Feb 4, 2011

Alternative School Student Bloggers

I teach in an alternative high school program in rural Iowa. Most of my students have stories to tell about their lives that could either leave you feeling depressed because of the hardships they've endured, or inspired because they've survived those hardships. They are definitely survivors. And they are definitely characters! One thing I can tell you for sure: Beavis and Butthead aren't just cartoon characters; they are alive and in my classroom this year!

Just recently, I established a blog for my alternative program. My goal was to guide them through an individualized self-study course on how to become a better writer. I hoped to expose them to a 21st century skill and improve their writing skills at the same time by showing them how to blog (Is that metacognition? blogging about blogging?) 

When I started the project, I thought it would be focused on helping my students improve their writing skills; but my Twitter family inspired me to make it into something much bigger. The project now involves facilitating my students on a journey across the Internet, helping them to be better citizens of the world, opening their eyes to what exists outside of our classroom. 

While this type of journey may not be a big deal to many high school students in the U.S., it is a big deal to students in my alternative high school classroom. Almost 100% of them receive free or reduced lunch. Many do not have access to technology at home (including cell phones) and most have never traveled more than 60 miles from their home. Their worlds are very small and sometimes very difficult. To many of them--before our blogging journey--Google was nothing but a search engine.

So far, it is amazing to watch them learn! They each set up an iGoogle home page and then learned to filter information with Google Reader. They are reading about things they didn't know existed and talking about news stories from across the globe. They are  blogging about their discoveries and their lives, and the act of  blogging is improving their writing!  

It is not any easy class to prepare for or to facilitate. Lots of prep work is involved and I do lots of running around to check on kids and answer their questions. But they are learning and sharing. And it is EXCITING to be a part of! It seems like the hard work is paying off--both for them and for me! The journey is not over, but getting there sure is fun!

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