Let me just say up front that I know I’m hardly the first person to address this topic, and I’m sure I won’t be the last. In fact, so much has already been written on the subject of student blogging that I’m not going to spend time here talking about the basic reasons or the how-tos of doing it. Others have done that better than I.
What I want to explore today are a few of my thoughts about why blogging is a particularly powerful tool to give to gifted students. Gifted students have some unique needs that blogging can help teachers to address.
Gifted students need frequent opportunities to explore their own interests and passions. In a curriculum driven by standards and packed full of content, there is little room for student choice. Even when teachers are able to compact the curriculum, there remains the problem of how to ensure students are doing meaningful work with the extra time that is given them.
Blogging can provide one solution to that. Student-written blogs can take many forms and be used in many ways. Whether students contribute to a classroom blog or create their own, whether the blog is built around a classroom project or it is more open-ended, the nature of blogging permits students to choose when, how, and how much to write.
As Dean Shareski points out, too, blogging is more about reading than it is about writing. Students can and should take time to read a great deal about what they want to learn before they write about it. The teacher can and should provide starting points for this reading, but the power of blog reading comes from students exploring on their own, following links within blog posts, reading other articles by the same authors, and looking for new connections and relationships.
Blogging also allows students the opportunity to spend time digging more deeply into a topic. Gifted students can become intensely focused on an idea, captured by its intricacies and implications, and by blogging about them, students are given room to play with those ideas informally and in their own time.
High level thinking skills
As long as I have been in the profession, teachers have been encouraged to strive for higher-order thinking in their lesson planning and instruction: activities like analyzing, evaluating, and creating. Despite this push, the majority of time spent on the majority of school activities today still revolves around the lower levels of thinking: remembering, understanding, and applying.
When a gifted student is involved in blogging it is difficult not to incorporate higher levels of thinking. They are a natural part of the process. Blogging is far more than just writing about an idea. It involves much deeper connections, both literally and figuratively. A blogger must not only write but also seek out the connections with other ideas.
Even just being a good commenter [aside: this is something I need to do a far better job of myself] requires the blogger to analyze and evaluate the work of others. A worthwhile comment adds something to the conversation (more on this below) and doesn’t just make observations or cheer on the blogger, and that requires thinking and critiquing the content.
Interaction with like-ability peers
This for me is a particularly important issue. For very valid and worthwhile reasons, schools have reduced or eliminated many forms of ability grouping. Unfortunately this often has the side-effect of reducing the opportunities for gifted students to spend time with students of similar ability, a strategy with a great deal of research support.
It is a complex challenge for schools to create inclusive environments with integrity and still allow gifted kids the time they need to interact with other gifted kids.
Blogging expands the boundaries of the classroom and the school. As a teacher of the gifted, I worked in three buildings with students in many grade levels. Even with the pullout program, it was unusual for my students to get the opportunity to work with more than three or four other gifted kids at a time. To bring more kids together in a learning space, I developed a classroom blog where all of my students in all of my schools could interact and even collaborate on discussions and projects. Although it didn’t get far off the ground in the two months I was using it before I left the classroom to take an administrative position, the students and their parents saw the potential and embraced it as far as I was able to take it.
In a blog, grade and age differences are lost and students can engage in conversations not just with other kids in their school or district, but with students and adults around the world who have similar interests and abilities.
All of these add up to authentic learning opportunities. Reading and writing blogs is a real-world activity. Twenty-first century learning is about communication, collaboration, problem solving, and technology, all of which are integral to blogging. Students who regularly read and write blogs have the potential to develop relationships not just with students in their classes but also with experts in the fields they are studying.
No one approach or technique can solve every teaching dilemma, and none can work equally well for every student. Blogging can fill many roles, though, and provide many opportunities that would be difficult to create otherwise. Done thoughtfully, gifted student blogs can provide a tremendous return on the relatively small investment of time and energy.