Monday, May 12, 2008

I have been weighed, I have been measured, and I have been found wanting

Kia Ora Tatou!
Michele Martin's challenge was to do a self-audit using her 6 criteria on why people aren’t commenting on your blog. Here's mine:

1 You sound like a press release

I scanned the sample press release that Michele cited. It read like a press release. I don’t think I could write that sort of stuff. With all due respect to those who can write good press releases – and we need those authors - I’d fail on that one simply because it’s not in me to be in a frame of mind to write like that. So I’m found wanting on that one.

2 You sound like an infomercial

Same with this as with criterion 1. I have as much sales acumen as a railway sleeper. I’m found wanting again I’m afraid.

3 You sound like a know-it-all

Now this is a hard one for any teacher to self-judge. It puts the spotlight on the traditional vision of what, or more importantly, who the teacher is or should be. Aren't teachers supposed to know it all?

Having been a researcher and a learner for many years, I think that it is unlikely that I’d come across like that, though I could be wrong. If I do would someone please put a comment on this post and tell me?

I recall the first time I taught a year 11 Biology class. I’d never taught Biology before and I’d been appointed as head of department at that school on the condition that I taught year 11 Biology. I chose to adopt the I’ll-come-clean attitude.

On first day of the school year, I had 35 shining girly faces sitting in front of me. I confessed to them that I’d never taught Biology. But I also showed them the wonderful new textbook they all had been given (and it was indeed a wonderful text). I also explained my plan. That was to let my students know the day before my lesson where in the textbook tomorrow’s lesson would be prepared from. Their homework was to read over the section so that they could keep me right when I gave the next day's lesson.

Right reason or not, that class of fifth-formers was one of the most enjoyable classes I ever had the privilege to teach. They were all repeat fifth-formers what's more, so some knew a thing or two about the subject before we started and they were able to keep me on my toes. But the camaraderie that I enjoyed, with us all being learners together, was something special that I’ve never forgotten. There were some things I learnt about being humble in ignorance and I now cherish those. I will try to bring these forward in my blog posts to keep me from sounding too much like a know-it-all.

4 You haven't showed them how

I don’t think I’ve really had the chance on the www blog scene yet for I’m a newbie to blogging. So I'm definitely found wanting on that criterion. But I have read the blogs of some excellent mentors very recently while taking part in this 31Day Challenge. Good teachers should be good communicators and they are both good teachers and good communicators. I do hope that when I get to know enough (about blogs, postings and commenting) so I feel a need to lead the way on these topics, that I’m able to help others in my posts without (again) coming across as a know-it-all.

5 You haven't created the right atmosphere

Hmm. As I write this, my last post has the sum total of 0 comments – obviously found fearsomely wanting there. Yet I have another post that reached 6, not counting my own reply comments (7!). Oh well, I must have been doing something a bit better. Maybe it was the topic. Who knows? Does that mean I always have to choose topics for posts that other people will get excited over? How do I know that people will get excited about the topic anyway? It would tend to cut out an awful lot of otherwise interesting topics if I only selected ‘exciting’ ones.

Then again I suppose it’s all about engendering excitement in the reader. And how do you do that? Doesn’t that sound like a good topic for a blog post? Come on, someone out there! Give me a link to an innovative blog post on how to create the right atmosphere!

6 You just don't seem that into it

I’m not sure how to self-judge that, frankly. Is this a matter of personal opinion? How To Be A Popular Blogger, as a title for a blog post, seems about as tawdry as the book title How To Win Friends And Influence People (all due respects to Dale Carnegie whose book by the same name is really worth a read).

But that might be what it’s all about. I surmise that if my posting comes across to someone as being passionate (and they also share that passion) then, yes, I’m may win a comment out of the reader. But how does one come across as being passionate about something? And how does one share that sort of thing in a blog post? I venture it must be a bit of both. First you must have the passion about the subject. Second, you must know how to write passionately about it. No?

Ah but, that’s where I come to criterion 7. But there’s only 6, you say. Well I’m going to put myself forward a bit here and propose that criterion 7 be:

7 You don’t have your reader's interest at heart

I’m a great fan of Bill Bryson. He has written books on a wide range of topics from Mother Tongue to A Short History Of Nearly Everything. The fascinating thing I’ve found about his books is that I can pick one of them up, open it at any page and the instant I start reading he has me interested in what he’s got to say. It's what he does in involving me as his reader. He makes me feel that he is interested in me, as if he were speaking directly with me (rather than at me) and with no one else.

So, do you have your reader's interest at heart?

Ka kite anō
Catch ya later


Anonymous said...

Hi Ken.

I really enjoyed this post and your recollections about that Biology class and about being learners together ... I reckon that's a great starting point for every time we gather as a group on a project. BTW you don't sound like a know it all and you have a warm, relaxed 'voice' in the blog. It's easy to read and to relate to.

Welcome to blogging and to the 31 Day Comment Challege, and thanks also for stopping by mine today and leaving a comment08
sigh' for Day 14.

Anonymous said...

Ken, I think it's good to have the reader's interest at heart, but speaking for myself, I don't have any clear picture of who my reader is or might be.

That's okay. My main aim is to think out loud, and not everyone's interested in those particular thoughts. My blog allows me to do a lot of content management, if you will: I can write about something and retrieve it later on, and I can send a link to someone or say "search for 'Carol Dweck'" to pass along something useful.

As the Quakers say, proceed as the way opens.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

@Kate - I'm glad you think I don't sound like a know it all. Thanks for that! And you are certainly welcome to the sigh. That verse was written in one of my pensive moments way back last century - the first 4 lines of verse I've written. I'm stoked that you appreciated them.

@Dave - thanks for your points on what the blog means to you. You say you "don't have any clear picture of who (your) reader is or might be". Isn't that always the position of the author who publishes for the masses? I've always found writing for the 'known audience' was easier - that's not to say that my writing along these lines was any good! Writing for the 'unkown audience' must take some extra-special skill - words with hooks on - that engages the reader. I'd love to get some insight into that.

Anonymous said...

Ken, trust me, I have no illusions about publishing for the masses.

I haven't worked at trying to build up an audience for my blog. I feel more comfortable just taking part in conversations; if people want to do the same, that's great.

There's a little in the About sections to indicate my background and interests. Mostly I write about topics that interest me (e.g., the science of the brain), or verbally scratch some itch.

I'm not sure how someone finds his or her own blogging voice. One thing I've done from time to time is to say my post, "writing" it with speech recognition software. I edit a bit afterward, adding bullets or illustrations and correcting the places where the software didn't catch what I was saying. I think this can keep too formal or distant a tone from creeping in.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

@Dave - an interesting technique, using voice recognition to 'speak' a post. Now that's what I'd call innovative - and stylish.

I have a passionate interest in poetry, one that takes me way off the poems to the background of the writers, for I enjoy reading about the lives and thoughts of poets past and present. The 'speaking voice' has often been lauded as a powerful horn for writing, and many writers have used the technique to good effect, notably R. Burns, R. Frost and W. H. Auden to name only a few.

What software did you use? I'd be keen to try it for myself.

Good grief! This is exciting stuff!

Anonymous said...

I use Dragon Naturally Speaking. It comes in standard and preferred editions. I have standard, v9.

I type fast, but I speak even faster. The software is a good way for me to enter lots of stuff quickly (though that may not be a benefit for the rest of the world).

It took me a while to trust the software and speak as quickly as I would in an unhurried conversation, rather than in a movie-style "computer voice." Dragon can actually keep up with a fairly rapid pace. I spoke these last two sentences very quickly, yet they made it into the comment box without any edit on my part.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

@Dave - You've got me even more interested. One of my pet dreams has always been to get rid of the keyboard. I want voice recognition so I just have to cough and my PC recognises my user ID and password :-)

I guess there'll come a time when editing can be done with voice recognition too? Thanks for the link.

Anonymous said...

I haven't tried to navigate much with Dragon, but it can be done. Essentially, there are certain reserved words. "Move to end of line" isn't dictation, it's a command.

In addition to speaking your text, you have a number of vocal commands for movement and editing. "Move to end of line." "Select 'it can be done.'"

I've tried saying "tab" to move around the screen, but many web pages have just too much stuff, so I combine speech with ordinary navigation.

I found my version at Costco, a discount store, for half the list price, by the way.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

@Dave - thanks. I'll look out for this intriguing piece of software and see what I can do with it. I guess I'll have to get a microphone, though they probably call it something else today :-)

Anonymous said...

Ken: my copy came with an inexpensive headset (one earphone and a mike). I take it with me on trips. At my desk I have a Plantronics headset with a mike; it probably cost $30 US.

Any standard gear like that, like for webcam, Skype, etc., would work.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Sorry Dave - I have been very busy on a myriad of projects, none the least of which is the 31-Day Comment Challenge which is due to finish in a day or so.

I will be exploring your ideas - thanks for the tips and advice - and finding new ways to ease the finger fret over the keyboard.