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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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  1. Linda wrote:

    Sounds really logical, with having an hour’s worth of in-class writing assignments. If it is the trend of society to not recognize that the new social network communication is not writing, then it is for the educated people and for the younger generation to change the mindset of the older generation.

    Friday, April 25, 2008 at 9:17 pm | Permalink
  2. Helene wrote:

    Said so well. Writing is important and vital part of self expression. It needs to be master on all levels no matter what form.

    Saturday, April 26, 2008 at 9:13 pm | Permalink
  3. Caryn wrote:

    Your ideal world with all that writing would indeed be amazing. After all, how does one become better at something without practicing it, especially with guidance? As long as we have English classes with 44 students (as we do in my district), yearly tests where the “writing” questions only ask about grammar, and underfunded schools, however, it may be hard to pull off. I taught English for four years at both the middle school and high school level. When I hurried, an essay took anywhere from 5-7.5 minutes to grade. And that was pure grading, not including the conferencing time before. I had my 125 students write twelve essays a year, which is anywhere from 125-187.5 hours of grading alone (not including all the other journals, tests, and other activities I had them do) and all I heard was that I should have them do more, more, more. So, yes, the ideal is to have them write, write, write. But the feedback gets a little out of hand.

    Monday, April 28, 2008 at 9:06 am | Permalink
  4. jennifer wrote:

    I don’t know how she pulled off the grading, but my high school English teacher would have us do in class essays at least once or twice a month, plus numerous research and term papers. I once counted the papers I could find from my senior year; it was something like 36 five paragraph themes, 10 longer papers, and two research papers. I know this was invaluable training for the day I would be expected to turn out memos and position papers in a very short time.

    Tuesday, April 29, 2008 at 8:32 am | Permalink
  5. Robin wrote:

    My teachers in elementary school and beyond frequently managed to increase the amount of writing we did without adding to their grading by having us do peer editing and self-evaluation. I think that reading each other’s work and offering constructive criticism made us better readers and writers. It also helped us to appreciate each other as writers and thinkers.

    Monday, May 5, 2008 at 11:29 pm | Permalink
  6. Robin, that’s a really good insight. I had been pondering Caryn’s point, which is a good one, and mulling over the idea that not all writing needs to be reviewed and graded by the instructor to be useful, and that sharing writing with peers could be a way around it.

    Tuesday, May 6, 2008 at 6:41 am | Permalink
  7. Caryn wrote:

    When students are taught how to carefully and respectfully review, this can work very well. It doesn’t fit into your original vision as described in the last paragraph, but then a compromise is better than nothing.

    Monday, May 19, 2008 at 11:33 am | Permalink

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