Our class blog has gone public. I was surprised, and really pleased, that just one week after first launching it, the students have decided not to keep it private anymore, but to share it, not only with students who’ve left the class, not only with friends and family, but with anyone who happens by.
I was surpised because initially they’d expressed an interest in keeping it private, in extending the intimacy and the safety of our classroom. I was surprised, too, because it took them much longer to pluck up the courage to share their (possibly faulty) homework tasks with the rest of the group by email. I was pleased to see that they value it enough to want to share. But what surprised and impressed and pleased me most was that they are also happy to share corrections, and revisions, and drafts and re-drafts as well. This is quite a leap of faith.
Through the email tasks we’ve been sharing and the discussions we’ve been having in class about corrections and correction styles, I’ve come to appreciate my students’ demands for a polished final product, and I think they have come to appreciate my interest in communication, real communication, warts and all. But watching my two kids do their homework has brought it home to me all the more.
The Spanish school system – at least in our corner of Spain – values accuracy very highly, possibly above all else (both of my kids attend local Spanish schools). When kids are first learning to write, letter formation, syllable recognition and accurate copying are central to most of the activities. They learn to produce perfect words, with no mistakes, perfect sentences in perfect handwriting, before they are “let loose” on free expression.
My daughter wrote me a note the other day for the first time. She was getting frustrated, she couldn’t find the words to tell me what she wanted to say, so she wrote to me. The communication was crystal clear. She got round her frustration by presenting me with a flawless (well, almost) sentence in perfect caligraphy. She was happy to have put her message across and it meant we could get on with our game, but above all she was proud to have given me a polished final product.
My son wanted to write a comment on a friend’s blog in English. But mum, how will I know it’s right? he asked. It doesn’t matter, I said, he’ll understand. But no, his school training has taught him that it has to be perfect. Any mistakes in his written work in class result in having to repeat the task. We, as parents, are expected to read over everything they do in class- and at home – spot any mistakes (even the tiniest, surface mistakes) and get the kids to correct them. Only then can their work be presented to their teachers.
In the end we agreed that he’d write whatever he wanted to write, in whatever way he wanted to write it, and then we would proof read it and correct it if necessary. Or more precisely, I would proof read – very much as happens with his classwork and his homework. The rough draft first, then the proof reading, then the polished final product ready for “publication”.
It’s very much the same with my class. They have got into the flow of writing interesting, engaging, entertaining texts in their emails. They are interested in what they’re saying, they speak to their audience, there is always a message to be conveyed. But they are also interested in accuracy, in “getting it right.” They know there will be mistakes and they expect to learn from their mistakes, but they also expect a perfect final product. The two things are not separate. They appreciate the process, but they also value the product. It’s going to be interesting to see how the process unfolds in a more (potentially) public arena. Will some of the students still want to negotiate a perfect product before they publish their final text on the blog? Will some of them be willing to communicate warts and all? I guess I’ll soon find out. And as it’s my first class blog experience, I guess there’ll be some surprises waiting for me.