A new model for “Writing” is needed in schools.

It seems writing is now more in focus than reading.

Over the last 6 months I have heard and read a great deal about the power of writing and how the model needs to change in schools. I wrote about Douglas Reeves using the 90/90/90 schools research as a case for changing the model to more of a non fiction model in October last year. Recently I heard about a school in Victoria which I intend to visit this semester that was “trained” in the use of the “Reeves” modeland has had dramatic improvement in student results. They systematically plan types of genre students use throughout the school year as it helps teachers in developing rubrics and displaying student samples as guides for students to use in getting to the next level. They start the literacy block with writing so that time is spent on the process and the explicit teaching as sometimes the block is dominated by reading. I don’t know what happens in other schools but I have seen and heard teachers in my own school talk about this.

Then I read Kathleen Yancey’s report “Writing in the 21st Century” calling for a new model to include “composing to participate”. She puts forward some challenging thoughts:

Writing has never been accorded the cultural respect or the support that reading has enjoyed, in part because through reading, society could control its citizens, whereas through writing, citizens might exercise their own control.

I had never thought about reading as one method society controlling its citizens. I disagree to some extend here for reading is a powerful starter for conversation and personal reflection which does not bend easily to control. However that said lets continue with Kathleen’s thoughts:

With digital technology and, especially Web 2.0, it seems, writers are *everywhere*-on bulletin boards and in chat rooms and in emails and in text messages and on blogs responding to news reports and, indeed, reporting the news themselves as I-reporters. Such writing is what Deborah Brandt has called self-sponsored writing: a writing that belongs to the writer, not to an institution, with the result that people-students, senior citizens, employees,volunteers, family members, sensible and non-sensible people alike-want to compose and do-on the page and on the screen and on the network-to each other.

In much of this new composing, we are writing to share, yes; to encourage dialogue, perhaps; but mostly, I think, to participate.

How much of this self sponsered writing is embedded in schools? I have seen my own kids write volumes on the MSN and on social networking sites like Facebook at night at the same time – yet they do not class themselves as writers

In fact, in looking at all this composing, we might say that one of the biggest changes is the role of audience: writers are everywhere, yes, but so too are audiences, especially in social networking sites like Facebook, which, according to the New York Times, provides a commons for people, not unlike the commons that used to be in small towns and large …….. impressive data, that in the late twentieth century participation in community groups declined. No doubt that’s so, but this is the twenty-first, and participation of many varieties is increasing almost exponentially- whether measured in the number and kinds of Facebook posts, ….. the number of students involved in this year’s elections, the numbers of blogs and the increase in little magazines, and even in the number of text messages I seem to get from persons, political campaigns, and my own institution.

Perhaps most important, seen historically this 21st century writing marks the beginning of a new era in iteracy, a period we might call the Age of Composition, a period where composers become composers not through direct and formal instruction alone (if at all), but rather through what we might call an extracurricular social co-apprenticeship.

So the challenge is now to embed the use of web 2.0 technologies into the writing model – as well as non fiction – although I think there is some alignment here.

What might that mean for teachers and students in classrooms?

Well I think there will be some challenges about Facebook and central filters but surely we can start with wikis and blogs in the writing sessions so that in the future other participatory commons might be accepted by adults.  Whatever the decision the writing program in schools must alter its course. As always I’d be interested to hear your views.

Thanks to Will Richardson for renewing this conversation and snorrrlax for his photo on flickr.