bookcoverPenrod, D. (2007). Using blogs to enhance literacy: The next powerful step in 21st-century learning. Lanham, Maryland, Toronto: Plymouth, UK: Rowman & Littlefield Education. 188 pp, ISBN 1578865662

Reviewed by Hsiaoping Wu, The University of Texas - San Antonio

 

 

Overview

With the growth of technology, everyone can have his or her own web log (blog). Everyone can create one in a very short time. Considering the rapid growth and use of blogs, adolescents spend more and more time logged onto the Internet. As educators, parents, and bloggers, we have to rethink blogs' powerful influence on people's communication, teachers' teaching and students' learning. The book Using Blogs to Enhance Literacy: The Next Powerful Step in 21st-Century Learning not only discusses current issues of blogging but also helps readers to understand the application of blogs in different aspects. The author, Diane Penrod (2007) wrote this book because she has seen the integration of technology and blogging in her writing class. She has seen the powerful influence of blogging phenomenon; therefore, readers are able to read her work to understand the application of blog use on learning and current issues raised on use of blogs.

In this book, Penrod explicitly teaches readers how blogs improve literacy learning and addresses the issues that have been raised among the bloggers. The book includes ten chapters, including blogging and new literacies, blogs as a new writing genre, encouraging safe blogging practices, and creating classroom ethnic for blogging In this book review, I will elaborate how blogs have extended their use from entertainment to learning literacy. Second, the review summarizes the author's viewpoints and illustrates suggestions on how to apply blogs to literacy learning.

Summary

Penrod (2007) first discusses why blogs are so popular based on the following five reasons: bloggers can publish easily, mix pleasure with information, have malleable writing styles, generate their personas to others, and have power for people who are marginalized in class or in society. The author points out that recognition by readers is the final hope for writers. For example, gatekeepers could have high standards on publication of a book or a journal article. In the blogging world, students are not to be judged as good or bad writers by teachers or scorers. Students are having more fun because they can receive feedback immediately, and they are not scared to fail at writing. In blogs, writing genres are varied. Students can demonstrate what they have learned about grammar and lexicon from formal instruction to real audiences in this authentic context. In this case, students still receive “a certain stylistic, rhetorical, or mechanical convention” (p. 12). Establishing the sense of belonging in different online community groups is also significant for young teenagers. The web space provides students more access to express who they are and what they are thinking. Second, Larson & March (2005) states that “literacy is a critical social practice constructed in everyday interaction”Š and literacy also is “a more complex social practice than mandated curricula and assessments address” (p. 3). Similarly, Penrod discusses that blog writing styles are a type of new literacy. She states that blogging does not only include texts, but also images, sounds, or graphics. Bloggers need to design every single component to their desired audience in order to receive comments. The learning of blogging and literacy can be said to be socially, cultural, emotionally, and politically situated. Most importantly, bloggers should know how to present meaningful information so they are also developing the critical thinking, writing fluency, and social skills which are needed to communicate with people.  Applying the blogging in class, the web seems like another hands-on activity in a co-constructed community and offers students who are socially isolated the opportunity to articulate their agency and voice. Next, blogging can bridge many gaps among students from different cultural, social, economical, or historical backgrounds. Penrod points out that many teachers or parents would assume that blogging is a game for recreation, but she suggests that blogging can be used as an effective medium to connect literacies from different areas. For example, bloggers have to learn how to respect their audiences by using appropriate vocabulary, syntax, register, and style. Readers of traditional writing are absent in general, especially, when students are writing at school. The book demonstrates how students can reach audiences in an authentic context. Finally, the book also discusses the problem of plagiarism and confidentiality of personal information, especially on teenagers’ blogs.

Penrod also illustrates the relationship among gender, identity, and blogging bullying.  First, the book provides an overview of males’ and females’ blogging styles. She compares boys’ and girls’ reading and writing styles on the blogs. The differences imply that teachers and parents can understand how teenagers try to identify themselves. Gender differences in blogging also encourage females to read and write, particularly those who are from a society or culture that does not encourage women to receive higher education. In the process of building a blog, students are also building their identity with the function of anonymity. The author also already elaborates on the potential use on learning, and blogs can help learners to achieve the goal of cooperative learning. Penrod finally discusses blogging bullying. Examples of Ryan Halligan, Gyyslain Raza, and Wiiliam Freund show that content of their blogs could reflect the students’ reality when they are bullied at school. Parents and teachers cannot ignore the power of blogs to understand their children, especially their internal thoughts. A related issue is the safety of blogging, so the author discusses how to develop students’ skills and to use appropriate language for learning and expressing themselves. Censorship is not the best way to prevent misbehavior in the blogging; on the other hand, parents and teachers should be involved and motivate students to learn their responsibility as a blogger. Knowing the ethics of proper blogging is a lesson that all bloggers should know. When applying blogging in the classroom, Chapter 9 provides lists of ethical codes to teach bloggers how to use respectful language, how to protect personal information without revealing themselves in public, or how to judge things in a positive way with integrity.

Comments

The book discusses some important issues about blogs. First, the book states the benefits of the incorporation of blog on literacy learning. Although the author promotes the benefits of blogging, she also does not forget to raise issues of how to maintain the safety, integrity, and ethical conduct of bloggers. Certainly, self protection will be a potential problem if people post all their personal information or personal comments in public. Particularly, the author discusses the problems with teenage users. I also agree that the author encourages parents and educators to understand teenagers from their blog writing.         

This book is the most updated discussion of blogging and learning at school for adolescents. The book points out the powerful pervasive use of blogging and potential benefits to learning. In addition, it provides examples to support how blogging helps students, teenagers, and minority groups to establish their identities, have their voices heard, and have more access to interact with other online community groups. The book also considers potential problems with blogging and offers guidelines for readers. After reading this work, I feel that the argument is presented in a logical way, strongly supported by examples and research. The audience of this book can range from students, teachers, and parents to all bloggers.

References

Larson, J. & March, J. (2005). Making literacy real: Theories and practices for learning and teaching. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.