National Writing Project

Blogging the Summer Institute

By: Bonnie Kaplan
Date: November 17, 2008

Summary: The Technology Liaisons Network supported Bonnie Kaplan in exploring weblogs, which she then brought to the Hudson Valley Writing Project's summer institute. Her site is just one of many that are beginning to learn from the process of blogging the summer institute.


A quick scan of the Hudson Valley Writing Project’s (HVWP) 2008 summer institute blog reveals a range of multimedia compositions: a digital story called “Remembering Our SI Roots,” photos of teachers at work and play, and writing.

Lots of writing.

Lilah, for instance, during an activity in which summer institute participants read and responded to a piece concerning technology and literacy, posted this comment to the blog about a New York Times story called So Young, So Gadgeted:

The article cautions parents that electronic devices should be used to “supplement rather than replace real experiences,” and encourages them to “make sure there’s an overall sense of balance” in activities during this stage of life. I agree. And now . . . I’m going to sit in this dark computer lab and spend some time looking into the new Pokémon Mystery Dungeon for the Nintendo DS because I’m interested in how it exercises reading skills.

The HVWP’s Summer Institute blog provides a window into the four weeks in which seventeen teachers worked and formed a community on the campus of State University of New York in New Paltz. It also provides a lasting chronicle of thoughts, musings, resources, and ethnographic records unique to that summer institute.

A Few Years of Experimentation

We at HVWP came to this place of blogging our summer institute after a few years of experimentation.

In 2006, after my attendance at the Technology Liaisons Network’s Tech Matters institute, I returned excited about blogging both as a way to keep our new teacher-consultants connected as writers and as a way to create classroom writing communities on the Web. On the winds of my enthusiasm, I helped our summer institute fellows create their first blogs. With only one week left during that institute, everyone took just a small bite into the blogosphere.

But in 2007 our HVWP blog took on a more central role in our summer institute as we introduced blogging along with a newly developed technology strand. We came to this place because, in the dynamic span of one year, our new group of summer institute participants were arriving with hopes for more than just a taste of the new technologies.

I now feel comfortabe with blogs, and appreciate the wonderful communal tool they can be in the classroom.

In the meantime, the HVWP tech team had been diving deeper into the Web with the support of the Technology Liaisons Network, bringing to our classrooms such Web tools as Edublogs, Flickr, Wikispaces and Delicious to enhance literacy while capitalizing on student skills and interests.

Each week we gave our fellows time to explore together: messing around on our blog’s homepage, responding to prompts, sharing photos, and writing pieces.

Summer Institute Blogs—A Communal Tool

In 2008, we decided to move the daily log to the summer institute blog, supporting our fellows in their initial blog posting, deepening the purpose for blogging, and going green in the process. During our summer institute orientation, we began unwrapping our 2008 blog with a presentation of a collaborative digital log, complete with photos.

We decided to use Edublogs, a free blog program meant especially for teachers and their students. Edublogs made it easy for us to get everyone set up with individual blogs and have them begin to write to a reflective prompt and post on our home page in the comments section.

Even though many in the group were not yet acquainted with blogging, they were open to the experience, and soon the group went beyond our original agenda.

As we dove into our institute, it made perfect sense to begin the day writing to a prompt (e.g., using a Billy Collins poem, The Names, to write from a phrase and then create a community poem) that would be posted on our blog along with all the artifacts from our morning rituals: digital photos, events of the day, and short previews of coming attractions for the E-Anthology.

As 2008 fellow Terri Colon wrote in her reflections, “Using the HVWP SI ’08 Blog each morning was such a nice, convenient way to reflect on the previous day and get us chuckling first thing each day!”

Susan Olsen, another 2008 fellow, added that she began to see the implications for teaching and learning as she herself blogged: “Realistically speaking, I now feel comfortable with blogs, and appreciate the wonderful communal tool they can be in the classroom.”

Bonnie Kaplan created a video of the Hudson Valley Writing Project's summer institute.

We continued to use our summer institute blog during weekly tech sessions for reflection and for the introduction of online tools. Fellows were often thrilled just to get the opportunity to click away on our homepage sidebar, which was filled with teacher and student blogs (many created by writing project teachers), online tools and tutorials, technology articles, and social networking opportunities.

The tech book group reading David Warlick’s Raw Materials of the Mind soon realized that they needed to get out of the book and use the lab—so they began posting articles of interest to our blog homepage, including the piece Lilah read and commented on so eloquently.

As the HVWP Summer Institute ended the last day of July, our blog already contained a page that held an anthology of writing by our summer institute fellows. The anthology, like everything else on the blog, will be available for our fellows to reference and use whenever they need it.

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