Writing in Today's World

Focusing on Real-World Outcomes

By Jennifer Nigh, Director, Professional Learning Services

New technologies have been altering writing for thousands of years. Whether it was the invention of a reed stylus, papyrus or the printing press, technology has constantly changed why we write, how we write, and how we learn to write. While each of these technologies, and many more, hold unique importance in the evolution of writing, it can be argued that recent technologies have made the greatest impact. In consideration of the many changes technology has brought to our writing lives outside the classroom, educators are tasked with the need to examine what implications this presents for in-class practices. However, before embarking on this examination, let us reflect on some of the ways recent technology has changed writing.

students texting each other

This writing between my daughter and me probably looks quite familiar to you. Most likely, you have engaged in this type of writing many times over the last few years. Though it might not resemble the type of writing that left your fingers aching, required many trips to the pencil sharpener, or came back to you with red marks indicating a multitude of mistakes, it is writing nonetheless—writing that has been changed by technology.

To begin, consider recent advancements in word processing, text messaging and speech to text tools. These technologies have made it possible for us to produce text at a rapid pace—more so than any other time in history. The ease in which these technologies allow text to be produced has thus led to greater quantities of writing being published—both in print and digital formats.

As greater quantities of writing are produced, technology has also led to a shift in what we consider writing. Take for example the text conversation between my daughter and me, or perhaps your favorite blog. Most likely, this text conversation or blog contains text; but perhaps, the writer also added additional modes such as videos, audio clips or images borrowed from another source. Through the use of these modes, the writer may take you, the reader, on a journey that starts out like a typical print-based experience. However, by accessing the modes mentioned, you might find yourself somewhere entirely new that is not consistent with where a book or passage might end. It is through these advancements in technology that spaces have widened for writers to explore diverse ways to communicate their ideas, thoughts and knowledge, and for readers to make sense of this information.

While technology has influenced writing and therefore the writer, we would be remiss if we did not consider the impact technology, specifically the internet, has also had on the reader. As writing has diversified and become easier to produce, any type of writing by any author can be published to a limitless audience, leaving readers with seemingly endless options. With an influx of writing available at our fingertips, readers must utilize high-level reading skills and strategies that support filtering through extensive amounts of text—all while determining legitimacy, accuracy, intentions, and points of view.

Additionally, the writer and reader must learn to apply the underlying rules for the dynamic conversation today’s writing often brings about. In other words, no longer is writing a one-way journey, beginning with the writer and eventually ending with the reader. Instead, much of today’s writing has become an on-going, purposeful conversation that is not bound by time or distance. Examples of this can be witnessed in the hundreds of texts, social media posts, and emails sent and received daily.

Evidence of how recent technologies have changed writing is abundant. However, while writing has greatly changed in our everyday lives, this change has not always transferred to today’s classroom. Instead, the teaching of writing continues to place higher value on practices and experiences that result in academic outcomes instead of real-world outcomes. While academic-based experiences and outcomes are necessary and important, it is also critical that we value the change technology has had on writing. In turn, we must provide students with opportunities to experience the types of writing they will most often engage in outside the classroom. It is this type of writing that will define today’s writers and determine their success as communicators once they leave the classroom.

Fortunately, schools are uniquely positioned to support students in becoming the types of writers today’s world demands. To do so, classrooms must continue to honor traditional writing experiences while meeting set standards, but also balance those experiences with ones that new technologies have brought about. To get started with balancing these experiences in the classroom, it is suggested that districts adopt a set of values grounded not only in time-honored beliefs, but also in beliefs that have been brought about by change. Defining a set of values helps to support cohesiveness across schools, grade levels and classrooms while providing a united direction. Examples of values for 21st century writing instruction are as follows.

Suggested Values for 21st Century Writing Instruction

  • Value the types of writing that occur digitally. For example, writing for social media and blogs, texting and emailing.
  • Value the dynamic conversation that writing can bring about. Encourage students to respond back and forth about offline and online writing. Model how this type of dynamic conversation can change ideas, thoughts and final pieces.
  • Value varied audiences. In-school writing is often seen by those in-school. Consider writing for authentic, varied audiences outside the classroom.
  • Value multimodalities in writing as a way to enhance ideas, knowledge and storytelling.
  • Value the skills needed to legitimize the influx of writing students are exposed to – both offline and online.

While these values serve as examples, it is recommended that district leadership engage teams in constructing agreed-upon values that can be readily adopted by all staff. Adopting a set of values that are brought about by change is not always easy. It requires taking an honest look at what is happening in each classroom and analyzing what is needed in order to ensure the new values transfer to instruction. To do so, guided support, modeling, collaboration, and time are critical. Through this process, educators will be positioned to adopt instructional practices and implement classroom experiences that honor the types of writing that occur in the classroom and outside the classroom. When this occurs, today’s students will be better prepared for the changes technology brings.

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