Sunday, November 28, 2010

Lost your blog voice?!

One key piece of my own learning this term while blogging for my Web 2.0 course involved my continual search to locate that lost inner blog 'voice'. Did I discover the remedy? If 2 page views on my blog today and the 1 view yesterday are any indication, let's just be kind and say I am "beginning to meet".  But I have been thinking, experimenting and reflecting. And thankfully, with blog views this low, I can only go up from here!

So feeling a little guilty this week after reading Will Richardson's chapter on blogs in his book, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms (2008), along with the fact that my last blog post here was some time ago, I have decided to write about this very important topic in such a 'voice'ful way that maybe, just maybe, I'll get my Literacy Lady blog noticed.  Okay, realistically, at the very least, maybe it'll help me sort out what I need to do to get my blog read. And I think I am beginning to discover that voice is the one trait that will set your blog apart from all the rest. 

Voice brings personality, energy, and perhaps most importantly individuality to your writing.  Just ponder this: how many books are there on teaching reading? Personally, I have read quite a few. Why is it then that despite often equally great content some of these books put me to sleep instantly while others keep me awake at night with grand inspirations of becoming a better teacher? This summer I fell in love with Donalyn Miller's book, The Book Whisperer (and even blogged about it one day here so it must have been inspiring). I thought hard about what separated Miller's book from all the other books about teaching reading: Why did I love this book? Why did I recommend it to colleagues and write about it in my blog? Voice. Miller's voice was real and authentic. I felt like I knew her, who she was and what she believed in. I loved the way in which she honoured her readers and their backgrounds; she acknowledged that many of her readers were still covering the 'whole class novel' but she didn't judge; instead she gently nudged. Like many of you who may have also read and loved her book, I wanted to teach next door to Mrs. Miller.

Bottom line, Miller understood the importance of establishing her voice through her writing.

According to Culham's scoring guide (2006) for the trait of voice, a strong use of voice can be identified when:

"The writer speaks directly to the reader in a way that is individual, compelling, and engaging  The writer crafts the piece with an awareness of and respect for the audience and the writing purpose.
A. The tone of the writing adds interest to the message and is appropriate for the purpose and audience.
B. The readers feels a strong interaction with the writer, sensing the person behind the words.
C. The writer takes a risk by revealing who he or she is consistently throughout the piece.
D. Expository or persuasive writing reflects a strong commitment to the topic by showing why the reader needs to know this and why he or she should care.
E. Narrative writing is honest, personal, and engaging and makes the reader think about and react to the author's ideas and point of view."  (p. 12)

Writing Fix
In my opinion, Miller is an expert at the trait of voice. Now the big question: How do I find that voice in my own writing?

I think I may have just discovered the remedy. One word. One that would even make Mrs. Miller proud.


As I thought further about 'voice', I went back to how I would teach this to my students. I'd use exemplars.  I'd make them read blog posts until they had all found a half dozen or more blog posts that they loved.

So, I guess I had better do the same. I may be a teacher, but I am still a learner first (remember if I already knew this I would have more than two hits on my blog post, after all!) So, I went off and found several blogs that I loved. For me, this was pretty easy. All I had to do was look at my Google Reader account and ask:  Why are some of those blogs all caught up while others have double-digits in posts waiting to be read?  Yes, time may be a factor, but time alone does not account for it all! Some blogs I just enjoyed reading more than others.

So, using my Google Reader as a stepping point, I decided to create a bank of blogs that are genuine exemplars of quality voice! I asked: What made this a great blog post? Why is this writer a great blogger? What did the writer do to create his/her voice? How did they interact with me (humour, questioning, sarcasm)? Did they spark curiosity or debate?  I listed the attributes. Now, as I write this very post, I will try to include some of those attributes in my own writing. Then, I'll reread, reflect, receive feedback, compare against my criteria and revise as necessary.

So, here's my favourites list. What's yours?
  • Doug Johnson's Blue Skunk Blog.
    • Attributes: humour, sarcasm, word choice i.e. "It is spam if... Replace your written e-mail address on webpages with something that looks like gullible(at)" from Email to staff on spam
  • Will Richardson's Weblogg-ed.
    • Attributes: honesty, opinionated (that's a compliment, Mr. Richardson), thought-provoking, love his parent voice i.e. " I want so badly for my kids to be learners, not knowers first." from Better Learning or Better Learners
  • Buffy Hamilton's The Unquiet Librarian
    • Attributes: No nonsense talk, gets to the point, thoughtful, tries to engage librarians and others in conversation... although I think all my favourites do this i.e. "Needless to say, I’m still dumbfounded this evening.  While I appreciate the laws of supply and demand, I don’t understand (and maybe I’m naive here) why Amazon is not being more accommodating in helping educational institutions continue to order the Kindles in bulk." from Our Kindle e-Reader order is Snuffed Out by Amazon
  • Dr. Scott McLeod's Dangerously Irrelevant blog
    • Attributes: always poses questions (You know he loves to question. By the way, did you notice how I titled my blog, too?), his frankness, a little attitude (another good thing), i.e. "The best dissertation is a done dissertation; you're not going to save the world with your dissertation" from Struggling with your dissertation?
      •  By the way, Dr. McLeod, I will remember your suggestions next term as I write my major paper for my M.Ed in Teacher-librarianship! Thank you for your very sensible advice.
I tried a little attitude, some humour (it's the best I can do, sorry), honesty and opinion. How did I do? Now, I'll put these skills to work on my course blog: 

For further reading about creating blog voice, check out:

For teaching strategies, lessons and links to further resources:

Finally, for a great teaching resource:
Culham, R. (2003). 6+1 traits of writing: The complete guide grades 3 and up. Portland, OR: Scholastic.
Culham, R. (2006).  100 trait-specific comments: A quick guide for giving constructive feedback on student writing.  Portland, OR: Scholastic.