Bringing the Blog to the Classroom: Special-Topics Blogging and Presentations

Photo of student giving a PowerPoint presentation


Ty Alyea

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Since the beginning of my time instructing students in rhetoric and English courses, I have found that students are much more successful at communicating and developing their ideas when they become more aware that their writing is geared toward a concrete audience. I have also found that writing skills improve significantly when students learn to articulate their ideas in a variety of situations and formats. Finally, in talking with countless graduate students and professors about their own intellectual development, I have noticed a common refrain: teaching a topic is a crucial motivator and test for the mastery of a topic. In my "Special Topics Presentation and Blog Post"assignments, I have attempted to combine several of these values at once by requiring students to prepare the class for an upcoming discussion and take the reins for the first ten minutes of class. In doing so, the students write a blog post that provides an angle of entry into the day's reading and then make a presentation. In doing so, the students present an argument about the reading and follow up on their approach by asking questions which encourage the class to respond to their analysis, exploring how it relates to other parts of the reading selection.

In the first half of the semester, I emphasize the fact that texts can be read through a variety of critical lenses; for example, in light of its historical background, the text's formal qualities, or the text's mediation of cultural conflict. After walking them through some examples of these kinds of approaches, I encourage them to hone their own critical tendencies with an initial round of papers. Once these skills have been established, they refine their skills by preparing their peers for a segment of the assigned reading. In the week before the class presentations, I discuss the next week's reading with students who are preparing presentations. Over that week, we discuss the aspects of the reading that interest them most and I point out some resources that can help them pursue that approach further.

Two days before the class, they write a blog post which advances their main claims and sets the stage for the presentation that they will give on the material.  The other students in the class are then notified of this and encouraged to take a look at the presentation topic. The setup for this presentation encourages students to make sure that they are, in fact, making an argument about the text that can be responded to. During the class period, they share their "way in" to the selected reading and explain its relevance to a passage or two from the reading. In doing so, presenters reframe their arguments to allow for more active discussion and conversation. Whereas a blog post invites students to respond to the substance of the analysis, many of the most successful presentations have been punctuated by moments where the discussion leader encouraged their peers to do short close reading exercises that are set up by the presentation.

So far, I have found that this assignment has produced some of the best discussion sections I have ever seen in action.  I have also found that students who learn to respond to one another in this way become more effective at finding their own personal stakes in finding . Finally, no matter what profession they ultimately choose, I hope that assignment will help the students get ready to think of themselves as "teachers"--as masters of a skill, art, or craft that they can pass on to their friends and coworkers.

For more details about this assignment, please visit my detailed lesson plan here.


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