Reflections After a #blogathon

This post is my last of November. Just before the month started, I pledged to write one post a day every day for the month. Now it is over and I almost met my goal (29 posts – not too shabby). I have learned a lot during this process. I thought I would share my reflections, along with how my experience might relate to teaching and learning.

Writing is Hard
I think some people have the impression that journalists, authors and other writers just sit in front of a computer and the words magically come from their mind to their fingertips. I never believed that before, and after this experience I am even more sure of this. To generate new ideas every day requires a lot of mental energy before, during and after the actually writing of words. In fact, I bet I spent more time thinking and revising than I did in actually producing a post on my blog that is worth reading.

Implications for School
My experience is not much different than what we expect of our students to do every day. It is generally expected that students write every day in a variety of genres and formats. For me, there were a few days that I simply didn’t want to write, but I trudged on anyway. What helped is I had made a commitment. Students should also be making commitments, in the form of personal learning goals each quarter. This might help with our most resistant students.

Write What You Want
One of the best decisions I made in the beginning of this process was making a list of thirty ideas for topics to write about. They ranged on a variety of subjects, but they all had one thing in common: They were topics that I wanted to write about. As I decided on a post each day, I tried to stick to the schedule. However, many times I had an experience at school or learned something new from someone else’s blog and decided to write about that. Being flexible and having choice about what I wrote was very motivating for me.

Implications for School
What percentage of your classroom writing assignments allow for at least some student input and interests? If it is less than 100%, I can understand why kids might not write to their ability or even flat out refuse to work. Writing is a deeply reflective process. It demands that the writer have ownership in their work. One idea that came to me is have students keep an updated list of topics to write about in a notebook, similar to what I did. Whenever an idea strikes, they can pull out this notebook and quickly jot it down for future reference. I’m sure someone has thought of this before, but it bears repeating.

Write for an Audience
I have tried journaling in the past to be a more reflective practitioner. It always failed, and I think I now know why. No one was on the other end to read it and provide feedback. Once I started on Twitter, and shortly after began blogging, I became a much more motivated writer. I still get excited when I see a comment is awaiting moderation. And I have never had a negative comment, which is amazing considering I have probably been wrong on several occasions in my posts.

Implications for School
My staff is very good about posting their student’s writing in the hallways. It’s a source of pride when I walk guests through my school for a tour. I also try to recognize their efforts by snapping photos of their work and having the students share them at all school assemblies as well as on Twitter. Our school’s next step is to start sharing student writing online. This has taken the form of attachments on emails to parents, blogs and ePortfolios. How has your school found a broader audience for your students’ writing?

Writing is Social
I was initially joined in this blogathon by fellow principals Tom Whitford and Phil Griffins. When one of us finished a post, we included the other two when we shared it out via Twitter. Often times, this was followed by at least a brief conversation about what we wrote and how it related to our positions and philosophies. Many times these exchanges of ideas led to other posts. It was a continuous cycle of think, write, discuss, reflect, and repeat.

Implications for School
How much time are students given to experience the whole process of writing, including thinking, discussing and reflecting? I am as guilty as anyone at times of pushing teachers and students to use every minute at school to be actually reading and writing, as Richard Allington wisely encourages. However, what may not always be given its due attention is time for kids to process about what they wrote and share their thinking with others. I need to be more careful about what I perceive to be “down time”. Some instructional time, as precious as it is, needs to be allocated for students to speak with and listen to their peers, both in their classrooms and globally.

Writing is About Quality, Not Quantity
When I first started blogging, I felt like I had to meet a certain word quota. If I was able to put down a thousand words, I felt like I had accomplished something substantial. As I quickly learned, number of words does not necessarily correlate with number of views. The blogathon helped me practice brevity even more. I was pressed to get my ideas down succinctly or risk doing nothing but blogging. Looking back at my statistics, some of my most popular posts were also some of my shortest.

Implications for School
Not to state the obvious, but writing is about communication. What’s the point of communicating if no one is listening? I have learned through this experience that I have to be just as aware about my intended audience as I do about what I want to say. Writing is about the reader as much as it is about the writer.

How do we model this for students? One way might be to write about something in front of the students. During the process, share your thinking with the students, such as “I think I am a little longwinded here. Let me see how I can shorten this up and get to the point”. The teacher could also get a quick check from the students by asking for their current engagement level on a scale of one to five. Then the teacher could ask the students why they were or weren’t engaged in what was being shared. This activity could also be an opportunity to teach students how to give constructive feedback.

Only the Beginning?

I laughed out loud when I read the title to one of Phil Griffins’ posts this month: “I am Never Doing Blogathon Again!”. I could definitely relate to how he was feeling. On the same token, I don’t know if I will feel that way a year from now. I really enjoyed the challenge and the feeling of accomplishment. My Personal Learning Network was also extremely encouraging as I wrote. They offered helpful feedback that helped me grow as a writer.

I won’t lie; I am looking forward to taking a day off tomorrow, and maybe even the next day. At the same time, I feel like I have developed a healthy habit of getting my thoughts down in writing on a more regular basis. If we expect our students to do it, why not us?

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is a 17-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th grade teacher. After seven years of teaching, he served as a dean of students, assistant principal and athletic director before becoming an elementary principal in Wisconsin Rapids. Matt is now an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District (http://mineralpointschools.org/). Matt tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD (www.ascd.org) and Lead Literacy (www.leadliteracy.com).

1 thought on “Reflections After a #blogathon”

  1. Well said! I was able to complete 28 of 30 days and you are correct, this was hard! It required time, effort, and dedication to complete these posts. The only scary thing to me is that I have more post ideas then when I started. The nicest thing, for me, will be my ability to spend a little more time on each post before sending it to have people read. Teachers are harsh!

    Like

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