Painfully anchored to handwriting and grammar, writing instruction in school feels the strain of technology. Subsequently, what adolescents and teenagers do online, outside the classroom, is dismissed. Kids just being kids. Wasting time. Texting isn't writing. Kids are more likely to be sloppy. Kids are less likely to be conscious of grammar. Writing on social media or through texting does not look like what many adults consider good writing; therefore, it is not good writing. Some may argue that it is not really writing at all.
When I spoke with Shannon and Brynn, two 8th grade students in my class, I initially wanted to know more about their reflections about using video online. They each wrote reflections about how Snapchat and YouTube functions in their lives outside of school. I had no idea I was about to get an education about writing on social media.
The notion of how kids write outside of school matters most to me here. I learned to pay attention to this concept from Donald Graves.
Lots of educators construct curriculum and lessons around the architecture of assessing writing. We teach the nuts and bolts previous generations project on what tomorrow's adolescents will need in college and beyond. While these ideas make for a healthy conversation, writing instruction is often a narrow practice. It has been this way for generations.
Listen to this episode of The Classroom while suspending long-held judgments about writing. Listen to what Shannon and Brynn say about how they write outside of the classroom. And consider how their footprint matches any of the considerations of good writing in school.
Our conversation led to an examination of what some adolescents do on the social media platform Instagram. Just as Shannon and Brynn dig into the importance of writing captions, they tell me that having good writing skills (to write a caption) is paramount because "otherwise people will judge" on Instagram.
When I ask how they learn to write captions well, each immediately points to mentors in their family and peers online. They text one another, call one another, and observe what others are doing in an effort to be a better writer in this very specific context.
Take that statement for all that it is worth--observe what others are doing in an effort to be a better writer. Turning to mentors is the foundation of some of the best writing instruction that we know. And kids are doing it on their own. Away from us. Organically. Holistically. Shannon and Brynn share the practice of authentic writing so many kids are doing...and let's not overlook the fact that authentic writing practices might be the rarest writing practice inside America's classrooms.
As they speak, I become fascinated by their manipulation of text so that they might create clever puns. They speak an awful lot about the cleverness of the writing.
Finally, we addressed style. Shannon and Brynn tell me that they can identify writers on Instagram by their style. The writing takes a component of a person's personality through choices to use punctuation, capitalization, hashtags, and emojis: "how you post like your personality...everything you do on social media is your style..."
I am not advocating that writing on social media should replace anything; however, I am suggesting that we consider its value. Adolescents and teenagers talk about writing. They mentor one another about writing. They share their writing. Simply put, adolescents are developing an understanding of certain components of writing, without us, outside of the classroom.
This is incredible to me. This is a good thing. A very very good thing. Put it into context, yes, but embrace the conversations about writing happening away from the adults outside of the classroom. What adolescents do with their writing outside of class is just as important (perhaps more so) than what they do inside our classrooms.