Monday, 16 July 2012

Blogging for schools; writing for a purpose

This is of course a blog. It's yet another way in which writing (of course it could be pictures, videos or audio too) can circulate amongst us. In education before A-levels (UK), most writing going on is done by pupils writing things in exercise books and on worksheets. I often wonder what the purpose of this is. Of course, people writing anything need space and time to jot things down in places that aren't really for public exposure. They are just as we call them, 'notebooks'. All power to the notebooks.

But what happens if we open up the possibility to pupils that what they write can 'circulate' ? That in some way or another it can be seen, heard and read? That it has an audience?

My view is that this is when writing has a purpose, the writer discovers all kinds of important stuff to do with what to write, why write, how write and much more. So, to my mind, we should reconfigure, reframe and reinvent 'writing in schools'. We should think of schools as publishing-performing houses for the exposure and circulation of writing - writing by anyone who works in a school community - pupils, teachers, non-teaching staff - and beyond: parents, grandparents, carers, assistants and so on.

The moment we think like this, we start to think of forms and shapes for this to happen and places and spaces for it to take place in: a play that someone writes might need a classroom with the tables put back, a hall, a studio; a film script might need a camera, some editing time, a white wall and a darkened room; a write-up of a school gymnastics display might need a wall with a heading on it: 'Sports Events', a space on the School Bulletin; a story might need a classroom wall-space at pupils' head height, school website, a class blogspot; a book, film, music review might need a wall, a blog, a magazine and so on.

So what about blogs in particular?

This morning I took part in a second morning with teachers and pupils from Haringey at the Haringey Professional Development Centre (PDC) talking about and developing ideas about primary school blogging. I thought that this points towards some exciting things:

1. The 'first flush' of blogging is exciting for everyone - pupils, teachers, school community.
2  There has to be a clear idea of how posts are moderated or indeed what 'moderation' means. Does it mean eg making sure that everything is fully sub-edited in relation to spelling, grammar and punctuation? Does it mean that the moderator is also someone who helps generates new ideas for writing? Does the moderator also supervise and encourage 'Comments'? Indeed what is the role of the 'Comments' field?
3. Comments: these can be both the engine for more writing and a great way for children and students to develop constructive criticism, which in turn feeds back into their own writing. But this needs thought, planning and assistance. Perhaps it needs a check-list or guide on how to do commenting, which can be developed with the pupils by looking at 'criticism' in newspapers or anywhere else.
4. School blogs die out if they are not supported wholeheartedly and keenly by adults in the school community, commenting, sharing and thinking up new things to write about.
5. The best motor to keep blogs going is the link with another keen audience. By general agreement, talking to experienced teachers, the best developed, most thought-through outfit to use for this is 'Quadblogging' to be found here:

6. The potential for establishing links with schools from other areas in the same country, or with schools in other parts of the world has only just begun.
7. Yes, we are talking about writing here, but there is fantastic potential in including photos, videos, audios
8. A key factor in all this is variety and diversity. We should never think of 'writing' to mean one or even two kinds of writing. Here is an opportunity to explore not just the prescribed genres of writing, but others. Give yourself a checklist of the kinds of writing that you can encourage pupils to have a go at. Here are some:

Jokes, riddles
Reviews and write-ups of school sporting events, visits by interesting people.
Interviews with grandparents and great-grandparents on memories, migration, views of the modern world.
Interviews with local people based on teachers asking the pupils: who, locally, would you most like to interview?
Interviews with celebs or near celebs.
Interviews with 'interesting people' who parents know...or some such.
Opinions - comments on local, national and international events.
Stories - one-offs, serials, round-robins (we write one chapter, you write the next)
Letters - Dear Editor, in your last blog you said...etc etc
Scapbook - funny or odd things people have seen and heard - names of shops, comments, nicknames, etc
Poems and raps -
Youtube clips with comments attached.
Write-ups of school visits and school trips to field centres etc.
Questions for the other school to answer re their part of the world, their way of talking,
You perform our script, we'll perform  yours - we write a script for a sketch, a story, a poem, we send it to you,  you perform it, and send it back as a video.
Language learning - working with a school where the children speak the language that your school is learning eg Spanish so hooking up with a school in say Latin America. They write in English. The English-speaking children here, 'correct' what they've written, and send back something in Spanish. The Spanish children correct it and send it back. Or maybe not, maybe just do taking it in turns: first part of the conversation is in one language and the next part in the other.