I'm taking a time out from the November blogging challenge to think about the 30 posts I completed in September for that Reflective Teaching Blogging Challenge. It's been just over a month since then and with that distance I am in a good place to think about what I gleaned from that experience.
The word "boosting" comes to mind when I think about blogging. If I had to boil it down to just two boosts that I got from blogging, they would be inspiration and a clearer sense of purpose.
Let's start with purpose.
By nature, I love routine. It's neat-o. A nice routine can keep an anxiety-prone person like me calm. It is also good for keeping a steady pace and staying reasonably on top of things. I don't often find myself getting so wrapped up in projects or fun that I completely ignore my work and find myself up until 2:00 a.m. grading. As a result, I am, I think, a generally reliable instructor.
(This isn't to say that passionate, spontaneous people are not reliable. I know many that are. But for me, routine keeps away the scary stuff, which means I can keep up with the business of life.)
But routine has pretty obvious downsides. I don't often get bursts of inspiration to try new things in the classroom. Ideas don't rain down on me like sweet snowflakes as they seem to other people. Throughout the course of the blogging challenge, I had a chance to reflect on how I use collaboration. In thinking about it, I realized that it had become so routine to use group activities that I wasn't taking the time to refresh the content or methods used to guide those particular activities.
Recently, I pulled out one activity on integrating sources. When I dusted it off, I realized that the group activity part was really just for show. I had structured it so that the students were so guided toward a "right" answer that their agency and creativity had been taken out. But that completely refutes the purpose of a collaborative activity, doesn't it? A major function of these activities, as I see them, is to allow the students to feel their way through the process, to make their own discoveries and their own mistakes.
Especially with something like writing, a student's intuition and instinct need to be respected. What else are they going to be guided by when they're at home writing their papers? I ain't gonna kid myself. They probably aren't going to be using my AXES paragraph development handout. The stuff we "teach" in writing, is, by and large, pretty instinctual.
And where does the motivation to revisit old, hardened routines come from? Inspiration. That is where the blogging challenge has been wonderful. I finally remembered my my Twitter account password (you can find me @arandomyolk) and regularly logged in to check out some of the folks Beth Leidolf (@bleidolf67) had promoted.
I admit that I didn't know what a PLN (professional/personal learning network) was before I started this challenge. I had no idea that K-12 instructors were already integrating technology into the class in ways that I can only begin to think about. My use of Blackboard and VoiceThread (my hybrid is in the flipped model vein) is amateur compared to those integrating open-source and free sites like GoogleHangout, Storify, etc. I'm embarrassed that it wasn't until this semester that I became aware of Carol Dweck's growth mindset/fixed mindset concept. How 2012 of me.
Bayan Professor, blogged regularly and would also come by my office frequently. Talk about PLN: he is so plugged in with cross-disciplinary education groups and sites that through him, I get a sense of "what's hot" in education today.
Bottom line: I can't emphasize enough how invigorating it is to share ideas with colleagues on a regular basis. It is so easy to get wrapped up in prepping for class, grading, and doing administrative duties. But a hike in the most beautiful rainforest in Thailand gets boring if we don't occasionally take our gaze off our feet.
Blogging: get boosted!