Thursday, November 04, 2010

Blogging with Ana

Ana, shopping at one of her favorite places-
Jo-Ann Fabrics!
(I have always learned most when watching my own children grow and learn. As parents, we have the luxury of watching one child over a period of time and see how they grow as learners.  When Ana was a beginning reader, her book choice helped me rethink what I understood about "just right books" and I wrote about that experience in an article, "Shopping With Ana".   When Angela asked me to write on the topic of passion in learning, what I've learned from Ana came to mind again. This post will be cross-posted on Angela Maiers' site as part of her amazing #PassionDriven Conversation!)

Blogging With Ana: What I Learned About Learning From Watching My Daughter Become a Blogger

Ana, my youngest daughter, is an artist.  A creator.  Since she was very little, she loved to make things.  She is a collector of stuff. She sees possibility in every little thing that I attempt to throw away--old jars, empty boxes, buttons, and scraps of paper. In her eyes, everything can become something. Ana lives her life envisioning what she can make.

Ana has an amazing art teacher, one who gives students choice and ownership and who teaches her how to live her life as an artist. Ana has thrived in that environment in art class each week. Her art classroom is the perfect example of what Carol Dweck describes in her article, "Even Geniuses Work Hard":
"Meaningful work not only promotes learning in the immediate situation, but also promotes a love of learning and resilience in the face of obstacles. This kind of meaningful work takes place in classrooms in which teachers praise the learning process rather than the students' ability, convey the joy of tackling challenging learning tasks, and highlight progress and effort. Students who are nurtured in such classrooms will have the values and tools that breed lifelong success."

However, up until this year, Ana was also what I would consider a reluctant writer. She worked hard to avoid writing.  Some years, during writing time, Ana would produce a few lines of text in an hour's time.  She became quite skilled at avoiding writing.

But, Ana is part of a family of bloggers.  I have blogged about books at A Year of Reading for almost 5 years. My husband recently started a blog about his work in Tech Education (Scott Sibberson's blog). And our older daughter writes often and has started a variety of blogs over the past few years. One day, when Ana and I were chatting about blogs, I suggested she start a blog about the things she makes. I thought a blog like that would be great for others who liked to make things. Her eyes got wide and she said, "I can do that?"  And off she went to become a writer.

Almost the minute I suggested it, Ana started her blog, Fun Things to Make.  Within a few hours of that first conversation, Ana nagged at us until she had a blog, an avatar and a profile. Up until that point, she had no idea that she could write about the thing she loved best.  She had no idea that anyone would be interested in reading about the things she created. She couldn't wait to get started.

I watched Ana blog all summer.  She blogged once or twice a week all summer and she wrote more in each post than she had written in the entire year.  She came to care about her audience and she became fascinated in the world when she discovered the "stats" button on her blog.  She checked her email for comments and found countries on the map that she had never heard of.   I often found her thinking aloud about her readers, wondering if they would be interested in certain things she was making.

Not only did she write, but she learned so much about Web 2.0 tools. She became interested in iMovie and Keynote. She even pulled out her Flip Video camera to capture what she was doing.  She learned to find copyright free images on Flickr and she learned to take her own photos that told a story.  She learned to link and she began to read other kids' blogs.  Last month, after discovering a great new store that sells unique crafts, she ran home to blog about it, knowing her readers would want to know about this great place, Wholly Craft.  Later that day, she asked if she could do a video interview of the owner for her blog and emailed the owner telling her how much she loved her store and asking if she'd be willing to do an interview.  Ana was thinking like a writer.

She also began to realize the impact her work had on others.  Family members and friends asked her to make them clipboards. She is starting to give handmade gifts and began to see the good she can do with the things she makes. She took the opportunity to bake with my mother and learn to make a few fun family recipes.

This year, Ana is in 5th grade and she is writing more than ever.  She is writing poetry and narrative. She is adding music to her writing and collecting words she loves in the back of her notebook. This week, I was telling my husband about a post we had done on our blog called "100 Things About Me as a Reader". Ana overheard, pulled out the computer and asked if she could create one.  Of course, I said yes. I assumed she was taking our idea, as other bloggers had, and started her own list about herself as a reader. But Ana surprised me again.  Instead she started her list entitled, "100 Things About Me as an Artist".

She has had less time to work on her blog since school (and dance and other commitments) started up again. But the blog is not what is important.  More importantly, Ana now sees herself as not only an artist, but an artist and a writer.

Ana learned so much from starting with something she was passionate about.   Ana has a new confidence this year and I attribute so much of that to her blog. She knows herself in a way that she didn't before. She knows that she can work through challenges. She knows that she loves to make things but that the work that goes along with that is often hard.  She knows that she can work through challenges and she knows that it will be worth it.  Most importantly, she's found work that she loves and a community who cares about the work she does.

As her mother, I am thrilled that Ana has found something she cares enough about to work so hard. Isn't that what we all want for our children? For them to find something that matters? For them to find something that inspires them to be who they are meant to be?  

As a teacher, reflecting on Ana's blogging, I keep going back to a quote I heard from Christian Long this summer. He said, “"While there is often talk about making school 'fun', the real trick is to challenge our students with work that they can deeply believe in, work that matters and gives them a chance to make an impact on the world around them.  When school is merely about keeping kids 'busy', then kids often ask for 'fun'.  On the other hand, when the work is authentic and powerful, kids rise to the challenge.  Every time."

Watching Ana this summer has been a reminder to me about how important it is to give kids choice in their learning lives-to find what they love and to build on that.  So much about this era of testing has compromised that one thing that is so important to a child's learning. If children are to find their passions, giving students choice and finding the things they love is key.  And I think we need to be true to the idea of choice and not just give our students "fake choices".   In a recent #TitleTalk Chat on Twitter this year, @PaulWHankins hit the mark when he said this about choice, “Offering one or two choices is what you do with toddlers at breakfast with cereal, not with budding readers in a ELA classroom."  Our students need real choices if we want them to own their own learning.

Ana says her blog doesn't feel like work.  "It feels more like having fun. I never get bored and I get to share my things. I was surprised that I wrote so much at first because I never really wrote so much. I never thought I'd be able to do that much writing and I did. Even though sometimes it's really hard, I know I have to get over it and remember how happy I feel when I publish a post."


  1. Awesome post, Franki! I loved all of it. You are really speaking to what education SHOULD and CAN be. Your daughter sounds like a terrific artist/blogger.

  2. Thank you for such a thorough and thoughtful post. Your daughter is blessed to have you--and all of the children and professionals you work with--and us blog readers, too!

  3. Anonymous4:31 AM

    How wonderful that your daughter has a greater desire to write thanks to blogging!
    Thank you for sharing about your daughter's artistic and writing journey with us. I will definitely be heading over to Ana's blog to check it out.


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