Teaching Blogs as a Non-Fiction Text
My experiences as a librarian and tech coach met at an intersection earlier this week as a seventh grade ELA teacher and I were helping her students set up their own blogs for the purpose of publishing their writing to an authentic audience. A few minutes into explaining how to create their student Blogger profiles, I realized that most of the seventh graders in the room had likely never seen a blog and certainly never explored the organizational structure common to most blogging platforms. I quickly made a comparison between the organizational structures of printed books and online blogs, and then prepared a more organized presentation for her second and third classes who were completing the same activity later in the day. My primary shortcoming in coaching this teacher was not missing the fact that her students were unfamiliar with the structure of blogs–my failure was that I did not suggest that she spend some time teaching blogs as she would any other non-fiction text before asking her students to create their own blogs.
I realize that all blogs are not non-fiction, and many contain clear examples of fiction writing at best, and highly biased information at worst. When I say non-fiction, I am referring to the organized structure that accompanies most non-fiction writing. Tables of content, indexes, tables, charts, captions, etc., can be directly compared to navigation panes, widgets, information pages, posts, archives, and feeds–thus blogs have more structural similarities to non-fiction texts than to fiction texts. Talking about blogs as information sources also opens the door for digital literacy conversations, which are even more important in an online environment. While a student has access to a professionally curated non-fiction library at school, they are the primary curator of the material they access online. Blogs present great opportunities to teach fact and opinion, bias, evaluation of sources, intended audience, purpose, and author tone, among other elements of writing.
I remember teaching basic non-fiction text features to my elementary library students as they explored a variety of books and reference materials. The purpose of this instruction was to familiarize them with the structure of informational texts and help them access, read, interpret, and evaluate non-fiction texts in the future. Blogs are certainly not a new format, and I see no indication that they are reaching the end of their life cycle–so are we addressing this growing informational text structure with the attention necessary to equip students to consume, evaluate, and respond to the information communicated within blogs and the Internet at large?
As fake news currently receives heightened attention following the election, we are reminded that misinformation is not only being presented, but this misinformation is being intentionally presented and shared with the intent of persuading the audience with false and exaggerated information. Our students do not have to find poor informational sources, these sources will find them in their daily journies through social media and online spaces. Using blogs as a teaching tool is not only about understanding the organization of information contained within the site, it is about navigating through the information itself with the critical thinking skills necessary to detect good sources from poor sources–which has always been the objective of any teacher charged with guiding students through the research and writing process.