Question: Why do you write? Why don’t you write?

Why do you write or blog? If you don’t write or blog, why not?

I finally called off my blog project yesterday after reading the Pew’s Report on teens not blogging and twittering. (Summary in Mashable) The reasons given for the lack of interest which I, too, have experienced in the group of people I approached are very interesting: A lack of something to say to fill a whole blog, and a lack of an arena of friends, and only friends, to say it in. Facebook serves those needs perfectly. For learning writing, it seems it takes a classic walled-in student-teacher setup, after all.

Still, motivation outside those walls is key, including my own motivation in carrying on with this blog, and it’s time to think that through today. Alice and I had a lovely e-conversation yesterday about writing, and I remember being very impressed by another Alice’s summary of what writing does to us as sentient beings.

In blogging, there is a dichotomy between the process and the product, between the blog as a way of thinking out loud and as a service to others. I tend to value process more in all areas of life – and the “process” nature of this blog may cost me standing among my blogging teacher colleagues – so I have instituted the discipline of rubrics to keep my original goal, writing for learners of English, firmly in focus. But process is what I like my students to focus on, so I think it’s ok to “live” that principle.

So why do I blog? It serves some need, doesn’t it? Is is narcissistic? Of course. Is it a clarifying meditation? When I’m honest, yes, or when I’m preparing a lesson or an article. When I’m trying to join a smart conversation just to be a part of it, no, and it feels gawdawful after I’ve pressed “send”. Is it self-promotion? Of course, though I’m quite good at shooting myself in the foot. Note to self: No comment. Is it still a part of my teaching? Frankly, I’m not so sure anymore. It’s not a “product” in the sense that a lesson is.

Why do I write online essays and exercises for learners? That’s a lot easier to answer. It’s fun work, producing products I believe in, and even if it’s less well paid for the time I spend on it than any other work I’ve done, including cleaning toilets, I love it. Which goes to show that money isn’t everything, but the job mix needs rethinking.

Here is SpokenVerse (who recites and uploads classic texts, refreshingly enough without spoken commetary) reading Charles Bukowski’s classic “So you want to be a writer?” Setting the bar very high, Bukowski was. SpokenVerse’s excellent commentary? “Don’t buy it. This is Charles Bukowski telling Charles Bukowski how to write like Charles Bukowski. He’s guilty himself of all those sins he’s admonishing you against as an aspiring writer.” Nice.

PS: Sorry, I’ve been editing this post for about an hour since I mistakenly published it prematurely.

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Anne

Teaching English for business communication skills, writing online for learners, translating, sailing whenever I can, from Washington, D.C.

12 thoughts on “Question: Why do you write? Why don’t you write?”

  1. I’m not sure… sometimes in life, we have to ask questions about what we’re doing especially within collaborative projects.

    I had no success getting students to blog until… wait for it… (well, you know, don’t you – after all, that’s why I’m coming to MELTA) I set up a Ning and gave my students the ability to blog privately.

    Core word. Private – not seen by anyone else but teacher and fellow colleagues.

    Sometimes, I hate to say it, and I don’t mean you obviously, sometimes these public student blogs by students are more about the teacher getting kudos than they are about the students learning how to write their essays online.

    Anyway, I won’t spoil the fun later this month or appear as if am here blowing trumpets but… thing is, the public blowing of trumpets is not for everyone!

    Privately, it seems, is! (Especially by students).

    And LORD, it’s going to seem really horridly critical of me but sometimes… especially, especially new bloggers, have a concept of writing a blog but immediately think “oh, that’s a lot of work, I know I’ll blog by writing about a question or two – or eight and then I’ll go ask other teachers and bloggers to answer those questions, that seems fair: i.e.

    Me = 15 mins of work
    Writer = 2 – 3hrs of work. ”

    I don’t guest blog for new blogs for this specific reason. However once a new blogger has made a point of cutting his teeth, put in some real hours, written some quality pieces… then I do.

    (Again, you know I’m talking about you, right – you’re hardly a newbie in the game).

    Hmmmm… can’t really think what else I was going to say.

    Must confess I abandoned (and really hope to return to) my student blog – time got on top of me last year, but I think it’s about community or the lack thereof.

    I probably gave up on it as although it was getting good hits there weren’t any real comments and I didn’t know if I was reaching the people I was writing for, that was kind of depressing so I gave up.

    Kalinago English is a teacher training tool on the one hand, a diary on the other: a complex organizational system so I find old lessons at the drop of a hat, a way of talking to other teachers for me it is, less and less, (I think) narcissistic. It’s my #1 job – I’ve long ago abandoned the need for an income from it, but it’s my job and my first priority. Odd.

    Karenne

  2. Dear Karenne,

    Thank you so much for your comment. Rings very true. You shared your insight into the privacy issue some time back and had me thinking about this problem long before I read the PEW findings yesterday. The study just nailed it.

    I’m recognizing that any connections and wider publicity my students and clients have been seeking, and that certainly does include the blowing of trumpets, is the type that fits most neatly into Xing and other social networking sites. By contrast, the more complex English texts they want to produce need to be revised in privacy.

    Yes, I think a lot of the online (blog) sharing is to promote the concept and the teachers promoting the concept, and if the students profit from the publicity it’s through the back door of awards and grants. But that’s the way our profession works, the way ideas get spun and policies made.

    I’m looking forward to your Ning workshop. I’ll be trying to figure out whether what you do there is any different from what I’ve done on Moodle. I got slightly turned off by Moodle after I ran a Moodle course with 25 people and also used Moodle as a repository for my regular classes. In both setups I’ve found that there is hardly any conversation going on at all between the participants despite my impulse questions and Gilly Salmon style e-tivities. I’m into students using any platform for more than just shovelling content to me and picking up feedback and doing the tests for points. Mark Stoneman (who lectures in history) pointed out yesterday on Twitter that in his experience, an educational forum needs a critical mass of participants before it really takes off and conversations start to develop. He said in his case it was about 110 people. 110!!

    The only student blog that I see with a real living community is Markus‘ – writing in German, and with the forum going.

    Have a good Sunday, Karenne, and looking forward to your workshop!

    Anne

  3. Regarding your students and their writing, how about something more modest, like journaling for their eyes only, virtually or on paper, simply to improve their fluency? Of course, that can still be a tough sell, because students don’t always appreciate the need to cultivate this aspect of their language as they worry about their accuracy. (Fluency and Accuracy)

    I think in similar terms with native speakers, when it comes to writing. They need daily practice writing about anything at all for their eyes only.

    One hurdle is proving to students that they can write. One way to overcome that might be to force them to do short bursts of writing based on a prompt. In the end, though, I find it helps if I can get students to understand that our writing muscles are like other muscles requiring daily practice to get both limber and strong.

    I’ve never been able to teach a course just on writing, but the next step for some students, native-speaking and ESL, is to get them to see writing as a process where the first draft is going to be crappy and that’s okay.

  4. Sure, Karenne. I’ve added a few links of my own above, including a link to Markus Brendel’s blog and forum, Mark Stoneman’s post, which is in his other blog, and Gilly Salmon’s e-tivities book.

  5. Hi Mark,

    Short bursts are great. I do a lot of creative writing exercises, freewriting or expanding or sorting ideas. One I did just last week that works quite well to practice standard storytelling structures is dictating a phrase and then the students continue individually, and then you dictate another phrase and they continue. I insist on draft cycles, too. Generally I have students show each other their first draft, and get peer feedback on the content first. Then, edited, it goes to me. I make suggestions and underline mistakes, adding a comment sheet with errors to avoid. So students have to self-correct. They revise and then it’s semi-finished, ready for a proper second review by peers, e.g. published in an internal class paper.

    I like the muscles analogy. Speaking of which, I have to get over to the gym 😉

    Take care! Anne

  6. I like this a lot. We all have to admit a certain amount of narcissism and self-promotion in blogging, and that’s ok! As long as we put in what we take out, we share, we don’t put others down but help them up.

    I too am ambivalent about how my blogging improves my teaching… indeed, in my worst moments I feel it might be a distraction… although like many of us I am trying (and succeeding) in organising and streamlining the ol’ PLN.

    As for the student blogging, I agree with you Karenne – it should be private. I don’t lock mine in with passwords as that makes them too tricky to access from mobile phones, but just as there are ways to make your teaching blog very visible online, there are ways of hiding a student blog from search engines and making them all but invisible unless you know exactly where to find them. I’ve been thinking about a ning this year, but to be honest I find them a little bit fiddly to navigate (and also hard to use on a mobile) so I might just use wordpress.

  7. Hi Darren, and thank you. Blogging short-ish texts from a phone e-mail client makes good sense. That’s why I love Posterous.com and would recommend it for most writing classes. But I’m very unsure how visible those blogs get when all of the students start following each other. So here’s an official request: Could you possibly blog on how to “hide” student blogs? Perhaps we know how, sort of, but I think it would be a splendid issue to discuss in greater detail.
    Somehow I think if we could get all of the logistics of how to run a writing course using blogs laid out in the open, we’d – I’d – feel far more empowered to go out there and motivate people to blog.

  8. I used tumblr, with disqus pasted in for comments. You can read more about the experience on my old teaching blog here http://teacherdevelopment.tumblr.com/tagged/blogging

    It’s not really a case of making it private – there is an option to delist from search engines in the tumblr dashboard, but other than that it’s just about NOT publicising. Think about how much tweeting and tagging and search engine optimising and commenting and community building a teachers blog has to do to get noticed. If you don’t do any of that, basically you have a private blog ; D

    I haven’t kept a blog for writing, though – my previous experience was for an oral communication class, and we kept one as a class to share stuff. I have a writing class this year and I’m considering what technology to use, if any… thirty blogs, all linked to one another, sounds great… but unwieldy. Is it really the best way to achieve the course aims of producing a final research essay? A ning might work too, and I’ve had some success with Jing for feedback. But can’t I just have them work on paper?

  9. Thanks for the link to your old blog. I see you, too, have been trying to get a handle on blog groups. I basically have three issues:

    Transparency/ democracy:

    My students produce three stages of an essay in a series: rough draft, peer review, revision after teacher edit.
    In a writing class about a year and a half ago we’d had a huge debate on what constitutes “improvements” and what is a matter of personal style, and decided together that it would be good to have all three versions accessible for the whole class to think through. That started me off on the idea of students blogging those three versions.

    I wound up not using blogs in my one-week writing class this past fall. There was no intrinsic need to “blog” just the first essay. So the students finished their first draft and discussed it face-to-face for peer feedback, using printouts, or they had their Word or GoogleDoc file open and worked on laptops to edit things together. They sent me the first and the second draft and then made a third incorporating my feedback, and I wound up with sets of three files for each student. I was going to help them publish the final draft in a class paper, or blog – I’d announced that on day 1 – but they simply didn’t see the point. So instead we went outdoors, off the grid, together and did improv fluency games. (So much for blowing trumpets, Karenne!) I’d had a notion of engaging them in the concept of blogging beyond assignments, but they simply didn’t buy it.

    Classroom management:

    In a distance course on job applications (using Moodle), I’ve tried using private buddy forums where students can carry on their pairwork and the teacher, but nobody else, can see their posts. But this is a lot of work for the teacher to monitor, so I’m not too thrilled.
    Instead, I have student send each other their Word files and edit them using the “markup” function, and upload them to the platform as asignments, which I mark (feedback and grade). (Perhaps GoogleDocs would be an improvement over Word.) This is is a very tidy arrangement, with the three drafts in orderly compartments along with my feedback and grades, but the documents are completely isolated, the process is invisible, only the buddy you sent your documents to can see your work. It’s easy for everyone to publish the final draft on their Moodle blog for the whole class to see – and this can be decided by the participants on an individual basis. So straight-laced Moodle is really good for this kind of course.

    Reflection:

    Blogs are a log of a conversation with yourself and others. You’re talking things over with those who find you, or those you invite. Learning blogs could reflect the lovely atmosphere I find students seek and enjoy in face-to-face courses. But I’ve simply found it exceedingly artificial to introduce the concept into existing courses.

    So, and this is the fruit of this reflection: It seems to me that I’ll have to offer a course on blogging, rather than using blogging as a tool for other courses.

    I think it might work best as a blended learning course, with all of the creative writing exercises going into the blogs. God, I’d love doing that :)

    Thanks so much, Karenne and Darren and Mark, for your comments!

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