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With writing and teens, it really *is* all good (but we need to be good, too)

Pew released a report this week about teens and writing. The report confirmed that texting jargon has crept into traditional writing, and I’m sure some teachers and parents are rending their loincloths and keening over the arrival of “lol” and “brb” into homework assignments.

But the report also points out — directly and quite affirmatively — that “teens write a lot.” This is nothing but good news. What a wonderful world we are in where teens are writing exhaustively, all day and night. There are postmodern fabulists chanting that the Word is dead, and who’s proving them wrong? Fifteen-year-olds with cell phones. Rock on, you crazy texting kids!

Before you turn up your nose at cell-phone text discussions, pick up a traditional industry journal. I had two on my desk today, so toxic with bad writing I watched them etch their pages through the Formica. Texting jargon may be peculiar — r u thr god its me margrt — but it’s full of form and expression.

Teens themselves sense the limits of traditional pedagogy. They are surfing the wave of new forms of writing — online, continuous, engaged — and where are we? Still teaching the standard stuff. Still writing the standard stuff. They seek, they crave guidance and education. This is hard, because we, the teachers, grew up before their printing press was born. So as the Pew report points out, they don’t see their texting and email and Facebook postings as “real” writing or reading — though of course it is.

To be clear, I am not rejecting the value of SROCT (the Sustained Reading Of Complex Texts — what Michael Gorman accused bloggers of being unable to master). I also admit to being cool to the idea that the experience of reading can be replaced with, say, a few hours of Guitar Hero or Dance, Dance, Revolution. Reading is reading, and we are born to read just as we are born to enjoy sex. It’s a human privilege, and not one discarded lightly.

Teens sense this too. They say that writing is important. What do they want? More writing instruction. (Again, is that not marvelous?) “Overall, 82% of teens feel that additional in-class writing time would improve their writing abilities.” Yes, it would. When I last taught “Writing for the Web,” one student commented that writing is a “muscle” we need to exercise so it will be trained and fit.

Imagine a world where we required students to write every day — a full hour of sustained, focused writing — then reviewed this work carefully and gave them full feedback. We would be a universe of writers — the full flexing of human potential.

Great report, Pew.

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