Thursday, June 14, 2007

Blogging can make you smarter

Did you know writing down your ideas can actually make you smarter? I have an intuitive sense of this, as a pretty avid blogger, but I was thrilled to read this message in the closing chapter of Dr. Stephen Krashen's excellent book "The Power of Reading, Second Edition: Insights from the Research." On page 137 under the heading "What Writing Does, he wrote:
Although writing does not help us develop writing style [Krashen contends READING develops writing style], writing has other virtues. As Smith (1988) has pointed out, we write for at least two reasons. First, and most obvious, we write to communicate with others. But perhaps more important, we write for ourselves, to clarify and stimulate our thinking. Most of our writing, even if we are published authors, is for ourselves.

As Elbow (1973) has noted, it is difficult to hold more than one thought in mind at a time. When we write our ideas down, the vague and abstract become clear and concrete. When thoughts are on paper, we can see the relationships among them, and can come up with better thoughts. Writing, in other words, can make you smarter.

The context of these sentences from Dr. Krashen is WRITING in general. He is not specifically addressing blogging or digital writing. However, I think his conclusions (well documented with references to educational research) are equally applicable to the blogosphere.

People blog for different reasons, and all of those reasons have value. In the past, people were much more limited in their abilities to publish and share their ideas with a global audience. That has changed dramatically in the 21st century, however, as ANYONE with access to a computer and the Internet has access to "the global stage." Whether writing on the "global stage" or a private, personal paper-based letter, writing can stimulate thoughts, and many of those can be "higher order" thoughts involving analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Writing (not simply copying and pasting information with a web browser and word processor) is inherently a CREATIVE act. That process therefore has inherent, creative and ideological value. (Ideological in terms of helping people further develop ideas.)

Is the greatest value I personally derive from blogging this process of clarifying thoughts, literally "getting smarter" via writing? I'm not sure. I know that aspect holds great value, but I think the CONNECTIONS which are fostered via blogging as well as the CONVERSATIONS are at least of equal value, if not more.

The more we blog, the more we reflect, the more we think and write about learning and our practices as professional educators, the smarter we're all going to get! Dr. Stephen Krashen, Emeritus Professor at the University of Southern California, confirms this conclusion is supported by educational research! Isn't that cool, as well as affirming?!

Blog on... and tag on... The world is watching, reading, and often even writing back! What would Neil Postman say about all these digitally-empowered conversations if he was alive to read blogs and possibly even write on one today? I don't know, but I think he might need to revise some of his observations and conclusions in his book "Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business."

Many if not most of the people participating in online blog conversations have moved far beyond "The Age of Show Business." We've entered the era of participatory culture, and the conversations are really just getting started. Think how smart we'll all be in ten years if we keep this up?! [grin] It kinda makes my head hurt to try and look that far into the future!

Want to help your students literally get smarter? Consider involving more of them in moderated, online blog conversations!