of Education, 1929, p. 1), teachers must plan curricular experiences that aid in elaborative encoding. While many classroom activities have the potential to provide opportunities for high-quality rehearsal, interior/exterior dialogue, activation of prior knowledge, effective organization of ideas, and creation of meaningful contexts and purposes that motivate and sustain active learning, I believe that blogging is an authentic activity that could prove to be transformational in the classroom.

Student blogging in a middle school classroom is much more than occasional writing in an online space. While the crafting of blog posts is the most visible sign of blogging, commenting on posts and linking to other blogs and websites is an essential piece of an effective blogging program. Teachers must instruct students on author voice and bias, organization of information, web safety and etiquette, and the powerful nature of this Web 2.0 tool. Blogging, the sharing of students’ ideas and thoughts about curricular and personal matters, leads to vulnerability that can be harnessed in a positive way. Maxine Greene speaks to the importance of creating situations where children are enabled and can be agents for their own learning. She writes:

Without a sense of agency, young people are unlikely to pose significant questions, the existentially rooted questions in which learning begins. Indeed, it is difficult to picture learner-centered classrooms if students’ lived situations are not brought alive, if dread and desire are not both given play (2003, p. 2-3).

Blogging does just that. It brings “students’ lived situations” inside and outside of the school walls alive and teaches students that their voice matters. Blogging also shows students that they can do the hard work of creating meaning from curriculum, thus taking control of their own learning.

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