Wrestling with Process & Product

I just finished reading Kist’s The Socially Networked Classroom this morning due to a group dynamics conference I attended over the weekend. After 36 hours of exploring “leadership and team development in a world of difference,” I have learned an incredible amount about myself and actually made some connections to many of the ideas we have been exploring this semester in my literacies and technologies class. Personally, a powerful takeaway from the weekend for me centered around ideas related to process/product. I am often so product-oriented when working in teams that learning through the process part takes a back seat to the end goal. Shifting my mindset requires being comfortable with discomfort – and being willing to relinquish a bit of control. I have to acknowledge my high expectations for products yet realize that not everything will/should live up to the standards I set. I also have to acknowledge that the journey toward a goal is often much more enlightening than the actual achievement of the goal.

With an hour left to the conference, I tweeted: “35th hr of group dyn conf…lots of talk ard losing control & being comf w/ discomfort. Wondering how that will translate 4 tchrs n clsrms…” There were so many people at the conference – mainly educators – who raised similar revelations about the loss of control in their own lives and how this “letting go,” while scary, can actually produce transformative experiences. While many were probably not thinking about their specific roles as classroom teachers, I am very interested to assess my issues with process/product and reflect on my previous six years in the classroom based on issues of boundary, authority, role, and task.

So, when I picked up Kist this morning, I was struck by the section on student blogging. In Kylene Beers’ foreward, she includes a quote from a school principal:

“Actually, its not just that we run this school by a bell system – something straight from the factory whistle that ushered workers back to work after breaks – but that our entire model for education comes from the industrial age. During that time, making sure each person on the assembly line could handle discreet skills was important. That’s what we’re doing here today in this school – making sure these kids can all handle discreet skills. I’m not sure we ever try to give them the big picture, or more important, get them to create the big picture themselves. We’re teaching kids to pass a test, but I don’t think we’re making sure they can be competitive in a world they’ll live in for the next 40, 50 years.” (Kist, The Socially Networked Classroom, viii)

So many of the activities Kist presents do not align with my beliefs about student-centered classrooms and the idea of “big picture learning” that Beers presents in the foreword. Many of the ideas did not seem to be as forward-thinking as I anticipated after reading Beers’ words.

For me, the activities around student blogging were most frustrating since I spent two years blogging with my sixth graders. While my experiences and lessons were far from great, I’m confident that each student had a good experience with blogging. Some even had great experiences. (I think I’m most proud of one of my students, Emma, who is still (three years later!) writing on a personal blog and is a guest blogger for a music website). While student experiences ranged from good to great, I WAS actually more concerned with the process piece than the actual product. The problem I see with the blogging examples that Kist chooses to include is that they are still very teacher-centric and product focused.

  • Rachel Ring on page 56: Very specific, step-by-step introductory assignment and a blogging rubric that attaches point values for (teacher generated) qualities of completion
  • Heidi Whitus on page 58-59: Activities that include lower to middle level thinking skills (summarize in activity #1 and #4, compare in activities #2 and #3) and teacher generated assignments
  • Bill Kist on page 60: Rubric that hasn’t been developed by the student

Two of my main issues…
1. assessing of student blogs with rubrics
2. assignments for particular posts

When my students were blogging, I didn’t grade their blogs and never felt like I needed to incorporate grades to motivate them to write. While some may say that I just had “good kids,” I disagree. I created a classroom culture where openness and sharing were expected and honored. I introduced blogging to the students and planned my lessons in a way that focused more on process than product. I also had many discussions around what “good” process/product looked and felt like. I made students key players in the game of determining the purpose and power of blogging. Also, I rarely assigned topics for them to write about. Occasionally, I’d ask them to reflect on a field trip or a particular class experience, but I was careful not to encroach upon their personal blogging space. I wanted my students to feel as though their blog – though connected with “school” – was as much a part of their school life as their personal life.

In my classroom, reflection (both written and face to face) was the most important tool of assessment for both teachers and students. I’m wondering…is there a way to effectively link blogging with grades (or with any formal assessment) and still make blogging a student-centric experience?