Here is the second posting in my series on the benefits and challenges of using blogging in the elementary classroom. Critical thinking is a topic that I find particularly interesting, I think, in part because my students are really bad at it.
The literature suggests that blogging encourages critical thinking. Sawmiller (2010) asserts that critical thinking occurs as students read, filter, organize and decide how to write about a topic meaningfully. While I agree, I also believe that, as with any new skill, students require direct instruction and scaffolding to be able to do this. I do agree that learning will occur more naturally as students gain the “ability to anticipate the readers’ interpretation….[which] is a particularly challenging cognitive process”. One aspect of critical thinking, metacognition – the ability to reflect on one’s thinking and growth – is supported particularly well through blogs, as students have a permanent record of their writing on which they can look back; this allows students to more accurately reflect on their learning. However, critical thinking will not just happen on its own – the teacher needs to provide prompts and assignments that are meaningful and thought-provoking. In order for a blogging project to be successful, it is imperative that the teacher first considers and plans the project’s specific goals and purpose. Although it is possible (and likely) that the project could go off in a different direction, it is more likely to be successful if the students are given a purposeful learning environment. Specifically, students require instruction and practice to identify problems, locate and critically examine online resources, and choose manageable topics.
However, the blogging platform can encourage critical thinking when students have meaningful conversations and discussions with people from around the world, through comments left on their blog. This provides them with greater motivation, inspiration and ability to collaborate. The students feel empowered, and begin to “take ownership of the writing process”, where reflection and metacognition play important roles. Also, in many places the curriculum is spiraled, and students will come back to the same topic at least once more during their schooling. By having an on-going blog, students are able to access, update and reflect on previous work, and thus engage in on-going, relevant metacognition and learning.
Critical thinking is important in all educational contexts, but is something that my students generally are not very good at. I don’t know if it’s a language issue, which makes it difficult for their thoughts to come across, or if it’s due to a lack of critical thinking practice in their previous schooling experiences. Either way, I think that blogging could be a great platform to get my students engaged in, and thinking about, their writing. But how do I make this happen?