Blogging: raising the creativity bar

| August 20, 2014 | 0 Comments

By Craig Cuyler

As students get older, there seems to be a decline in the levels of creativity employed by them. In particular, boys seldom take the time to reflect on their writing and do not question whether or not they have been truly creative.1 The challenge for teachers, then, is to try to keep creativity alive in the classroom and in their students.

Creative teaching leads to real learning

This article explores my efforts to do exactly that, through a project which started as a question: ‘How can blogging foster creative risk-taking in boys when doing creative writing?’ At our school, the boys do tend to do quite a lot of creative writing; however in a traditional setting, therefore, the teacher decides who has been creative, and there is very little creative risktaking on the students’ part as the environment does not pose any threat that their work will be ‘exposed’.

Blogging: more bang for your buck

Contrarily, however, for many students the very act of writing can be a very daunting task, and it may take hours before they are able to put anything that they feel is significant down on paper. The use of a blog takes a lot of the anxiety out of writing, as it is easy to edit your post. Moriarty and Rajapillai point out: “… Reflection, creativity and feedback are vital for students engaged in creative writing and blogs seem to provide an environment encapsulating all of these aspects.”2

Bold apprehension

I therefore designed a project to explore how blogging can be used as an effective tool for encouraging creative risk-taking in English writing in boys.

The research focused on a Grade 9 class I chose because they are a highly energetic group, open to taking risks. Many of them enjoy working on computers, and spend much of their time gaming or on social media such as Facebook.

In discussions held prior to the commencement of the project, all 22 students reported that they enjoyed creative writing. It was my observation, however, that very few boys actually did any creative writing in their free time.

A point I found interesting was that although none of the students had ever blogged before, they did not feel threatened by the prospect of others reading their work. Rather, their responses included the following:

  • “We can comment on each other’s work and provide constructive criticism.”
  • “We can all read each other’s work.”
  • “You can get many people to read it, which in turn gives you more feedback.” From a risk-taking perspective, this information was very heartening.”

Paintings a starting point

I decided to base my project on the American artist, Edward Hopper,3 and showed the class examples of his work. In groups, they discussed the paintings they saw, and had to answer some questions based on a reading about his life that they were given.

In the following five lessons, they then each had to choose a Hopper painting and plan a narrative piece that they felt best described what was happening in the painting they had chosen. These narratives were posted to the class blog and were read by two ‘critical’ friends, who made suggestions about improving their writing.

Once each student had received feedback, they then rewrote their narratives, taking cognisance of the suggestions they had received. The new drafts were then posted on the blog for peer and teacher assessment. The students were given an opportunity to comment on the assessment rubric before the process began, and they were allowed to add the criteria they felt should be considered for use when the final product was assessed.

Peer review proved positive

The peer review system proved to be an important form of assessment of the students’ creative stories. The fact that one’s work is to be read by one’s peers adds an element of risk-taking to the equation. If children are taught the skill of providing helpful critical feedback to their peers, it can be a very powerful teaching tool, and the more they present their work to others, the less they will fear a critical assessment to their own writing.

Another interesting aspect was that students who usually preferred to be on the fringes of the lesson were actively involved in the conversations taking place around the classroom. What struck me was the ease with which the students were able to engage with one another about their work (on-screen and in person). I gathered some crucial data after the project was over.

Technology played its part

When the boys were asked the question of whether or not they thought that blogging increased their creative risktaking, the following results were recorded:

No: 1

A little: 6

Quite a lot: 12

Most definitely: 3

All 22 students stated that they found the process of others reading and commenting on their work helpful, and only two felt that it was a threatening exercise.

Asked what they enjoyed most about the blogging project, student responses included: “Sharing constructively – it is far more beneficial to have friends give you a mark, than just the teacher,” and “The fact that you are using modern technology… is a different and enjoyable experience.” A number of students felt that having access to spellcheck gave them more confidence and made them feel less self-conscious about their writing. Some also said that they really enjoyed being able to read the work of others, as this helped them to see what they could do to improve their own writing.

The students were also asked whether or not they thought that the use of technology in the classroom helps to foster creativity when doing creative writing. Their responses can be represented as follows:

chart

The given reasons why the students felt this way included: “Using technology is more fun than traditional writing tasks,” and “The use of technology enables us to use the internet which gives us many ideas which foster creativity.”

A wider audience

Students also responded to the statement: ‘In a sentence, explain whether or not you feel more confident to take creative risks using technology in the classroom.’ The response to this question was overwhelmingly positive. In the context of the blog, one student wrote: “It’s easy to blog anonymously and it’s easy to edit your work.” Another student put it this way: “I feel more adventurous as it is no longer simply to satisfy the marker; there is a wider audience.”

The students had a variety of responses when asked what they felt the best part of the intervention was. One said: “The best part for me was comparing our stories and being able to share our stories with others. Another student echoed these sentiments by saying that he felt afraid of criticism to start with, but that he gained a lot of confidence by receiving positive feedback from his peers. “Once the comments were posted to the blog it felt fine.”

Guide on the side: a new way of teaching and learning

It was very encouraging to observe how the use of blogging within the context of creative writing contributed to improved risk-taking by students. It was also heartening to experience the role of the teacher as the ‘guide on the side’, rather than as the ‘sage on the stage’.

References:
1. Habibollah, N., Rohani, A., Aizan, H.T., Jamaluddin, S. and Kumar, V. (2009) “Creativity, age and gender as predictors of academic achievement among undergraduate students.” Available at: http://www.jofamericanscience.org/journals/amsci/0505/13_0927_American_Science_am0505.pdf.
2. Moriarty, J and Rajapillai, V. (n.d.) “Using blogs for peer feedback in a creative writing course – an exploratory study”. Available at: http://www.english.heacademy.ac.uk/explore/publications/casestudies/technology/blogs_ feedback.php.
3. See, for example: http://www.edwardhopper.net/.

 

Category: Spring 2014

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