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A good place to begin blogging with students is with asking them to freewrite about a self-selected question. This is also how I introduce blogging to students. "Let's start by writing non-stop, anything that comes into your head about anything that is important to you right now." It takes some time each year, with each class to get students to believe that I mean this, that I really do want them to write about something that they care about, not just what their teachers want them to write. Peter Elbow's description of freewriting in Writing Without Teachers (1973) is still a good place to begin.

The idea is simply to write for ten minutes (later on, perhaps fifteen or twenty). Don't stop for anything. Go quickly without rushing. Never stop to look back, to cross something out, to wonder how to spell something, to wonder what word or thought to use, or to think about what you are doing. If you can't think of a word or a spelling, just use a squiggle or else write "I can't think what to say, I can't think what to say" as many times as you want; or repeat the last word you wrote over and over again; or anything else. The only requirement is that you never stop.

After freewriting, the next step is to write a Focused Sentence, a perfectly written, opinionated sentence that re-states your entire freewrite. Then students are asked to freewrite again this time starting with the Focused Sentence. Students soon get used to shifting their composing gears this way: beginning with open, expansive writing, then writing a careful, precise, power-packed sentence, then going back to expressive, quick writing. This follows Peter Elbow's "Open-ended Writing Process," which he describes in Writing With Power (p. 58, 1981):

  • Write for fifteen or twenty miinutes without stopping ... make sure to let the writing go wherever it wants to go.
  • Pause and find the center or focus or main point in what you wrote. Write it down in a sentence.
  • Use that focusing sentence for a new burst of nonstop writing...

Elbow might say that once students have finished the prompts for the Text row in Producing column, they "have used two kinds of consciousness: immersion, where you have your head down and are scurrying along a trail of words in the underbrush; and perspective, where you stand back and look down on things from a height and get a sense of shape and outline." (Writing With Power, p. 52.)

It's important to give the time, and ask students to create substantial personal, committed, passionate pieces of writing each week. I have them collect their freewriting, focused sentences, and more freewriting in Google documents that they share with me. Over time, each student and I identify the "generative themes" (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Chapter 3) that begin to bubble up in his or her writing. This type of really free, habitual freewriting is an important first step -- and ongoing, underground spring -- that allows blogging to become "a practice in catalyzing passion and creativity," not just another school assignment. Once a student begins to write into an area of inquiry, I encourage the writer "by finding niche learning communitites that each kid might want to be a part of and build on that." (John Seely Brown) Helping students to create and find these niches is what blogging in a school-based social network such as Youth Voices or the Personal Learning Space is all about.

One additional way that students are asked to "re-present" their generative themes (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, p. 109) is by coming up with five tags or keywords. I ask students to think of five words to describe their writing so far. "If someone were to search for this piece of writing online, what keywords would lead them to your writing?" This is akin to asking students to write a "focused sentence." Asking them to tag their writing with five keywords is to ask them to re-read and think about what they are writing. Later, when students, add these words to the bottom of their blog posts, they see how keywords give them the power to find others who have also published about this theme, which then allows them to respond to these bloggers, and possibly to "friend" them so that following their future posts becomes easier to do.