As a middle school science teacher, I could feel my anxiety level rising each year thinking about how I could really get students interested in writing for the upcoming year. Having been a struggling student writer myself, I remember the stress of writer’s block and the pressure of forcing my ideas into very structured (and handwritten!) little boxes.
This summer, I was fortunate enough to become part of the National Summer of Learning Summer Pathways for Innovation program and receive a fellowship to work with the Adler. The program pairs educators from New York and Chicago with local community organizations to collaborate on a project and develop curriculum that can be used for the upcoming school year. I’ve been working with wonderful educators and the Adler Teen Interns to discover ways to use blogging as a reflective, motivational tool that includes digital badging as a way to measure progress.
Educators strive to create avenues for learning that allow students to express themselves while simultaneously demonstrating their knowledge of parts of speech and syntax. Digital media has expanded opportunities for students to navigate these avenues and incorporate their own personal style into their writing. We want our students to experience an enhanced version of what we experienced in school. Not to show my age, but we didn’t even have computers in my school until 9th grade, not to mention tablets!
Blogging is an excellent tool to bridge formal writing with a more casual style that still preserves the professional type of writing that is expected from students in an academic setting. Social media is often seen as the demise of grammatical skill, however, teaching students the balance between casual writing and formal writing can be a powerful tool. Blogging and badging platforms also provide educators with access to student communication and feedback, peer interaction, and assessment.
Over the summer, the Adler Teen Interns have been working on independent projects and blogging about their experiences. Under the Chicago Summer of Learning program, the teens have been able to showcase their summer work through digital media and support each other in their endeavors. They have been attaching videos and documents to their posts then commenting on and “liking” each other’s work. They can also share their work with friends and family outside of the summer program through the various platforms they’ve been working with. I’ve been able to see the impact the collaboration has had on their experience and how their digital submissions reflect their individual personalities.
This fellowship has allowed me to structure my time this summer to work on integrating technology with my current teaching curriculum. With the school year about to begin, I feel like I have completed some crucial planning that will allow me to jump into next school year with strategies to engage students in new ways. Instead of the usual back-to-school anxiety, I’m buzzing with anticipation about using the Internet for it’s original purpose: communication and collaboration.
I will be blogging alongside my students to share the project with fellow educators, not only from my school, but from the Summer Pathways program. Teacher collaboration can also benefit from digital media since learning circles become instantly accessible.
Written by Jen Lewin, a middle school teacher at John C. Coonley School.