Since this is a perennial issue, I’m sharing this letter to parents about our student blogging launch in my AP Literature class. It’s important to realize that this approach is tailored to the age group of my 17-year-old seniors. They’ll be considered adults in a few short months, so I designed this parent approach with that fact foremost in mind. (This is not to say the letter wouldn’t work for earlier grades. I think it should be considered from maybe age 12 and up, since it discusses maturity and good judgment in managing your online identity, and that’s a discussion we all know has to happen as early as is reasonably possible.)
What I like about this approach is that parents can choose the level of privacy – name, image in photos and/or videos, comment moderation – for their “child” (we have to come up with a better word for the young adult offspring of parental units).
Another thing I like is that it doesn’t use the unfortunate term, “blogging.” It uses the label “connective reading and writing” instead. To me this is far from hair-splitting: it’s a way to separate my pedagogical purpose from the abomination of “blogs as on-line diaries” – god in heaven, the world can do without these – or, worse yet, “blogs as the new way to turn in homework” (god in heaven, students can do without these). To bang that drum again, blogging to answer teacher or textbook questions is not real writing, not authentic learning, and (usually) not relevant to students – but is a great way to make them hate blogging as yet another “schooly” imposition and drive them, as I wrote about so tirelessly several months ago in my “How Teachers Can Kill Student Blogging” series, back to their Facebooks and Myspaces for real writing.
By calling it “connective reading and writing” (and I tried to very briefly define and explain how revolutionary this is in the parent letter below), the emphasis is instead placed on self-directed reading and writing – and creating networks of interest with real-world writers by discussing their writing, linking to it, commenting on their blogs, and hoping to attract them to form a relationship by commenting back on the students’ blogs. This type of blogging is more properly considered “project-based learning,” the way I’m doing it this year, because I’m framing the 7-month blogging journey as a goal-oriented project: “I want to read real-world bloggers who write about x, write about my responses to what they write, and develop a network (or ‘community of interest,’ or whatever buzzword you like) with such people over the next 7 months.” That’s not just writing on a computer. That’s reading, writing, thinking, and connecting with a real-world purpose – beyond school. So that’s a project. They can learn so much more from others in the blogosphere than they can from us teachers about so many real things banished by the factory curriculum.
(But they still have to get it. And that’s a battle, since they’ve never had to get anything but how to study for the next test, or plan the prom, or be a cheerleader. Here, again, is the “envisioning your blog’s future results” activity on Google Docs as my best effort to help them “get it.”)
One last point before I paste the letter (and here’s its link on Google Docs, which you can freely use and adapt): anybody who’s following the idea so far might be wondering, “But how are you going to manage remembering the privacy levels chosen by the parents for each student? That seems like a nightmare.”
Here’s how: use Diigo. That’s what I’m going to do, anyway. Diigo now allows us to leave annotations (“stickynotes”) on web pages that are not attached to any highlighted texts, but just float on the page as a little yellow speech bubble. So I’m going to put a private, floating stickynote on each student blog’s homepage telling me the privacy levels chosen for him or her. It looks like this:
–hover over the speech bubble, and it shows you your annotation, eg.: “full name, pictures, videos okay, self-moderated comments,” or whatever.
So here’s the letter. If anybody wants to suggest changes, or collaborate on them, I’m all ears.
Parent Consent for Student Weblogs
As part of the 21st Century Literacy initiative in the high school, your child is required to practice a new form of writing called connective reading and writing.
What is Connective Reading?
Connective reading involves finding writers on-line who specialize in a subject (or subjects) chosen by each student, and subscribing to those writers via RSS (Real Simple Syndication), and regularly reading those self-chosen writers’ new articles in the students’ RSS reader.1
What is Connective Writing?
Connective writing involves students writing, on their weblogs (“blogs”), about the writers and ideas ideas they read in their RSS readers. When writing about these writers’ articles, students will make hyperlinks (basic web links) to the articles they are writing about. And here’s where the power of 21st century writing comes in: the writers your child links to will quickly discover that they have been written about (through a site called Technorati), and in most cases, will visit your son’s or daughter’s weblog to read what they wrote. Why is this powerful? Because: if your child’s writing succeeds, the writers they’re writing about will comment on your child’s ideas and writings; and in the best cases, some of these real-world writers will take an interest in your child – after all, your child shares an interest with them – and will become mentors, guides, and supporters of your child’s learning through regular visits and “conversations” on your child’s weblog.
How Do Students Benefit by Connective Reading and Writing? Self-directed Learning, and Networking.
In short, it’s a way for your child to read more about subjects they have a genuine interest in; to learn more about that subject through reading about it; to write more – and better - in order to attract readers in the world who share their interest; and to develop a real-world network of adults with expertise in the subject your child wants to learn about.
Choose Your Child’s Level of Privacy
By school policy, your child will not be allowed to reveal personal information such as address, birthday, phone number, or email address. However, opinions differ about the use of a student’s full name, and about images of students in photos and videos – so we are offering you choice in these areas.
Please read the brief “for and against” summaries about names and images below, and check the option you prefer:
a. Name: If the student’s full name is used, his or her weblog will show up in Google and other search engines. Pro: For talented writers with maturity and good judgment, this can be a benefit, as a sort of “online portfolio” of the student’s work. Con: For students with less maturity, skill, and/or judgment, showing up on search engines may not be desirable. A “first name only” might be a better choice.
CHOOSE ONE OPTION ONLY:
___ MY CHILD MAY USE HIS/HER FULL NAME
___ MY CHILD MAY USE ONLY HIS/HER GIVEN NAME, NOT THE FAMILY NAME.
b. Image (photo or video): Pro: Like sharing your name, sharing photos and videos of yourself – an “author” photo, a “greeting to readers” video, for example – can be helpful in establishing connections with readers. We like being able to connect a face to a writer, to see and hear the writer on occasional video or audio clips. Con: Similar to use of full name, students with less maturity or poor judgment should perhaps not publish images or videos of themselves.
CHOOSE ONE OPTION ONLY:
___ MY CHILD MAY USE HIS/HER IMAGE AND VOICE IN PHOTOS AND VIDEOS
___ MY CHILD MAY NOT USE HIS/HER IMAGE IN PHOTOS AND VIDEOS, BUT MAY SHARE HIS/HER VOICE IN AUDIO CLIPS
___ MY CHILD MAY NOT USE HIS/HER IMAGE OR VOICE
c. Screening (“moderating”) reader comments: In connective writing, reader comments are the way learning networks are formed. While rude or inappropriate comments from the world are extremely rare, they are still possible. One option is for teachers to moderate (“screen”) all comments on a student’s weblog articles before he/she sees them. A second option is to allow students to moderate their own comments. A third option is to simply not moderate comments at all, and let them be published as soon as readers leave them.
Student Moderation: Pro: encourages responsibility, ownership, and maturity; Con: sensitive students might be unable to deal with inappropriate comments (remember, these are extremely rare).
No Moderation: Pro: Readers like to see their comments immediately after they submit them, which encourages more commenting; Con: rude or inappropriate comments (e.g., “spam” or uncivil remarks) might appear without the student’s immediate knowledge.
Teacher Moderation: Pro: shelters students from the possibility of a rude or inappropriate comment; Con: treats students like children instead of mature young adults.
CHOOSE ONE OPTION ONLY:
___ MY CHILD MAY MODERATE HIS/HER OWN COMMENTS
___ I WANT TEACHERS TO MODERATE MY CHILD’S COMMENTS FOR THEM
___ MODERATION OF COMMENTS IS NOT NECESSARY
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at [ EMAIL ADDRESS OR PHONE NUMBER HERE].
Please print your name, signature, and date in the spaces below. And thank you for your cooperation.
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1 Want to know more about RSS readers? Ask your child to show you his/her Bloglines account. You might decide it’s a powerful tool for staying abreast of the latest information about your own interests – many professionals around the world now use RSS readers in their daily professional life to remain competitive and up-to-date.