Image: Kristina B
One of my more ambitious and exciting projects for the 2012 school year will be to get my VCAL (Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning) teenage students blogging.
I would have started it this year, but I commenced my teaching role roughly mid-way through the year and it would have made integration of blogs into the curriculum somewhat messy. More importantly, I needed to develop appropriate relationships of respect and trust with the students before floating the idea of blogging with them. The response was very positive and I think I have the all-important green light from them along with the break between academic years to get it organised and set up properly.
At this very early stage, it feels important to establish a solid rationale for making blogging part of the Literacy curriculum. "Everyone blogs" just doesn't cut it (and it's obviously not true anyway: out of 100 VCAL students I informally surveyed this year, only one of them had and maintained a blog). The blogging rationale is crucial, I think, in selling the idea to all the different stakeholders in our VCAL endeavour: school, teachers, students, parents and prospective employers.
So here, in no particular order of priority, is why I'm really hopeful I can get my VCAL students blogging next year.
1. Blogging facilitates many aspects of the VCAL curriculum
There are eight specific outcomes involved in the Literacy part of VCAL alone, and of them things like Writing for Self Expression and Writing for Public Debate are almost taylor-made for delivery via personal blogs. Quality posts can also facilitate the mirror outcomes of Reading for Self Expression and Reading for Public Debate.
But it could, depending on the commitment and interest of the student, reach much further across the outcomes than that. Reading/Writing for Practical Purposes and Reading/Writing for Knowledge can also be catered to via appropriately planned and delivered blog posts.
Also, it needn't be limited to just Literacy. I see a lot of potential for blog posts to cater to VCAL's WRS (Work-Related Skills) and PDS (Personal Development Skills) units. Via audio and video postings (or just through discussion and response in class to various blog posts), we can also incorporate Oral Communication unit outcomes.
Unsurprisingly (remembering that blogging is about a platform and a mode), the composition and maintenance of a blog is potentially nothing short of a curricular winner, and I think it has the power to cater to pretty much any curriculum model out there.
2. Blogging encapsulates the notions of purpose, audience and public expression
My students are very capable consumers of Internet and Social Media, but not necessarily all that savvy in the way they use and contribute to these media. I see what they post on things like Facebook and how they respond to each other and, while respecting this mode of communication amongst their peers, I quite frankly blanch at times and realise that they are missing out on -- at a relatively crucial age -- some very important social skills which could very well become important in their adult lives.
Having them think about, plan, draft and produce for a potentially public audience represents a very important opportunity to rethink the way they communicate and express themselves.
Beyond that, I think blogging is a unique opportunity to escape the audience of 1.8 (the writer him/herself and the teacher checking and responding to the writing). Not all of my students write well, but almost all of them have incredibly interesting things to say. It feels like such a waste for such textured and unique expression to live on paper that is very briefly read by an instructor and then filed away into oblivion. There is a potentially massive audience of peers who can benefit from and add to the issues and experiences my students are capable of expressing, but they are shut out if I continue to facilitate yesteryear's closed-shop approach to Literacy.
I think blogging can change that.
3. Blogging represents a chance to create a positive digital footprint
This is somewhat related to (2) above, but in this case I don't so much see blogging as a tool to rectify poor judgment on Facebook as a chance to (a) connect with other people based on mutual interests and (b) create a really positive stream of evidence that could become useful for future work opportunities. When you consider the weight given to blog posts in search engine listings, this digital footprint can become very rich in potential.
Looking at (a) first, if my students use their blogs to explore their personal interests (and these vary hugely) I think it becomes a great way to find others beyond their immediate location who like similar things. Relationships and recognition beyond the 'home town' can mean a lot to young people, especially if the situation in the home town isn't always all that rosy.
And as for (b), well I'm assuming that many of my students will be open to the idea of blogging about their trade education and work experience. If they can learn to be expressive but savvy about the way they portray and discuss this, the blog could make for a useful inclusion on a resume (or a useful thing to pop up when a prospective employer does an online search about them).
There are some risks here, as well, but I think learning about and managing risk is an essential part of progressing through teenagedom. My learners will have a mentor and a guide (me!) with their first forays into blogging, and I think that counts for a lot.
4. Blogging can showcase talents that lead to alternative opportunities
One of the biggest disadvantages of almost all education systems is that, to a greater or lesser extent, many young people become pigeonholed at a relatively early stage based on apparent skills and proficiencies (and bits of paper to prove them).
I have students who have really unique talents that would never make it anywhere near (or beyond) the qualification papers they currently have access to. This year I had a plumbing student who also turns out to be quite a brilliant amateur photographer with a targeted interest in cars. I had an automotive student who is an absolute gun online gamer, and a carpentry student who -- beneath all the gruff and bluff associated with his trade -- is one of the most eloquent writers I've ever come across in my teaching adventures around the world.
I think blogging can become an excellent way to encourage these extra talents to float up closer to the surface of things. They might even facilitate extra avenues to income, whether it is via being 'noticed' or just through advertising and promotions connected to future blogging activity itself.
5. Blogging can turn my students into trailblazers
Most of my students are involved in the 'hard' trades. They're school-based apprentices, or looking to get an apprenticeship.
I did some extensive searching this year, looking for blog posts written by and/or for teenage apprentices and it turned out to be rather futile. Searching even for just general teenager blogs can result in a very mixed and limited bag.
So perhaps my students can become relative pioneers in this space. If they blog about their trade education and experiences, the skills they are picking up, the transition from school to work life, etc., then perhaps they can start creating the content that future applied learning students will be able to access and benefit from.
And perhaps, just perhaps, this will motivate my students with another sense of purpose and worth.
Those are five of the areas that appeal to me most at the moment as I contemplate the hows and whys of blogging with teenage students. In your opinion and experience, have I missed anything? What else can blogging potentially bring to my students? In my enthusiasm and drive, am I overlooking any major caveats or risks?