Breaking the ice . . . in the classroom

Breaking IceFor the first six years of teaching sophomore English, I made my students keep handwritten journals.  I would post questions about the texts we were reading, and they would respond to these questions, at times with enthusiasm and at times perfunctorily.  This year I dove into the world of blogging, and now I’m taking my students with me.  Their handwritten journals have been replaced with blog comments . . . and so far, it’s a success.

Something that can’t be replicated in the classroom or in a traditional journal is the sort of written conversation that a blog format offers.  The conversation begins with a post—a question or quotation, which I provide the first few times and then ask the students to supply from that point forward.  Then the students must comment on the post.  Also, I let them know that if they “reply” to another student’s comment, it counts as a comment.  The idea is that the kids will begin the conversation among themselves before they walk in the classroom.

When I introduced this concept to them and signed them up on an invitation-only blog, it really surprised me how they fell right into it.  Of course, I shouldn’t have been surprised.  They’ve grown up communicating like this on email, Facebook, and in text messages.  I often forget that it’s a mode of communication that is natural for them.  When they came to class, they were ready to extend the written conversation to a spoken discussion, and the result was an energized exploration of the origins of Beowulf.

It’s interesting to me that my blog works in a similar way.  Friends and colleagues will dip in now and then, and mention something I’ve posted.  This will lead to a conversation, perhaps initially about what I’ve posted or what I’m working on, but then will lead them to telling me about something they’re working on or reading.  It’s an instant ice-breaker, and it’ s already brought me closer to friends, family, colleagues, and friends of friends.  It’s one of the wonderful, unexpected things that has happened as a result of this experiment of mine.  It’s truly a great example of how my teaching life and writing life can overlap in a meaningful way.

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