The Connective Writing Project

I’ve been keen to get more of our staff blogging, since I know from first hand experience what a powerfully reflective process it can be. I’ve always found that taking the time to write causes me to think more deeply about what I do, it makes me more aware of the ideas and approaches that I’m using with those I teach, and it’s also made me a much better writer than I once was. I’d argue that blogging really helps improve your communication skills on many levels while building a stronger foundation for understanding your own beliefs and convictions. There is something both magical and affirming about putting your thoughts down in words, and even moreso when you decide to publicly share those words with others. As you can probably tell, I’m a bit of a fan of blogging (or connective writing, to borrow a phrase from Will Richardson)

During 2011, our school had the opportunity to apply for an AGQTP grant. This grant program is funded by the Australian government’s DEEWR as part of the NSW Quality Teaching Program and, in the case of our school, administered by the AIS. Its goal is to help teachers develop their own professional learning through the creation of action research projects. Our principal asked me to put a proposal together, which turned out to be about creating a blogging project for our Year 6 teachers and students.  It was quite successful, and as well as a complete written report, we also produced this 7 minute video to summarise what we learned.

I remember tweeting about the fact that we were applying for a grant to get our teachers blogging, and getting a reply back from my kiwi mate Allanah King asking why on earth you’d need a grant for that. Allanah, who is not just a fabulous blogger herself but a real pioneer in the ways she has used blogs and other social technologies with her students, found it difficult to understand why blogging had to be a complicated and beaurocratic process. She quite rightly pointed out that you don’t need a government grant to blog, you just need to open one of the many free blogging tools available and start writing!  And she is correct. But what the AGQTP grant process bought us was the time to do that. By providing the funding to get our Year 6 teachers released from class, we could set aside the time to learn this new skill in a far more focused and somewhat systematic and committed way. While it would be nice to think that teachers would just go and learn new skills in their own time for their own motivations, sometimes that just isn’t realistic, so getting some financial assistance to help build teacher capacity was seen as a very welcome thing.

As a follow up, I was also interviewed about this by Selena Woodward from CEGSA in Adelaide after she saw the video. Selena was intrigued by the deliberately open and public nature of our blogging project, a feature that I was insistent was critically important to the project. Blogging behind closed doors, without the potential for writing to an authentic audience, seems completely pointless to me. The South Australian DECS attitude to blogging is somewhat less open-minded. Some people refer to this reluctance as “the Upton effect” because of the shitstorm that DECS created a few years ago when they very publicly  showed their cyber-ignorance by closing down teacher Al Upton’s very popular class blog, the MiniLegends. The regrettable fallout from what happened to Al seems to have caused many South Australian teachers to be overly gun-shy of any online use that might be vaguely interpreted as “social”.  It’s such a shame.

Back in 2008, I had the pleasure of giving the keynote address at the CEGSA conference, where my topic focused on how important it is to be a connected educator, to form PLNs, to get both ourselves and our students connected and functioning safely in this highly networked world we live in. I blogged my thoughts about that keynote at the time, and looking back at that post now, and hearing that so many educators  are still just as wary and frightened of the online world as they were in 2008, makes me sad and disappointed for the kids in their care. It is disappointing that in the last 3 years, during which I believe we are finally starting to see far more educators beginning to understand the really significant shifts in the way technology is affecting the process of education, that there are still such outdated attitudes to learning online.

Overall though, I’m happy with the progress we made with our own blogging this year. It was progress. It wasn’t perfect, and there is lots that I’d change next year, but it’s a good start.

CC BY-SA 4.0 The Connective Writing Project by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

6 Replies to “The Connective Writing Project”

  1. Oh to be in a place where I have access to more than three decent computers/devices in my class at one time. I am wondering what I might need to change before going back in 2013.

    Thanks for the mention!!

  2. Hi Chris,
    Just to restore some faith in South Australia, I’ll share a link with you and your readers to a Year 6/7 class blog at my old school. I started with this class in Term 1, 2011 and set up the class blog plus all of the student blogs that you can access in the blogroll. But Paul (the teacher who took over the class when I was acting deputy and then when I moved schools to take my current role) has taken this blog and really built a vibrant learning community around it. Not all of the kids have been bitten by the blogging bug but some have really used their blog as a reflective space for their learning – I’d recommend Georgyboy_14 and Yogibear if you are pressed for time. All four upper primary classes had this set up and it is that community of 120 odd kids that provides their own comments and audience. I’m well aware of the Minilegends episode – and I think that has probably made me cautious in promotion of these kids and their digital work. Their work is open to the world – I just haven’t actively encouraged the world to take a look like many teachers have.
    At a conference late last year on Innovative Learning, I did hear promises from the new Chief Executive here in SA (DECS is now DECD) that the future would be less restrictive and less risk-averse, that schools would be encouraged to open up the internet and have freer access for students to publish to the world but I’m afraid that the prior less than encouraging atmosphere has more than a few interested teachers being a bit skeptical. So, student blogging is happening here in South Australia but it’s probably under the radar as to not attract unwelcome attention. Innovative teachers always find a way to be a bit subversive when it comes to meeting the needs of the students while still appearing to be playing by the rules of the system.

    1. Hey Graham,
      Yep I’m sure there are plenty of teachers who manage to operate under the radar in SA and do lots of great stuff in the online area. Certainly didn’t mean to imply that it’s an either/or proposition and that nobody in SA does good stuff in this area. I’m aware of many who do, yourself included.
      It’s great to hear success stories like the one you mention in your comment. Similarly, it’s a shame that there has been some degree of fallout in the past that has made a few SA educators overly gun-shy in this regard, but that’s what happens sometimes when they see one of their colleagues get raked over the coals. Great to hear that the new CE is talking the right talk… fingers crossed that things make progress in that regard.
      Cheers mate.
      Chris

      1. I know you weren’t implying anything, Chris. What you were saying is spot on and I’m not totally confident that we will see a lot of change in a hurry. Schools are pretty much left to work out their own social media approach for themselves – with the disbandment of the Learning Technologies arm of the department, I’m not seeing much leadership in this are from above. That’s why I’ll only want to work at schools where a progressive approach is embraced and I can make some sort of a difference.

  3. Hi Chris, I am just a beginner at blogging. It is part of my trial ICT plan for my class. We are managing without the notebooks which have been on order all term. I have been doing as much reading as I can for best ways to have my students blog. At the moment they are really only able to make comments. One has his own blog and has sent me a link. We have been blocked by DECD technical processes and we have just changed our operating system, so things have been very frustrating.

    I was trying to find DECD guidelines for blogging. Can’t find any. However, I found your site with the story about DECD’s reluctance to be helpful. There are individuals who suggest we keep pushing the boundaries. I see that is what Graham wrote too. It is really encouraging that there are so many educators willing to share ideas and experiences from all around the world. I love it. I hope things speed up, but I guess I will be taking small steps. Jennifer

That's all well and good, but what do YOU think?