Tuesday, May 27, 2008

What can students learn from commenting?

One task of the Comment Challenge was to write a blog post using comments. I would like to highlight a comment and a blog post from Charles Nelson and reflect further on the issue of student commenting.

On my last post about comments, Comments on Commenting, Charles Nelson left a comment and stated,

I concur with Kevin that it's not easy, and I agree with you that commenting is something that students need guidance on. But I would ask, Why have students commenting on each other's blog when they can post a more thoughtful response on their own blog?

I should explain a little more about the context in which I blog with students first. Of course, I would love to have students post well-thought out posts on their own blogs; however, so far I have only used class blogs with students. Last year, I wrote the posts and students and guests wrote comments; this year the students are writing all the posts and then interacting with each other and guests via comments.

This semester's blogging project is a Book and Literature Circle Blog. The students are reading The Little Prince and discussing it in literature circles. Because the students can't hear what has happened in the other groups' discussions, I ask the groups to collaboratively write a post for the blog after finishing their discussion. They usually highlight the most interesting aspect(s) of their discussion and ask other students for their opinions.

After the first week of the Book and Literature Circle Blog, I found that students wrote short comments, and there was no flow between contributions in the comment area. During the second week (this week), I specifically asked students to think about how they could connect their comments to previous ones and build up a conversation.

Thinking about participating in academic discussions, and synthesizing sources in academic writing assignments, I think that by challenging students to make connections between their comments and their classmates' comments, they are learning a valuable communication skill that they may be able to apply to other types of assignments. In his blog post, Charles Nelson made an excellent point:

"But for those of us who are educators, I would say that we need to be careful about being sidetracked by the social contagion of commenting and instead keep the goal of learning in the foreground of our blogging and of our students' blogging."

In conclusion, even though students are interacting through blog comments, I have tried to keep the focus on student learning. Your comments on other ways to keep commenting focused on learning are most welcome!


Charles Nelson said...

Yes, guiding your students to make connections among and synthesize comments does underscore the goal of learning.

In a new post on commenting, I mention Graff and Birkenstein's book "They say / I say." You might take a look at it because they embed academic writing in a conversation that makes connections between what "they say" and what "I say", similar to what you seem to be saying for your students' comments.

In addition, you might consider having your students focus on a few concepts that can be the threads that tie the different comments together, along the lines of what I wrote in "Math, Transfer, and Writing."

Although in the past, I've had my students write their comments to each other on their own blogs to "force" them to write more than "I agree," perhaps giving them explicit guidance on making comment connections might work, too. So, I hope you continue to write about how your students use comments and let us know how it works out.

Mary H said...

Hi Charles,
Thank you for your comments and also for directing me to your blog posts which I really learned a lot from. One of the major goals of the comment challenge was to spark conversations and further our learning as professional educators: I'm glad that we had this opportunity to discuss our ideas about commenting, especially how they relate to students. The connections were made, threads were followed, and conversations became well developed through the comment challenge, didn't they? I will keep you updated on how the blogging/commenting go in my class!