Month: April 2014

Is Technology Making the Written Word Obsolete?

The strap. The Gestetner mimeograph. 16 mm film. The VHS tape. The chalkboard. The floppy disk. The written word?

Thanks to Snapchat, Youtube, smartphones, and Skype, is the written word on the way out? Will it be cast aside in that storage room at the back of the school until someone stumbles over it in a few years, dusts it off, and donates it to the local museum?

Yes, of course, there is plenty of texting going on. And Tweeting. So, maybe the word isn’t entirely on the way out. But what of the paragraph? Or even the complete sentence? Is the cryptic use of words to be the norm? Will the term paper become the term Haiku?

Well, before we gently usher the longer forms of word use out to the proverbial retirement home of obsolescence, let’s take a look at another doomed medium– the radio.

Radio was given a death sentence when television became a mass media sensation. Why has it survived? Here’s a great article which explains how radio’s success has flown in the face of doom and gloom predictions: http://sparksheet.com/radio-everywhere-how-audio-survived-the-digital-revolution/

So, is there hope for the written word? The sentence? Or even the paragraph and beyond?

Of course there is.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but the written word enables precision of thought. The written word can take a reader into the depths, through the undercurrents, and plunge them into the dark subterranean world of the human perception.

The written word can also dissect an issue with precision. It can present an argument or analysis built upon complex thoughts.

But here’s where my own bias shows through … Most of all, the act of writing can lead the writer to personal discoveries. Journaling has long been heralded as a healthy, therapeutic method of self-analysis and problem solving. Writing imaginative fiction can serve this purpose, as well. As an author, when the dust settles on a new piece of work, I look back upon it and realize how the creative act has taken me to explore realms of human perception I’d never before considered.

Where, then, does the written word fit into the brave new digital world of education and the new literacy that technology demands?

It means that we should not be throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. It means that thinking to write and writing to think should still hold a significant place within school curricula. We should be using the tools of technology to enable and liberate students to use the written word effectively.

We owe it as educators to provide our students with inspiring opportunities to use the written word to venture more deeply into their thinking, explore creative avenues, and embrace the written word as a valuable medium.

Fluent Foundations The Fundamental Skill of Writing

Teaching young people to write is a messy business. We ask them to express their ideas all the while juggling the conventions of spelling, grammar, and everything else that makes writing coherent. When asked to juggle so many considerations at once, it’s not surprising that the young writer may bog down, overwhelmed by the burden of wrestling writing conventions while trying to express their own ideas. For the emergent writer, multitasking is not a good thing.

Of course, becoming competent in using written conventions is a very important goal in learning to become a writer. Revision or editing can be viewed as the act of cleaning up the mess of a first draft. It is most meaningful when applied to the young author’s own writing.

But how do you learn to clean up the mess of a first draft if there’s little or nothing to clean up? In other words, without first generating a body of text, how can we expect young writers to engage in meaningful revision of their work?

The answer? Writing fluency. Turn students loose on a creative writing rampage. Free them of the constraints of conventions, so they can actually concentrate upon the joy of engaging the imagination to produce an original piece of writing. Yes, it may be ugly, messy, maybe even barely readable. But by turning them loose in creating a wild, untamed first draft, you have achieved some crucial goals.

1. You have gotten young writers to gain the confidence and comfort of applying their imagination to the written word. The more one does this, the better one gets.

2. You have enabled young people to experience the joys of expressing themselves through the written word. They may actually enjoy writing.

3. You now have a volume of writing to work with. All of those lessons on spelling, grammar, etc., will be so much more meaningful now that the young writer has a meaningful context within which to learn.

Obviously, some young people take to writing more naturally than others. However, I’ve learned never to underestimate the potential for any student to gain a sense of confidence and enjoyment given the right circumstances for writing.

It all starts with fluency– the foundation of effective writing instruction.

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