Mr. T conducts research for a Lego-themed writing project. (Really!)
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“90% of teens enjoy the writing they do outside of school, a figure that is consistent between boys and girls as well as older and younger teens.”
Ninety percent. That’s a pretty impressive percentage. And when the Pew folks talk about “outside of school” writing they’re referring to traditional fare, such as journaling, letter-writing and poetry. That 90% doesn’t even include all the other writing mentioned in my last post: the texting, the profile and status updates on Facebook, the tweets. If you look at the mind-boggling statistics that littered that post, teens clearly enjoy that sort of writing too. (There’s some interesting conversation in the comments section of the post as well. Go read!)
As I pointed out there, these days teens value the written word. That’s big. It means that when it comes to teens and writing, parents–homeschooling and otherwise–and teachers have a hook.
We just have to pay attention to the writing formats that kids value, and start from there. What do text messages, blogs, Facebook walls and tweets have in common? They’re all writing aimed at an audience, and inviting response. Imbedded in the writing is the notion that someone will respond, and that, I’d argue, is what makes those formats compelling to teens (and to many adult writers as well.)
Traditional school writing, such as the rickety, follow-the-formula research paper, doesn’t have that motivating audience. Who’s the audience when it comes to school writing? Usually, a single teacher. For the purpose of a grade.
“Teens tend to enjoy the writing they do for personal reasons more than the writing they do for school. Half (49%) of teens enjoy the writing they do for themselves ‘a great deal,’ compared with just 17% who enjoy the writing they do for school with a similar intensity. In total, nearly one third of teens say they enjoy their school writing ‘not much’ (22%) or ‘not at all’ (10%).”
So, how can you make kids’ “academic” writing as engaging as the writing they do on their own? You start with the formats kids are already using.
I’ve been reading The Digital Writing Workshop by Troy Hicks. In this book, Hicks offers chapter after chapter of possibilities for using digital media with kids’ writing. He shows how to set kids up with RSS feeds to follow topics of personal interest, how to help them use social bookmarking to keep track of information they want to remember, how to start them writing blogs, wikis and cooperatively-written texts. It’s a book written for classroom teachers, but I imagine it could be useful as well to a homeschooling parent, or a parent who wants to help a child find more writing options than he or she is being offered in school.
Need a more concrete example? Here’s a wiki written by Hicks, intended to be used by groups of kids when exploring a new nonfiction topic. As you can see, kids are linked to tools to help them create websites, infographics, instructional videos, timelines, maps and a bibliography using social bookmarking services.
A homeschooling family might use this wiki differently. They might start with a child’s existing interest, and then parent and child could explore some of these links together in search of a format that the child finds compelling. Mr. T and I did this last week. He’s been curious about the various species in the cat family and thought it might be fun to make some sort of chart on the topic. We looked at the infographic links and found a service for him to use. I helped him get started on the chart; eventually he was able to complete it on his own. We’re talking about the possibility of him starting a (password-protected) blog, so he can share future graphs and other projects with friends and family.
Infographics, in particular, are a hot means of sharing information these days, and provide a whole new format for visually-driven kids. What’s an infographic? Check out this one which I found last week via twitter, on videogames and education. Or look at this very thorough, informative post on Creating Infographics with Students at Langwitches. (Lots of other inspiration on using digital media in education there too.)
In my workshops for homeschooling parents, I encourage them (repeatedly!) to start with their children’s interests, and to consider the writing opportunities suggested by those interests. For instance, when H was a young teen and interested in Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series, he applied for and received a volunteer position writing for Shurtagal.com, the fansite for the series. H helped write an early wiki of terms and characters from the book. This was something he did almost entirely independent of me. Was it valuable writing instruction? Absolutely.
Likewise, starting at age eleven, Lulu held a volunteer position writing for the New Moon Magazine website, New Moon Girls. Her position involved not only writing content, but also “attending” online planning meetings conducted entirely via written chat. This was something that Lulu was highly motivated to do; it was also incredibly helpful in her development as a writer.
My role in both of these instances was simply to recognize that my kids were intrigued by these forums, and to encourage them to try to get involved. I helped both with their applications; they took over from there.
Does your child write in an online format? What? Where? Please leave a comment! Let’s chat about all the possibilities out there for kids.
Digital writing has so much potential–for kids to write independently, for kids to work in small groups. There’s just too much to cover in one post. Consider this a teaser. I hope to do some big bellyflops into specific digital topics here in the future.
Sadly, meanwhile, many schools still teach writing via formulaic, five-paragraph-essay-style assignments that are boring to write and even more boring to read. Which seems a shame in an era when kids are naturally engaged in other formats of writing. And in an era in which the ability to write is becoming more important than ever. One more quote:
“…two-thirds of principals in a recent survey said they believe their school is preparing students to be competitive in the global workforce. But most tech-savvy students didn’t share that view.”
Maya Prahbu, “’Digital Disconnect’ Divides Kids, Educators”, eSchool News
If these tech-savvy students didn’t learn their tech skills in school, where did they learn them? Most likely, they taught themselves. Likewise, many students will teach themselves how to write well, through the digital forums in which they participate. But wouldn’t it be nice if those same kids could take their enthusiasm for writing, and apply it to their coursework? If more teachers were like Troy Hicks, using kids’ interests and media that’s relevant to them as guiding principals of instruction?
Homeschoolers and other parents, you don’t have to wait for schools to come around. You can nurture this sort of writing education right now. Pay attention to your kids’ interests and open your mind to the writing possibilities. And then try to encourage. Ever so gently.
More to come.