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Monday, February 28, 2011

Tech in the Classroom with Eric Hudson

The idea to use a blog in my English courses came out of a feeling of frustration: my students’ definition of “doing the reading” each night was far too passive. I had heard too many stories of students who skimmed the reading and then shoved the text into their backpacks, forgotten, or, exhausted from doing their other homework, collapsed in bed at the end of the night and struggled, half-asleep, through an English assignment. I wanted students to spend a few minutes reflecting on the reading and preparing useful insights for the next day’s discussion.

I have been using blogs off and on since I taught at the Middle School (and Blogger is still, for me, the easiest, most intuitive platform), but it was at the beginning of this year, my second at the Upper School, that I decided to make a bigger leap: the blog would be a yearlong course activity and resource run completely by the students. I gave them a rubric for posting and commenting, but the topics of their posts were up to them. Resistance from the students was immediate: You mean we have to write on top of the reading? We have to read the book and our classmates’ thoughts? And then comment? After a few weeks, however, as the blog became part of the rhythm of the course, I noticed a dialogue forming between the blog and my classroom; students were taking ideas raised by others in class and talking about them on the blog and vice versa. I was getting two classes worth of discussion for each “live class” I taught.

Especially with my sophomore courses, where students in two different sections could interact via the blog, I found the students taking initiative beyond what I required: one student, for example, noticed that the actress who played Lady Macbeth in the recent PBS version of the play also had a role in the “Harry Potter” films. That student posted a few stills from both movies on the blog, which set the class abuzz.

This is the ultimate goal of a blog: connections students make in their own minds on their own time can be shared immediately and in real time. It can be an outlet for those students who might be shy, or might not be able to get in that key idea during class discussion, or need to write their thoughts out in advance to feel confident enough to say something in front of a group.

The side effect I never anticipated? The writing on the blog is excellent, sometimes even better than what I get in essays. It seems that when you’re writing something you know fifteen of your peers will be reading, you’re more motivated to put your best writing forward.

- Eric Hudson
US English Teacher

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