Writing


Somebody [1] once said: "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got!"

I can't really remember how we did writing when I was at primary school (although I'm sure a few friends could enlighten me) but I certainly remember how writing was done when my children [2] went through primary school - exactly how it is still being taught in many classrooms today. I'm not talking about the physical teaching of how to write - I believe that it's necessary and I still do handwriting [3] in my classroom. I'm talking about writing time when every student has to write a story in a set amount of time and then the teacher edits corrects it and then maybe it is published. The publishing has traditionally been a neat copy with a fancy border or typed up in a word processing program and printed, and then displayed somewhere in the classroom. Who reads this writing? Other students, the teacher and maybe the parents.

Over the years there have always been students who struggled to write (physically) or hated to write or couldn't write because they were so caught up in the need to spell every word correctly. Some of them used to be in my classes. During the designated writing time (set by the teacher) they sit and stare into space, or get up and down to sharpen their pencil, or write illegibly (and then forget what it was they had written because they can't read their own writing).

Don't get me wrong - I'm not advocating the abolition of writing by hand. Many students enjoy the physical act of writing by hand. BUT ... what about those who struggle physically to write or for whom writing by hand is the last thing they want to do. How can we cater for them? And then there are the students who think in lists or pictures who need time and space to develop their writing. It's up to us as their teachers to provide them with the time, space and opportunity to find their writing voice.

You might ask why it's important for students to even have a written voice - surely they can talk or draw or somehow share themselves that way? I asked my Twitter and Google+ PLN the question:
Why is it important to be able to write/share your thoughts/voice with others?
  • 'Doesn't that go to the heart of why humans learned to write in the first place? to write and share with others.' @traintheteacher
  • 'To inspire & be inspired, to move beyond knowing the facts & create new knowledge through collaboration.' @paz11uc
  • 'We are social beings- we communicate. We learn from others and others learn from us. We want self determination.' @Allanahk
  • 'To be able to receive feedback... early and often... before I get too far off in the weeds.' Jim Tittsler
  • 'Refinement....no matter how good at my job I become, there is always someone who can spot a chink in the armor so to speak. I love the simplicity of a fresh set of eyes!' Jason Dewey
  • 'because i think better when there are others to bounce ideas off and springboard further thought - that's what collaboration's all about, right?' Kelly Faulkner
  • 'because this is what we do as humans, it's all about connecting' Trish Ramsay

Students need a way to find their voice - and their audience. Seth Godin talks about the value of blogging because of the metacognition of what you're going to write. This is different to writing in a book for your teacher to see. Compare an audience of one - the teacher - with an unlimited audience. And then add the ability for that audience to interact with the writer via comments. Suddenly there is a much more powerful motive to write - and to think about what you're going to write about.

Blogs may be the end product - but what comes before then? When I blog, I usually write directly into the post - I don't pre-write and edit - but this doesn't always work for students. They need the opportunity to draft and edit and re-craft their writing - it's part of the teaching/learning process after all - so a good question for educators to ask is how they are going to facilitate the pre-blogging part of the writing.
  1. ^ I say somebody because there are a number of people to whom this quote has been attributed including Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, Henry Ford, (even Tony DiNozzo from NCIS!). Since nobody can agree I'm leaving it as simply "somebody".
  2. ^ Now 21 and 24
  3. ^ Along with keyboarding