Saturday, 30 March 2013

Why Do You Blog?

So Michael Pershan has me thinking again. Last time that happened to the extent of my blogging, I ended up with the awkwardly named Line Dancing In Sequence, about how line equations and sequence equations start at 0 vs 1 respectively. I'm not surprised if you haven't read it. Frankly I'm surprised if you're reading now.

Because while I may be writing for you, I'm not necessarily writing with you in mind.

That said, I hope you'll stick around for the explanation.


There's probably an art to better blogging.  For that matter, there's probably an art to better teaching.  I'm probably failing on both counts, but I'm okay with that.  Sort of.

Let me rewind to the aforementioned Twitter conversation, which actually involved a few people, and effectively boiled down to: Do you blog for OTHERS or for YOURSELF?

My link there was to my post way back in August 2012 (If You Build It... So What), when I pretty much decided I was doing it for myself.  Does this mean I'm producing a pretty bad (auto)biography? Maybe. But it's one that's making me reflect, not only about teaching, but about my place in the world. (If you hadn't noticed, this post involves the latter. Sorry, you want some math pedagogy, wait until April 1st, I do have an idea for it.)

I originally threw myself on Twitter to see what it was about, and - to be honest - to see if it would drum up any additional hits for my web serial, the personification of math. I then started blogging, not merely to improve my teaching, but just to improve myself generally. (In fact I started by talking about writing.) Who is my audience?

Yeah, I've never been able to figure that one out. I feel a bit in synch with internet reviewers, or ViHart, in that I'm doing what makes me happy, putting it out there, and if it makes you happy too, bonus!

By contrast, Michael Pershan knows who his audience is. They're educators who can make him better at his craft, and in his career.


Now that is blogging with a purpose.  Where I blog with the thought that like-minded people may find me (passively), he blogs to pull in an audience (actively).  Where I blog to better myself (through reflection), he blogs in order to get other people to help him do the same thing (through interaction).  Where I can live with myself even if no one says anything about this post (goodness knows I'm used to it), he... might not be able to?

He may also completely disagree with me here, so I'm going to stop trying to interpret.

My point is, we have two styles at cross purposes.  His style is (presumably) working for him.  My style is... well, as I said above, there's an art, and I don't think I have it.  But at the same time, I don't think I can change my style to be so dynamic, and still have it be genuine.  In fact, even assuming I did, and could, I feel like I'd be changing too much of myself.  Frankly, I don't want to become the best (or even better) if it means my style leans less weird and unpredictable. As in:



The other thing that prompted this post was Michael Fenton's post about The Great Blog Exchange. (Is your name Michael? You too may be a teacher one day.) Essentially he's looking for personal blog recommendations.  (He has a bunch in the comments already, but if you really want to go nuts, check out David Wees compilation of Mathematics Education Blogs. You're welcome!)

So here's the question - would I recommend myself?

After looking at what I said above, no.  No, I don't think I would.

I don't know who my audience is (aside from myself).  I only get a large number of hits when I do event posts (like Mystery Teacher Theatre, Day in the Life or Twitter Math Camp), so you won't be networking much.  I post sporadically, have relatively few good teaching stories, and suspect my posts are all far too long.  (I've started adding subheaders.  I read somewhere that it can help.)

So... yeah.  Guess you should stop reading, I'm unrecommending myself.  In the sea of awesomeness out there, I am the voice of mediocrity.

However, just because I'm not worth reading, doesn't make the writing less worthwhile.  And maybe, just maybe, if you do read, you'll say something that makes me better. (Change my story!) Or at the least, you'll see something you can use, or something that makes you smile.


For what it's worth, I hope you enjoyed reading.


  1. So a couple things:

    1) Whether you are writing for yourself or others, work on producing really good essays. Right now, while your underlying style isn't bad, the two essays I've read are unfocused messes. Not just long (trust me, I'm the Royal Ruler of long) but scattered, unfocused and ultimately far too self-absorbed (again, this is a flaw I'm deeeply familiar with). So you may want to focus on becoming a better writer by curbing your excesses---not getting rid of them, just using them to advantage. Even if it's just for yourself. Michael Pershan and others at the blog link mentioned can't help you, because they are all wholly uninterested in writing except as it gets their info out, so they aren't stylists. You clearly want to be, and that seems to me a worthwhile goal.

    2. When I started my blog (01/01/12), I deliberately didn't worry about audience or traffic. Of course, I wasn't interested in being a "teacher blog", so I don't particularly seek out that community. While I write a lot about teaching, I also write about education policy and what's wrong with everyone else's ideas, and that's not something that usually interests teachers. Most of my big hit posts come from my education policy posts, but my teaching and lesson posts get a lot of traffic over time.

    So at this point, I am a couple hundred views short of 100,000 views, which seems like a lot in 15 months, but I don't know who to compare it to.

    I had a point here, but I forgot....oh, yes. I write for myself. But I also hope my writing influences others and, in an ideal world, changes their opinions. I'm also pleased if people find my writing entertaining, enjoyable, or simply thought-provoking.

    I guess I'm saying not to limit yourself to blog like Michael Pershan or blog for myself without regard to an audience. There are all sorts of reasons. Ultimately, decide what it is you want from the blog. Despite your apparent certainty in the last couple paragraphs, I'm not sure that you are certain.

    Sorry for the long-winded comments.

    1. To have it pointed out, you're absolutely correct on a few points:
      -I do lack focus
      -I am gazing more at my reflection in the window than at what's outside
      -I'm not really interested in being strictly a "teacher blog" either

      Put another way, what I'm interested in reading about may not be what I should write about. I almost feel like a Writer who isn't writing. (Yes, I checked out your "Writing for free, but not as a Writer" entry. If anyone else would like to: )

      To blog more like I write, I should nail down a key point, post less spur of the moment, and... come to think, the non-fiction angle is cramping my style. Hmm.

      The certainty of the last couple paragraphs was a certainty of the moment. You've made it uncertain. I appreciate that. Wouldn't mind elaboration as to using "excesses to my advantage" too.

    2. "Michael Pershan and others at the blog link mentioned can't help you, because they are all wholly uninterested in writing except as it gets their info out, so they aren't stylists."

      I'm coming to this conversation late, I know...

      I agree with much of what edrealist writes. Write for whatever. Write for yourself, write for others, write for a goldfish, write for therapy, write for whatever reason. Or don't write. We don't need reasons for doing things we enjoy, or for not enjoying things that we do.

      I don't know if my feelings about blogging have changed much since last March. I say so many things on the internet that old lines of mine can sometimes seem like third cousins to things I currently believe.

      I think I still agree with a lot of the things I said, and I agree with a lot of your characterization of my writing. That having been said, my blogging style wasn't really working the way I wanted it to, and I've been very self-consciously trying to experiment with different formats lately. The current experiment means that I'm trying to tweet less and blog more, and to blog more about more things.

      And now for a few random points, that seem somewhat related to this piece:

      1. I really like your blog. I find your writing interesting and your style is solid. If you want to get better, well, I certainly know what that feels like, but I like your blog and I like reading it. Full stop.
      2. Writing for yourself is never just writing for yourself. Because the world is full of people like you. Maybe not lots of them, and maybe they don't read your writing, but in this big world there are going to be people who find the same things cool that you do. So write for yourself, sure, but you're also writing for people who are like yourself. And you don't even have to be trying to write for them. When you write for yourself you end up writing for others, more or less for free.
      3. Reading your post is helpful for me, because I've been thinking a lot about why I write lately. And at least part of the answer is that I write compulsively and about everything that goes on in my life. I have a (privatish) blog for privatish stuff. When I studied philosophy I had a philosophy blog. I write on the subway in a notebook. I write notes to myself. So, one way or another, I'm a bit addicted to writing.
      4. EdRealist said that I'm "wholly uninterested in writing except as it gets their info out." I don't really know what that means. Writing is a form of communication, and you'd hope that baroque stylists do what they do because they think it's the only way to say what they're trying to get out.

      But I think I care about writing.

    3. Late, early, whatever, glad to have you here. It is interesting how style and perspectives can shift over time, isn't it? Either way, I am glad - not only that you like reading my blog, but that it was helpful, and you took the time to say so. Appreciated. For that matter, rereading this post helped me find more perspective. Maybe I would recommend myself of late... though audience is still something I struggle with.

      As to the world being full of people like me, I sometimes wonder how true that is. I've had what might be termed some close calls in my life. Then again, the odds probably are favourable. I wonder, I used to keep diaries, but now don't have a private blog. Might be something to ponder there.

      Maybe that's even where the disconnect is; you write everywhere, so blog (publicly) more to extend on the educator side of things. I don't write much in private, thus throwing everything onto the blog - likely contributing to my lack of focus and inability to write short posts. But then maybe I'm interpreting the wrong things again.

      Keep on with the writing, at any rate. We'll keep on with the reading, as time allows.

  2. Okay, I went and read a few more of your posts to be able to comment intelligently.

    1) using excesses to your advantage. Well, I did it above when I wrote "I had a point here, but I forgot....oh yes." In other words, I am prone to wandering off topic in a way that is actually relevant (usually) but I need to acknowledge it. So I do it with a verbal equivalency. You could do stuff like that. You already do, you just want to polish it and use it less.

    2)You may want to consider making a distinction between your math teaching entries, which I quite like, and your serial stuff which, if I understand you correctly, is really why you started blogging and is, if I understand IT correctly,(that's another excess used I hope to advantage), is pretty clever. Maybe start a second blog for fiction? Then keep one blog just for your general musings and your teaching or writing posts.

    Here is where I think you can still blog "for yourself" but make your blog accessible and usable. It needs more focus. Your teaching posts are very accessible to a general audience and the artwork will attract interest to the serial.

    3) artwork--is that yours? Very cool.

    4) Different point: in a post on variables, you talk about the annoying multiple definitions for variables. I agree. I call m and x, h and k, and so on "parameters", for what it's worth.

    5) Lighten up on parentheses. Again, I share this predilection.

    1. Thanks for taking the extra time to do that. You are awesome. Thanks also for the clarification, I think I'm seeing what you mean. Of course, such habits may be something that is easier for others to notice. (Hey, had that in parentheses, took it out! ...wait. Oops.)

      As far as entries, I actually ALREADY run two blogs, the other is for the serial math story I write - which is what my artwork is for. But I get what you're saying. I'm thinking of adding tags into the headers. Let's see if that helps.

      Finally, thanks for the thoughts on prior posts. Particularly on grading. I also kind of like the idea of "parameters", though the first thing that comes to mind is "parametric equations", so I need to decide if that's a good mental association or not.

  3. Oh, I forgot. I thought read your post on grading, which does take way too long for you, and thought you might find this useful: