Help Conversations to Happen

Help create conversations with and among your students. Blogs come alive when there are comments! [next]

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In order to promote good conversations among students in my classes, I rely on a randomizing spreadsheet in order to set up random blog groups each week. My goal is not that every post in a blog should get comments; some posts are self-reflections or note-taking, brainstorming, writing activities that can serve a purpose without conversation. For other posts though — especially the storytelling posts that students write each week — conversation is important, and it is my goal for students to get at least one, and hopefully two, comments on their storytelling posts each week.

To help make that happen, each week I put students in random groups of three, the idea being that they comment on two other people's blogs, and also receive back comments from those two people. Not all students complete the commenting assignment every week, but it works pretty well. I've been tinkering with this system for years, and I'm satisfied with the results, and also happy that it only takes me a few minutes to set up the groups each week.

Because students are giving and receiving comments from the people in that group, the weekly comments create a conversational sense of mutual back-and-forth, and because the groups are different each week, students can meet lots of other students in the class (my classes range in size from 30-60 students). In addition to reading the storytelling post, students also read and comment on the introduction post, which helps them get to know each other as well individuals. That's important: even though students write those introduction posts in the first week of class, they are meeting new people in the class all semester long — and when you meet somebody new, you need to read their introduction!

You may have heard about the Quadblogging project. My approach is sort of like Quadblogging except that there are new groups every week.

I've written up some information about the way I use a spreadsheet to randomize the blog groups here: Randomizing Blogs. I also made a screencast for that as part of the project; the part about using spreadsheets to randomize starts at about 4:30 in the video:

The image above is another proverb poster from the Proverb Laboratory: An untouched drum does not speak.

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