Saturday, 14 November 2015

Meaningful Comments: How?

In Meaningful Comments: Why, I shared the power of commenting.  I looked at the idea that we must get beyond comments like "Great post!" and move into leveraging the potential a comment has to propel learning.  I used the idea of "comment" in a general sense: not just blog post comments but any kind of comment on student work from anyone, parent, peer, or teacher. I then shared actual peer, principal, and parent comments from student blogs to illustrate why commenting is so crucial.

In this post I want to take some time to talk about some commenting guidelines.  This again is a post for teachers, parents and students alike.

I remember reading a twitter stream started by Tom Whitby.  He asked:

He went on to say:

What I believe he was getting at was the idea that people misunderstand the purpose of a blog.  It is not just for reading but for interacting.

So what does that interaction look like?  Is it something that is intuitive or something that needs to be taught?  

I recently spent some time in classes talking about what good commenting should look like.  I was finding that when I asked students to comment on each others' blogs, the comments were really only two or three words.  The comments were like a rubber stamp, basically saying: "Yep. I commented.  I did what you asked.  Now Robinson, get off my back." I couldn't tell if the post was even read. I wanted to change the culture of commenting at my school. 
So I brought up this idea with my grade 9's: what makes a good blog post comment?

At first it was like my students were brainwashed with the old "Two stars and a wish" concept. There was talk of helping the other person with their grammar and spelling, of constructive criticism.  It was as if commenting was like peer editing. 
For each class I visited, I asked them to dig deeper. I would share with them what I remember hearing George Couros say recently about the "I can help you with your grammar" comment. He said something like: "If someone reads a blog post of mine and tells me that I ended with a dangling participle, they've missed the whole point."

Then I asked my students to read a blog post of mine, Who needs a digital portfolio,  paying particular attention to the comments at the end of the post.  I wanted them to tease out some guidelines for good commenting.  Basically, now that we know why we should comment, how then shall we do it?

I kept track of the student answers.

This group had a lot of focus on the form of the comment. It should be relevant, specific, appropriate, on topic. The part that seems to propel learning though (and I'm getting at propelling learning for the author, commenter, and the following reader of the post and comments) is:

"Ask questions"

Once one question is asked, the post becomes alive. The author has to defend, clarify, utilize, explain his or her ideas. The commenter gets a chance for personalized learning. The conversation begins. I have written whole posts (in fact a series of posts) because of one question in a comment. 

I got some great answers with this group.   There was some focus on "what could be changed" here but I really like where we were getting to with:

"Expand on what they are saying and add your own ideas"

With this thought, it was like the comment discussion moved from how can I help you, to how you can help me, to how can we help the world?  How can we move ideas forward?

Again here we hit the idea of good grammar, formatting, paragraphs, not from the author's point of view but from the commenter. And that is important.  It is a good habit to read over what you are about to post.  But the guideline that propels learning is:

"Share your own story"

My story is affected by hearing your story?

I love when a commenter shares about what they're doing in their class as it relates to what I am doing.  It's not just sharing information; it's like we are working together on something.  Instantly we become partners in this thing called teaching. Both our worlds expand.

Ask your questions.  Add your ideas.  Share your story.  Three guidelines for commenting that propels learning.

In some sense, good commenting is intuitive. These ideas were all student generated with minimal instruction.  But in another sense, the power of commenting must be switched on in people. It has to move from "it's for you" through "it's for me", to "it's for us".

That culture is building in my school. It is fun to watch. Sure, I see the odd "S'up" and "Great post, Bobby".  But more often than not, I see students interacting with each others' ideas.  "Show the class" is one of the tenets of Connections-based Learning.  It is crucial as we spur on the collaborators of the future, to have our students develop habits that propel learning in each other.  Growth here becomes exponential.  And I'm excited to see where it goes.