From 6:00 to 6:45 p.m. this evening, I sat in the front seat of our Honda Odyssey scrolling through my students’ blog posts on my phone. My juniors are in week 5 of their weekly blogging project. Aside from some general guidelines about when and how often to post, students can write about whatever subject they choose. They’ve written about their experiences and passions: from childhood to theater, pop culture to politics, history to psychology. Their topics are as rich and diverse as they are.
I’m only on Day 3 of this Slice of Life Challenge, and I already feel myself struggling. Part of my struggle can be attributed to the particularly busy week this has been; we’ve been out late every night with family obligations, the school musical, piano lessons, basketball practices, and tonight, our district’s Music in the Schools fundraiser program. In fact, that’s where I was when I was checking in on students’ blog posts. Colin, my five-year-old, had fallen asleep in the car, so I decided to stay with him to let him sleep a bit longer while my husband and our other son went inside to save seats.
Ah, the irony. There I was, not knowing what to write on Day 3 of my own blog challenge at the same time I was reading so many interesting, thoughtful, and well-written blog posts from my students. One student’s post was about his (mis)adventures as the designated neighborhood pet-sitter, while another student wrote an open letter to the thief who had stolen his $150 from his locker at the YMCA. One student shared her passion and admiration for Alexander Hamilton and his monetary policies and “his fantastic bone structure” (I kid you not). Another student wrote of the perfect place to find the perfect grilled cheese sandwich—a place he stumbled upon during a visit up north in Connecticut, while another shared a brave and heartfelt post about the facts and struggles of depression. One especially motivated student already has her blog posts scheduled in advance to publish days before the week’s post is due.
*Sigh* I wish I could be more like her.
Several years ago, when I first started this weekly blogging project with my students, I wasn’t sure it was going to work. Giving students an online forum to write whatever they wanted? I had doubts. Could students be trusted? Would they write what they really thought or only what they thought their teacher (or their peers) wanted to hear? What happens when there’s that one student who “ruins it” for the rest of them (and isn’t there always one)?
But I’ll never forget what one student said to me later when he was a senior and had been out of my classroom for a few months. He told me he missed blogging. He admitted that although there were times he would have rather not had to write each week—times when blogging felt more like chore, one more thing to check off his list of obligations—looking back, he realized that the act of reflective writing to be one of the most meaningful assignments he’d ever completed. Writing forced him to put into words the ideas that lived in his head but had no shape yet. Writing gave his ideas that shape—the clarity and focus he needed to make sense of his experiences. When I heard him say that, and when he encouraged me to continue blogging with future students, I knew something had clicked.
My colleague and I often remark how the writing that emerges from students’ blogging is often better than the writing they formally submit as “papers” or “essays.” I’m not sure exactly why that is. Perhaps it’s the freedom they have to write whatever they want to, but choice of topic has always a component of every writing assignment in our writing course. Instead, I actually think it’s the platform itself—blogging. Blogging feels less consequential to them, or at least less so than an “essay” or “paper” you would turn in to a teacher. Through blogging, students find a different type of freedom—the freedom to play, to write from their own voices. Not every word has to be perfect, and freed from this worry, students can let themselves wonder and question, debate and discuss, search and reflect.
In other words, they can just let themselves be.
This post is part of the “Slice of Life” series, organized by the teachers at Two Writing Teachers, whose goal is to give teachers a place to write and reflect. This March, more than 300 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even some students), visit twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/challenges.