It’s not 1985

I’m going to be spending much more time this year focusing on supporting teachers with writing. While I don’t have an extensive background in teaching writing outside of most classroom teachers, I am a writer. After a 1,000 blog posts, a few “traditionally” published articles, nearly 50,000 tweets, 100+ podcasts, 100+ videos and thousands of emails, I think I qualify. It may be that you do as well. 

Of course the thing is, according to our curriculum you could teach students writing and never once touch a computer or publish anything online. That’s not only scary but I believe it’s educational malpractice. I’m not suggesting that most of our teachers don’t acknowledge digital writing as something different but I’m wondering how many would even remotely understand what Will is talking about here:



The video has been resized to embed here on the blog. I recommend viewing it in full screen mode. Or if your browser doesn’t render the video. Watch it here


Show that to a writing teacher who doesn’t write online.

Not only would the majority of teachers not be familiar with the tools, which isn’t that important, they likely wouldn’t understand how he’s taking notes, why Evernote is superior to analog note-taking, the thinking behind the mindmeister, how he plans to share it out and the fact that he collaborates with others as he writes. If you want an insight into what the writing process looks like in 2011, watch it again and dissect it to death.

Digital writing is still a fringe idea. As with most things, unless their writing and writing in online spaces, they’ll simply see writing as a course to be taught and not as essential to being a human being in 2011. (Was that too bold a statement?)

While I know a plethora of great writing resources exist, it’s not about the resources of course, but getting curriculum to be more explicit and more importantly getting teachers to experience and understand what it means to be a writer in 2011. We’ve kind of figured this out when it comes to taking pictures. No one is teaching photography using analog cameras. If they are, it’s likely some romantic notion of photography they’re into. The reality is we are now all photographers. As a society, we take more and better pictures than ever. Yet we know that “cheap failure” is awesome but it also means we might not be as careful or as critical as we once were. That’s important and that’s where good teachers help to focus on quality but also within the context of digital. Certainly many skills learned about composition still apply but there are also way more affordances, including editing tools and camera options that are essential to understand in order to be a great photographer. View this spectacular Maine Maritime Museum wedding by Catherine J. Gross Photography to get an idea of how it should be. But more importantly, there are ways and means to share our work. For those who are most passionate about photography, that’s not a point to gloss over. Understanding tagging, embedding is essential. Again, not just how to, but why to, where to and when to.

The same  shift is happening with writing and perhaps maybe more so. Yet as I said, teachers are well within the curriculum to ignore the the world has fundamentally changed in the area of writing. I’m sure some might argue it hasn’t changed that much. I think they’re wrong. I will agree then tenets of good writing are still important and I’m not suggesting we abandon that. However, I am suggesting that if we are teaching writing essentially in the same way we taught it in 1985, we fail. If writing really matters, prove it to your students. That’s partly the fault of a curriculum that fails to acknowledge what year it is as well as a lack of teachers who are actively exploring this on their own. 

I’m looking for some answers.