The Great Writing Experiment – first posts

For her introductory post Amanda wrote a solid prompt – straight into metacognition! The first post was entitled Are you here to learn or think?

Don’t even think about thinking about writing about thinking without thinking first.

Got you thinking?  Good.

Thinking is a very personal process with a powerful legacy.  It shapes our identities, our views of the world and its people, our value systems, our beliefs.  It enables us to identify our loves and our inspiration; the things that anger us or make us despair.  We can communicate with confidence: “I think you’re wrong”.  We can express a lack of certainty: “I don’t know what to think.”  We can engage with a problem, “I’m thinking…”  Most importantly we can ask questions of the world “Why is it so?” and ourselves: “Why am I so?”

Read the rest of Amanda’s powerful prompt here.

Amanda asks her students:

Do any of the thoughts about thinking and learning resonate with you?  Read the Thinking Thoughts post.

Take anything and run with it. 

She follows up her invitation to students with this second post entitled Thinking Thoughts which offers students a rich selection of quotes by writers and philosophers.

As we wait for students’ posts to start coming in Amanda and I browse the blog list so that we can comment, and hopefully students will read each other’s posts too. I will have a chat with Amanda to see if she wants to make it explicit to students that they need to read each other’s posts. For example, Amanda might include in her prompt posts that each student must read and comment on 3 posts. Without this interaction the point of blogging is largely lost. And if we don’t do anything more to promote the blogs, nobody will find the blogs and we will miss the most powerful part of blogging – the openness to the wider community and the world.

At this point I scour the boys’ blogs to see if they have written anything. If they have I try to leave each of them a comment. I also share their posts with my social networks. These include Facebook (and Facebook groups), Twitter, Google +, Scoop.it, Diigo and Pinterest. I do this in the hope that somebody will take the time to read the students’ writing and leave them a comment. Even so, it is often difficult to get a response; people are busy. I do know, though, that there is a greater chance of getting a response from people I’ve engaged with most recently. The success of social media as a community of responsive people is based on real relationships and meaningful interactions.

When responding to student’s posts, I like to affirm what they have said, especially when they are starting out, and then model dialogue by asking them to think further. For example, in response to Eric Yang’s post, Are you here to learn or think?, I’ve asked him several questions:

A very thoughtful post about thinking, Eric. I wonder if unlearning is part of learning? Do we unlearn things as we get older and change our perception of things? I’m also thinking that we learn to gain understanding as well as knowledge. Do you think these are the same?

Although students are familiar with social media, they are not necessarily confident in responding beyond short responses. It takes time and practice to learn how to provide feedback in order to continue the conversation. When students learn this, blogging becomes a rich conversation. Blog posts are thoughts shared with the blogging community in order to engage others in your thinking, and the blog author’s thinking will continue to be constructed in concert with others. This is a very rich form of formative assessment, and differs greatly from a student writing for his teacher and receiving static comments in the margins of his page.

Other teachers commenting on student posts is also fantastic when it happens, demonstrating to students that someone who is not their classroom teacher (and is not obliged to read his post) is interested enough to read and comment. Here is a comment from Nick Fairlie to Jacob Yap:

Jus poet, I’m glad to hear that you feel you are being taught how to think, rather than what to think.

I also happen to believe that the thinking you’re doing here bout thinking is some of the most important thinking you can do!

I hope you find many more opportunities to do this sort of writing.

Just now I shared Kevin’s post with a Facebook group I’m part of, “Rhizomatic learning: a practical discussion”. Happily this led to two people reading and commenting on Kevin’s post.

comment on Kevin

facebook

I hope that Kevin will be stoked that his post has attracted comments from two people who teach in university – one in Glasgow and the other in Kentucky, USA. Sarah Honeychurch teaches philosophy and is a learning technology specialist and Terry Elliott teaches writing.

Amanda and Nick have both decided to use the blogs for writing and thinking outside the set curriculum. Amanda has given students a weighty topic, provided links to stimulate their thinking based on quotes from writers/philosophers, and a lot of choice. We’re all hoping students will run with this in a way that is different to the prescriptive writing they do. It takes time for students to find their voice but in most cases there is a visible shift from writing for the teacher or writing in an essay format they have learned.  It will be interesting to watch students’ writing develop, and to see what a difference the presence of community will make.

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