Technology enters our classrooms at a sometimes head-spinning pace. As educators, we want technology to inspire student learning and creativity. That's what led us — an instructional coach and English teacher at Kirkwood High School in Missouri — to design a rigorous learning experience tied to national standards that incorporated the tools we had at our fingertips.
We chose to introduce blogging to students studying Lord of the Flies to make this canonical text more relevant. In addition to helping students understand the content more deeply, blogging connected with our larger goals of helping students grasp the rules and benefits of learning in an online community and thus helped reinforce sound digital citizenship skills.
To help students thrive in this medium, we first demonstrated how bloggers contribute their own thinking and elicit the thinking of others in their writing. Next we helped them create their blogs using Edublogs. Finally, we outlined the criteria for what we were looking for in their posts. We highlighted features like insightful analysis and thought-provoking questions, addressing both the Common Core State Standards and the ISTE Standards for Students to guide our plans for students' online collaboration.
Learning to blog effectively
While engaging with Lord of the Flies, we asked students to blog from the perspective of one of author William Golding's key characters. Students increased their confidence in tracing the shifts in complex characters over time (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3) while using appropriate diction to convey a vivid picture of a character (CCSS.ELA.Literacy.W.9-10.3/D ). For each chapter, students created original comments in the voices of their characters. As part of a larger online community, peers constructed questions designed to elicit critical thinking to increase understanding of individual character shifts.
Next, students responded to peer-created questions to propel conversations regarding characters' decisions. In addition to analyzing characters, students also demonstrated their level of mastery in selecting strong and thorough evidence to support their analysis in both literature and informational texts (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI/RL.9-10.1 ). They blogged as a platform for synthesis of multiple artifacts connected to the textual themes of leadership, responsibility, and the balance between rights and responsibilities.
In stations, students analyzed artifacts — videos, articles and images — regarding the question of culpability. Students built their posts according to a framework that included a specific claim about responsibility, synthesized details from the artifact and the text of Lord of the Flies , insightful commentary, and a thought-provoking question to engage others in conversation.
These student-created prompts on the blog got classmates thinking about the larger themes of the text not only in class but outside of school too. This collaboration in a digital society fostered discussion during class as well as online. Students blended their learning from a video on culpability and morality with their understanding of the characters' desires and intentions in Lord of the Flies . They offered their insights into who was most culpable for the deaths on the island.
Learning to create good questions
Although many students were adept at analyzing the text and artifacts, they did not demonstrate fluency in creating engaging questions when synthesizing two challenging texts. Their improved questioning skills surfaced when the focus narrowed and their creativity was unleashed.
On alternating days, the students blogged as characters in response to their artifact posts from the previous class. This role-play challenged students to think creatively about their connections to the text. As a result, they constructed their own learning by responding to the artifacts and sections of text they found most interesting.
Claire, Kevin, Zack and Michael modeled the power of this interplay in their blog posts:
Claire: Throughout the book, has Simon improved with his shyness or become even more of an outsider in the group?
Zack: Simon is working more with Ralph, helping him build shelters and taking on a more important role in the group. He displays a more caring nature than any other boy in the book. As Simon becomes more outgoing around Ralph, Jack starts to feel betrayal from the previous choirboy.
Kevin then built on Zack's post:
Kevin: Even though Simon is speaking up more in the group, do you think Simon is still holding something back?
Michael, digging more deeply into the text in his post, wrote in the voice of Simon:
Simon: I am holding back on some of my potential to be a leader. One thing in particular I said was 'I'll go if you like. I really don't mind" " (117). I told Ralph and Jack that I would go back to help Piggy with the Littluns. I went back through the jungle all alone. I think I showed leadership doing that but I'm not getting recognized very much for my acts of leadership.'
With this exchange of ideas, the online community begins to meld and prove what an effective tool it is for learning.
Assuming digital responsibility
The promotion of digital citizenship was the biggest intended take-away from the unit. The students soon realized their contributions to the blog could be seen by a wider audience and attributed back to their understanding of the issues. The students assumed responsibility for their learning as well as their misconceptions. They became more aware of digital etiquette and social interactions related to the use of digital age communication and collaboration tools.
Using technology to create digital forums for discussion added a unique perspective to Lord of the Flies . The learning became more student centered, and all students gained equitable access to the content because of the technology we chose to implement. Our goal for the classroom shifted from rigorous instruction to a rigorous and relevant learning community where students create the questions and learn from one another.
Jenna Klenke-Galbreath teaches English at Kirkwood High School in Kirkwood, Missouri. She focuses on building relationships in the classroom as well as online through interactive discussions and collaborative communities.
Kerry Arens is an instructional coach at Kirkwood High School. She supports teachers in developing creative and innovative curricula, instruction and assessments.