The Act of Writing

For years writing was the identifier of literacy. The definition of literacy has changed to take writing to mean more than just communicating with written words. The process of writing remains the same; however, the tools and results of writing are different.

For thousands of years improvement to the technology for written words was very slow. Viewing devices for the written word have evolved from stone tablets, scrolls, paper, books, printing press, newspapers, and webpages. The tools to create the written words also changed slowly from paint with dyes, cuneiform stylus, ink, pencils, pens, felts, keyboarding and now stylus.

In the last 17 years of my teaching career, we have opened the flood gates on both viewing and creating devices to write. Most of these changes involve evolving technologies and many have departed from requiring the written word. Our Superintendent, Mike McKay made a statement a few years ago that we were public school teachers and not in private practice. I really didn’t like it, but it highlighted that many teachers claim professional autonomy to do things that aren’t professional. Even professionals in private practice continue to grow, learn, and adapt to new technologies.We do still have some issues with technology not being time savers. Sometimes technology takes longer than just writing it out by paper and pencil. Sometimes you plan to use technology and it just doesn’t work. Fortunately technology tools are far more reliable than 17 years ago.

We need to meet the needs of our students. There is a big push towards Universal Design and Understanding by Design. Both of these are looking at ways to make sure all students learning needs are met. Insisting that writing be done with paper and pen using handwriting is almost criminal. That insistence to use one way of doing things actually harms some students and does not acknowledge a diverse classroom. In 2005, I supported a ‘Writing with Laptops’ writing project, I heard several times that a student will write a couple of words in a 45 minute writing block. Later that same year students were writing paragraphs when writing with laptops.

When interviewing students after the project, both boys and girls reiterated why they like writing now as

My Hand Doesn’t Hurt.

That was a foundational moment for me. I plan to never hurt students. Students hated to write, resisted writing, wrote poorly – not because they were poor writers, but because the act of writing HURT them. Hurting a child is criminal.

While this video was created in 2007, it still holds true for our ability to use letters to tell stories.
[tube[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gmP4nk0EOE[/tube]

A PEW Internet study showed that students benefited using laptops by:
Getting the story out without needing a scribe
Giving kids ownership – they connect to what they have created
Technology reaches students that couldn’t interact in other ways
Students showing leadership in areas that they didn’t appear capable in
Looking forward to students displaying in a variety of ways

To be literate in 2013, students need to know how to and be given opportunity to use the communication tools available in 2013. There are many reasons for students to write (communicate) including:
1. Pleasure
2. Communicate with classmates and others around the world
3. Brainstorming and organizing
4. Take notes of their learning
5. Share their learning with classmates and the world
6. Express Creativity
7. Prepare for future communications

Learning to write is about learning, learning to share learning, learning to express. Learning to write should not be learning to put letters together on a page and call it a paragraph or essay.

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