Reason #1: They show me what students are thinking.
Here’s a recent post from one of my Grade 9 students about ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’:
Response to chapter 12
The main event in chapter 12 is that Jem and Scout follows Calpurnia to the church where Cal goes. They experienced some uniqueness in ‘blacks’ church. And by experiencing, they were able to find some unfairness of blacks. For example, author described the church in detail to show how the church for the black were different; I believe that the author described the church on purpose to show the unfairness. Hymn-book also represent for differences of black. Not from the amount of the book, but from their melancholy murmur in page 138. In chapter 12, like these factors I described, there are lots of evidences or examples that show the situation of blacks in early 1900s.
In page 135, author described churchyard. She said the clay was as hard as the cemetary beside it. I checked the definition of cemetary, and it said ‘an area of land used for burying dead people, especially one that is not beside a church.’ When I realized meaning, I wonder why did the author placed the cemetary beside the church. I believe it was to emphasis the differences between whites and blacks. I was confident that author placed the cemetary beside the church on purpose to show that how whites in early 1900s disdained blacks. Author did not have to describe the churchyard, but I strongly believe he described it on purpose and to show the situation of blacks in early 1900s.
There is other factor that shows disdainess even in certain. From present of Lula, I was confident that author was to emphasis the disdainess. I also believe author presented the Lula on purpose. Lula did not welcome childrens. She did not welcome scout and Jem because they were whites. Whites in early 1900s gave the blacks prejudice that the whites are all color racists and they are all bad. And so from present of Lula, author could benefit to show that how whites were bad racists that even made stereotype for black.
I learn so much from a post like this. The writer is generally quiet in class, so without this blog post I would likely have no idea that he has no experience of cemeteries being in churchyards. This misunderstanding is cultural, and his post alerts me to it: having discovered it in him, I can expect to find it in other members of the class, too, and can clear it up at the next convenient moment. With other sorts of misunderstandings, I might respond with a comment on the blog, or with a private message on the blog, or with a personal conversation—each possibility being appropriate in different circumstances. And of course I see, too, what sort of writing errors occur, and over time I see which ones are chronic, which others are careless, both for this writer and for the class as a whole.
Reason #2: They give students a chance to have fun with a story.
In this recent post, one of my Grade 11 students writes about Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd:
If Bathsheba were real… oh believe me, she wouldn’t be alive right now
Weekly Reflection νούμερο δύο (apparently thats Greek for Number Two… how COOL is that?! … yes, i do realize this is english class)
Can someone just kill Bathsheba already? I know that in my previous weekly reflection, I said that Bathsheba was kickass, and that she should be the next Oprah. Well, apparently I was wrong. Bathsheba is not kickass, if anything else, I would like to kick her ass. I want to complain so much about Bathsheba and criticize everything she does, but I do realize that it would be a major spoiler to people. Thus, I shall leave my ranting to another weekly reflection.
What we did in class this week, was mostly independent reading. We however, did discuss about ‘foils’ and how both Troy and Boldwood are foils of Oak’s. We also discussed the similarities and differences between Boldwood’s and Oak’s proposal to Bathsheba. Though why anyone would want to marry Bathsheba, I don’t know. Go marry Liddy instead! She is so nice, and probably the only character I don’t feel like killing, besides Oak. Let’s face it, who seriously does not feel like killing Boldwood and Bathsheba at this point? Perhaps killing is a too severe word, maybe seriously injure or put them in a hospital would be more appropriate.
Dear Boldwood. Oh man, take a hint already! The girl doesn’t want to marry you! That’s why she hesitates, that’s why she will not promise you anything! He doesn’t even really love Bathsheba, like we said in class, he would have loved whoever had sent him that ‘marry me’ valentine. Hey, who knows, maybe if Troy had decided to play a prank on him and sent him a ‘marry me’ valentine instead, Mr Boldwood might have turned gay and gone all desperate on Troy. The point is to just give up on Bathsheba already Boldwood! As if Bathsheba is any better! Stop giving the guy hope or hints! Just drop the bomb on him and make it clear that you do not want to marry him. Is she afraid that if she just outright tells him no, he would hate her or that he would not look at her again. Thus, defeating the purpose of the valentine. Or perhaps she likes the fact that there are 3 guys going after her and it’ll make her feel like she is, I don’t know, ‘popular’? Oh gosh, and that time when she shouts at Liddy, I swear I was this close to ripping the book into pieces. How dare she shout at Liddy?! Liddy is way more awesome than Bathsheba would ever be! Despite that, I loved that whole scene in Chapter XXX where she is mainly trying to convince herself that Troy isn’t a bad person. It just gave me more reason to hate Bathsheba.
One of the best part of the book has got to be in Chapter XXI. Oak, you are so far, a genius in this story. When you indirectly told Bathsheba that ‘beggars mustn’t be choosers’… … … HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Is this the comedic part Mr Macknight? I love how Bathsheba was the one who kicked him off the farm and now is practically begging for him to come back! HAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Oh, it sucks to be Bathsheba.
So far, I love this book as I am able to envision many killing sprees which mainly involves Bathsheba, Boldwood, and Troy. Oak, you are safe… for now.
This would not, of course, pass muster as a piece of formal analysis. But for energy, humour, and sheer enthusiasm I would put it against any of the essays in D.H. Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature. What fun the writer is having! In class she, like the first writer, is very quiet. Without this blog post I would not have suspected Thomas Hardy was provoking such a strong reaction. Her post does more than inform me, of course: it entertains and challenges and provokes her classmates, who can then respond with comments and posts of their own. Everyone benefits, in an upward spiral of value. And once they are engaged, once they are having fun, then they are much more willing to make the effort required to analyze deeply and write carefully.
Reason #3: They give students a chance to show what they can do.
Another Grade 11 student, writing for IB Theory of Knowledge:
ToK 15 – Ethical Reasoning
Last week, we did an exercise in Ethical Reasoning, and we approached the issue of abortion from several perspectives—the utilitarian approach, the rights approach, the fairness or justice approach, the common-good approach, and the virtue approach, and we were asked what we have learnt about ethical reasoning.
So, what I’ve learnt from that exercise:
- Very often, the different schools of thought contradict each other. I saw that it was possible to explore a single issue from many different perspectives. There were entirely different schools of thought with varying—and often, contradicting—ways of reasoning when it comes to solving moral dilemmas.
- Ethical reasoning is subject to our own deeply rooted moral values. Our built-in personal prejudices and moral code make us reason differently when it comes to judging right from wrong. It seems to me that deciding what’s right or wrong relies on our own personal beliefs and is bound to vary from person to person. Even though we were asked to explore the issue from those 6 specific philosophical schools of thought, and come to 6 different conclusions, I found that very often, I simply disagreed with those conclusions. Despite the apparent reason and logical progression that we underwent to formulate these conclusions, I still found myself not persuaded. It seems that when it comes to moral values, ethical reasoning doesn’t overcome beliefs forged and strengthened over years of culture.
The exercise did little to change my own stance on the moral dilemma of abortion simply because I am strongly against it. However, the exercise did pull me out of my comfort zone, and forced me to take on perspectives different from my own. With each different way of reasoning, I realized that for just this one issue, we can go down many paths and we can go into a lot of detail, and could proverbially ‘cover more bases’, so to speak. This could help remove some of the subjectivity when it comes to making moral decisions. The problem of these different schools of thought conflicting with each other still persists, though, which makes me feel that ultimately, moral dilemmas don’t have any answers. In the end, we have to rely on our own intuition to try and extract the ‘moral’ choice from the murky mess of all these possible ‘right answers’ and try to make moral choices that best fit our moral code.
OK, I’m impressed—how about you? This student is thinking and writing at a very high level. He has understood the exercise we did in class, thought about it carefully, integrated it with his own beliefs, and has even been able to analyze his own beliefs in light of the alternative perspectives offered in the exercise. The act of writing helps him to deepen his own thinking, and his classmates benefit enormously from his example, which shows what good thinking and writing can produce in response to the same activity they all did together.
As I hear myself saying repeatedly, class blogs are the best thing to happen in education since the pencil.