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Making Student Blogs Pay Off with Blog Audits

Various IRS Tax Forms Last month I introduced a simple 5-point rubric for evaluating class blogs. I mentioned then that grades are a (superficial) way to let students know what we value. But how do we get students to realize what they themselves value? How do we get students to think about their blogging as something other than work for a grade?

I’ve been experimenting with an activity that aims to do exactly this, an activity that can potentially redefine a student’s entire relationship with blogging. The activity is a version of what Sheridan Blau calls an “audit” of the student’s own work. In The Literature Workshop: Teaching Texts and Their Readers (2003), Blau describes a reading log his students keep, which is punctuated midway through the semester with a “reading log audit.” The audit is an exercise in “noticing what you notice”—a chance for students to reflect upon the trends and preoccupations of their own writing.

My adaptation of Blau’s reading log audit is essentially a blog post about blogging, as my guidelines for the assignment suggest:

Begin by printing and reading all of your posts and comments (you can access a list of your posts from the Archive menu at the top of the site). As you reread them, take notes, critically reading your entries as if they were written by somebody else (or at the very least, recognizing that they were written by a different you at a different time). You are not grading your own work so much as commenting on it and noticing what you notice week to week.

Compose a short analysis and reflection of your posts. This meta-post is open-ended and the exact content is up to you, although it should be thoughtful and directed. Feel free to quote briefly from your own posts or to refer to specific ideas from the readings we’ve studied so far.

Some questions to consider might include: What do you usually write about in your posts? Are there broad themes or specific concerns that reoccur in your writing? Has the nature of your posts changed in the past five or six weeks? What changes do you notice, and how might you account for those changes? What surprised you as you reread your work? What ideas or threads in your posts do you see as worth revisiting? What else do you notice? What aspects of the weekly blogging do you value most, and how does it show up in your posts?

The resulting student work is quite enlightening, for both the students and me. Students are often quite surprised to revisit their ideas—ideas they frequently don’t remember even having or writing—and discovering the value of their own insights. Their blogging about blogging invariably ends up being a pivotal moment in the students’ relationship to the class blog. It’s when they begin to have a sense of ownership over their ideas, a kind of accountability that carries over into their class discussion and other written work. It’s also when they truly realize that they’re engaged in a thoughtful, thought-provoking endeavor. It’s when the blog becomes more than a blog.

Another way I’ve made the blog become more than a blog is by using the audit as a launching pad for an assignment that replaces the typical midterm paper. After students have completed the reflective component of the audit, they proceed to an “expansion” stage:

For this part of the audit, pick two of your posts or substantial comments and expand them into longer (but still short) essays ranging in length from 1000-1200 words. There are several ways to go about this. You can pick a post that in hindsight you are unhappy with and revise it upwards. Or you can pick a post that you think is fantastic but still contains ideas that can be fleshed out. Or simply pick a post you enjoyed writing and can see value in pushing it further in light of our latest readings and class discussions. In any case, your revisions should be non-trivial, that is, substantive changes that truly fulfill the etymological roots of re-vision.

Like the audit itself, this part of the assignment encourages students to reengage with their own ideas, to reevaluate them, and to rethink them. In the best cases, it fosters a kind of self-regulatory knowledge, in which students become cognizant of the limits or gaps in their own knowledge—and their self-representation of that knowledge.

I’m always looking to refine the blogging audit, and I’d love to hear from you. What techniques have you developed to foster critical and reflective thinking with your classroom blog? How do you encourage reflective practices among your students? In what other ways might you adapt the idea of an audit?

[Taxes are Done! image courtesy of Flickr user David Reber / Creative Commons License]

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