Archive for January, 2012|Monthly archive page

Assessing Kids’ Blogs, Or How It Becomes Another Assignment

In Uncategorized on January 3, 2012 at 10:33 am

It has been a week full of memes and tagging teachers and lessons on how blogs written by children should be evaluated. Honestly, I am tired of that. And of course, I am against it.

Firstly, we should ask ourselves these questions:

1.      What is the purpose of student blogging?

2.      What are the reasons for assessing them?

3.      If assessing, how can you develop a rubric that covers creativity/round pegs in square holes?

 Since I do not have the same teaching values as everyone else (thank god for diversity!) I can only express my own views and share my own classroom practices.


1.      Purpose: My students do not blog to showcase their “best work” as others do. They blog to tell me about many things:

          how they learned to play an instrument

          who came to visit and what they did together

          what criteria they would use for a final project

          what ideas they have for the current inquiry unit (yes, I ask for their input so some lessons are done together, based on their views)

          how they liked Skyping with a teacher

          what their reaction is in relation to a lesson, a video that I or their peers posted

          what application they discovered and how we can use it in class

          what their questions are about a specific topic

          to tell me what they are doing while they are ill, at home

and so much more.

Some write more, others less.

Some write nearly daily, others less frequently.

Some have more spelling mistakes (we are second-language learners), others none.

Some use pictures or videos or embed an app (e.g. VoiceThread), others don’t.


Conclusion: Our class blog transfers the idea of community and need for self-expression. It is not yet another assignment that has to be done.

That I encourage them to blog is one thing, but to make them accountable for not blogging enough or according to certain criteria is another. It is, eventually, a personal choice. Don’t WE blog when and if we want to?…


2.      Reasons for assessing students can be found at anytime, right? It is in our culture to judge and set kids against criteria (and often against each other – of course, under the surface). But then, I ask, why would anyone blog if they found themselves rated and judged all the time? I asked today on Twitter, “ Would you like to be evaluated based on a rubric”? It would be interesting to see who would.


3.      Now the famous rubric.  We can develop a 10, 20 –point rubric covering a lot of what one should look in a blog for: language, style, mechanics, multimedia etc. Sure we can do that – we are teachers. We can turn nearly everything into measurable scales. But…just take a look at the diversity of blogs out there. Most would inevitably  fail.

The first example that comes to mind is Seth Godin who has thousands of readers. Multimedia? None. Does it have a classical rigorous structure? Not at all. Length? Not even that – his blog posts are some of the shortest on the web. No, Seth, you wouldn’t get maximum of points on my rubric- sorry to disappoint you.


Other examples? John Hagel. Oh boy, he blogs very rarely and his posts…well, loooooooooooong. Really long and always packed with so many ideas to munch on. You always need to reread them and rethink. But oops, no multimedia there. Just plain, articulated, good writing. Sorry for you, John, but neither you will make the 100% on my rubric.


And the list can go on.

So here I am asking: how can a rubric cover this creative, very personal style of blogging? It can’t, in my opinion. Because a rubric also excludes. What is new, interesting and relevant in other ways.


For me, not only in regard to blogging but to teaching in general, this Indian saying  tells quite a lot: “If we want to make the elephant grow, we feed him, not weigh him every day.”  Let the children write, offer them models, let them engage in conversations – with peers, you, others – and allow them this freedom. Because eventually they would blog better. And better.

 *Because J. in the comments asked, I thought of providing a visual proof of how comments change in time without any rubric whatsoever. Feedback and conversations is all it takes for kids to get better – the same way we, as adults, improve.



Tensions and …Intentions

In Uncategorized on January 2, 2012 at 2:02 pm


In the past month or so I have been reading and thinking a lot about a few things that to me, even after more than 15 years of teaching, still sound like issues I struggle with so I would like to understand how others work them out. 



I don’t think engagement is the real issue – there are many ways to engage students, especially now with so much tech available. I think deep thinking, true reflection and long-term motivation for learning are more critical. 

There are two points I want to make here.

1.      I have seen many educators who use numerous tech resources with their students and that is a good thing. However, most of them did not engage them in deeper thinking, in making crosscurricular connections, in doubting their own knowledge, synthesizing knowledge in new, creative ways. To boost engagement is not enough – kids are always drawn towards new devices and apps. But to what purpose? Is there any evidence of inquiry, questioning, development in thinking afterwards?

2.      Engagement can be really misleading as it can often be nothing but busyness. Keeping kids “engaged” every minute of the day is not necessarily the path to building deeper understandings. Here come the 1) time and the 2) independent thinking time factors. Why? Because students are multitasking anyway – just think of how many subjects they learn daily, from language arts to math and chemistry. We need to go for “less is more” and allow for processing time individually.

Tension: between time constraints and authentic learning, collaboration and individual work


 As I said in a tweet, children are naturally curious. Don’t mistake that with naturally good thinkers – not even all adults are. It takes modeling and practice.

Again, creating a “wonder” environment is not that hard in my experience – kids like to learn many things every time. Our brain is designed as such (another reason we tweet, blog and read a lot in the space of social media nowadays).  What is harder though is to keep them focused on a thread of thought, to make them resilient to obstacles, to make them persevere in finding solutions, to inquire deeper in a certain area. Because thinking is hard and it requires both knowledge and skills, critical thinking skills. To me, in vain we “engage” students unless we enable them to think, unless we model thinking strategies and use them constantly in our lessons. Product-focused or solely task-based learning is not enough for learning. The thinking processes are critical.

Tension: between our need for variety/play and rigor in intellectual pursuits



“The simple fact that a learning achievement is measurable doesn’t make it relevant.” – Lex Hupe

I agree on this but again, how do we know what is relevant? What criteria inform your choices? I always find that the obvious is rarely questioned and hence we keep building confidence that we are always doing the right thing.

Those who advocate for strictly real-life based tasks and learning experiences hit a target but miss a point. Me thinks. Literature and the arts, for instance, are completely “unproductive” in the real world but it is through them that we understand, develop, contribute to and share our humanity. A child is often unlikely to talk about Shel Silverstein’s poems or the law of inertia outside school because s/he engages in different types of learning – social and emotional mostly. Does that mean we have to take away from their education these bits of wonder and encounters with the humanities/sciences just because they are not built within a “real-life” context?

The other extreme – keeping the subjects strictly on an academic level – is as damaging. Unfamiliar experiences, both in time and space as well as emotional, become a wall in the process of internalizing information. 

Tension: between real-life experiences and what education offers


Empowerment vs. Accommodation

I still find it hard to draw the line between the two. It is obvious, from brain research as well, that we need challenging tasks so we can actually learn – we need moments of confusion so we can step back and reevaluate our knowledge in a new light. But how challenging should “challenging” be? Or how easy should “easy” be? How do I know, with each and every student, that I respond to his/her needs but still push them forward? How do I know I only accommodate instead of empower? Pretty tricky for me as I teach a class of second-language learners who not only vary in terms of age (from 7 to 10) but also have strengths in so many diverse areas.

Tension: between needs and goals

Other dichotomies – tech vs. analog, knowledge vs. skills etc – are simply false and I won’t bother mentioning them. My intentions are to reflect more on the issues presented above and find some answers in the future. It is, eventually, a balancing act and that is where expertise and art combine.

What are your takes? Do you have any of these questions in the back of your mind when you teach? I would love to hear others’ input. 

*Photo: – I edited it as it requires no  attribution and it allows for remixing work. 

*I hate it when Posterous changes quotation marks and hyphens into squiggly things.