Monday, March 1, 2010

Transform Student Writing

I have heard from some teachers lately that “technology gets in the way of writing.” When you think about it, technology and writing are inextricable. Without a chisel, or pen and paper, printing press, or typewriter, or word processor writing cannot take place. Fittingly, with every new advancement in technology, we are also privy to new opportunities for writing, and more importantly, the teaching of writing.

So why have many not embraced the new opportunities available vie Web 2.0?

The National Council of Teachers of English in its “21st Century Literacies point out that student writers need to “Design and share information for global communities,” and “Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally.” Clive Thompson stresses “that students today almost always write for an audience.” In The Stanford Study, Andrea Lunsford stated that "I think we're in the midst of a literacy revolution the likes of which we haven't seen since Greek civilization."

Clearly, with such a paradigm shift in writing imminent, the teaching of writing also needs to change. We must create authentic audiences and purposes in virtually all student writing. Now this notion may sound old, but have we really done this across the board? More often then not, the REAL audience of a writing assignment is only the teacher. And although a “simulation” may take place (“Students, in this assignment, pretend you are a lawyer and I am a judge.”) the audience is not real, nor is the purpose, which, in reality, is nothing more than proving to the teacher that the student can write in a particular manner.

To create authentic writing experiences, students must write for a real audience, with a purpose in mind that is valuable to the writer. These experiences can be divided into, what I call, “School-Bound Authentic” and “World Authentic.”

“School-Bound Authentic” refers to writing experiences within the school community that have genuine audiences and purposes within the school. Here are some examples:
· Book reviews by students that can be published on the school library page
· A student-generated textbook wiki for the purpose of assisting others (and one’s self) to learn material.
· Creating a collaborative “jigsaw” project where students research and become “expert” in a particular area of a unit, and share findings with peers.
· Student-generated screencasts that teach peers processes.
· Designating a daily “scribe” to take class notes and post them (Thank you Allan November).

“World Authentic” consists of writing experiences with an audience outside of school that have a genuine purpose for the writer; in other words, the writer hopes to accomplish something with the writing…other than a grade. Here are some examples:

· Twenty-five Days to Make a Difference What started as a young girl’s tribute to her grandfather, turned into a viral phenomenon.
· Write a Wikipedia article. Some teachers bristle at the mention of the word “Wikipedia.” So why not pick a local historical figure and create an article to add to the largest encyclopedia in the world.
· “Hire Me” Have students beginning a work-study program create a “digital resume” where they explain their qualifications on a video.
· “Convince Your Parents” Senior writers can research why a particular college is the best choice, and present findings to those who will foot the bill.
· “Dear Michelle” Students in Texas write the First Lady to share their stories and express genuine concerns.

Most of us are faced with writing opportunities every day. I know that if there is some outcome, other than the writing itself, I tend to write more carefully, and with much more purpose; as a result, my writing is better. If we want our kids to excel, shouldn’t we afford them the same opportunities?

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