Connected Learning Teacher as Writer

Writing Project Teachers as Writers and Bloggers



One of the basic tenets of the Writing Project is that to teach writing well, teachers must write. In our Web 2.0 world, that tenet should be extended a bit: to teach writing with technology well, teachers must also blog, tweet, and podcast—exploring writing in online environments—to understand the possibilities of the medium.

And many Writing Project teachers are doing just that, prolifically and thoughtfully. While some might have initially started blogging simply as an experiment, almost in private—and they might not even be techies (because you don’t have to be a techie to blog)—you might say they’re now certified members of the blogosphere.

Take Andrea Zellner, a teacher-consultant who was introduced to blogging by the Red Cedar Writing Project (MI) as a way to chronicle the 2005 Annual Meeting. After getting acquainted with the genre and the platform, she used it in her classroom and now her blog, humbly titled Stumbling Towards Proficiency, operates as “a place to reflect on my thinking about education, education reform, and technology.”

Joel Malley, a teacher-consultant with the Western New York Writing Project, started his blog about teaching, Buried in Wires, in September of 2009 because he felt the need to explore what was happening in his classroom and make connections with others.

“I thought my experience and my students’ experience might have something important to say about education,” he says. “I get to teach English in an inner ring suburb in the third poorest city in America [Buffalo], but with 16 new Macs and camera equipment. I feel like something is happening and I want to figure out what and spread the news.”

A Tool for Thinking

Spreading the news—and hearing the news from her colleagues—is key to Gail Desler, technology liaison with the Area 3 Writing Project (CA), who has built what she calls a “personal learning network” around her blog, BlogWalker.

Desler has been “exploring blogging as a tool for thinking and learning for about eight years,” after being introduced to blogging by her blog mentors, Bay Area Writing Project (CA) teacher-consultant Pat Delaney and Marshall University Writing Project (WV) technology liaison Karen McComas.

Desler’s personal blogging, like that of other Writing Project teachers, started with her students. Several years ago she was involved in a blog called “Always Running,” which connected two alternative high school English classes for an online discussion of a banned book. She witnessed “students who were otherwise disengaged from their communities and from traditional schooling in general, but were connecting—beyond the school day—around topics they cared about.”

The experience was an epiphany that Desler, who describes herself as a devil’s advocate when it comes to technology in the classroom, continues to explore.

“That observation and that project inspired me to continue at every opportunity to bring students, teachers, and community members together through blogging over shared issues, across geographic, socioeconomic, and generational differences.”

For Desler, blogging is fundamentally a tool to empower students.

“My favorite topics to blog about are examples of what students can produce when allowed and encouraged to question, research, create, share, and converge with others—as part of the school day,” she says. “I feel the need to blog when I see technology being used as a tool for empowering students to take their voices beyond the walls of the classroom and confines of the surrounding community.”

Blogging as Community

Initially, Desler says, blogging “felt a bit like talking to an empty room,” but after blogging for a few months, she heard a voice when Western Massachusetts Writing Project technology liaison Kevin Hodgson, who writes the blog Kevin’s Meandering Mind, posted a comment to one of her posts. Now she’s connected to educators around the country and even has readers that come from China, South America, and Africa.

“I feel increasingly connected to a worldwide audience of educators, many of whom have become important contributors to my personal learning network,” says Desler.

The reach of one’s audience is important to note because blogging shifts writing from being a private act to a public one. Zellner enjoys the tangible sense of what she calls an “authentic audience,” and says the presence of readers has helped her develop a public writing voice.

Although that writing shift might be invigorating, scary, or thrilling, the “empty room” hosting an initial blog entry can easily fill up with the voices of NWP’s professional community and the generous, insightful feedback that Writing Project teachers are known for.

“I cross-post my professional stuff to the Western New York Writing Project Ning and to the Tech Friends Ning [started by Kevin Hodgson] if appropriate,” says Malley, who also tweets his blog posts on Twitter.

You might say that Malley, Desler, Zellner, and many Writing Project bloggers and tweeters are in a continual virtual conversation as a growing community of Writing Project teachers energetically follow each other’s blogs. As Hodgson discussed in A Teacher’s Blog-Reading Habits, he follows up to 500 blogs through RSS feeds—blogs that influence his classroom teaching and his work as a technology liaison.

“Often the commenters help me to think more deeply about a topic, such as the Accelerated Readers program or multimedia writing, or they provide me with more resources or add another layer to a discussion,” says Desler.

Beyond blogging about classroom practices, Zellner feels a larger calling for teachers to blog—because teachers’ voices need to be heard and defined by the teachers themselves.

“So much of the conversation in education reform paints teachers in a way that I do not think is authentic,” says Zellner. “We need to be sure to represent ourselves as we are: hard-working, dedicated, reflective professionals trying to do what is best for the children entrusted to our care. That’s what I want teachers to blog about.”

Other NWP Bloggers

The blogosphere is rife with NWP bloggers. For example, if you do a search on “digital writing,” one of the first results is a blog by Troy Hicks, co-director of the Chippewa River Writing Project (MI): Digital Writing, Digital Teaching. Bud Hunt, teacher-consultant with the Colorado State University Writing Project, is also a prolific and well-known blogger on the eponymous Bud the Teacher.

Writing Project teachers also often blog for educational organizations. Molly Thacker and Sam Reed, two Philadelphia Writing Project teacher-consultants, blog for the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, an independent news source for parents, students, teachers, and other members of the community who are working for quality and equality in Philadelphia’s public schools.

Likewise, Donalyn Miller, a teacher-consultant with the North Star of Texas Writing Project, pens the Book Whisperer for EdWeek, and Katherine Schulten of the New York City Writing Project is a frequent contributor to the New York Times’ Learning Network blog. And many NWP teachers from far and wide contribute to NWP Walkabout, a blog for teachers to report back from educational conferences and NWP events.

Here’s a list—a partial list—of other NWP bloggers and Writing Project blogs to check out:

Start Blogging

For teachers who’d like to start blogging, Desler put together several packages of tips for teacher bloggers at the invitation of Sue Waters, author of The Edublogger:

Desler also recommends Bill Ferriter’s three-part series Teacher Tips for Blogging Projects.

But it’s worth noting that blogging is a little like writing itself—sometimes it’s best to just dive in and see where the words (and links) lead you.

Malley’s advice to budding teacher bloggers is simple: “Just read widely, write honestly, and share some day-to-day resources.”