By Teachers, For Teachers
What is “Writing”? If you look it up in the Free Dictionary, you find this definition: The act or process of producing and recording words in a form that can be read and understood.
This focuses on recording words that are then communicated to others. In fact, if you ask students (and too often, teachers), to define “Writing,” they probably agree with the Free Dictionary, adding that writing uses a pencil and paper (maybe a word processing program), requires language skills such as grammar, spelling, sentence fluency, and paragraph construction, and revolves around activities such as taking notes, conducting research, writing an essay, or composing a story.
Today, in 21st century schools, they'd be wrong. What they have defined as “Writing” is actually writing conventions, technology in the classroom tools, and activities rather than its purpose, goals, and definition. Let's look at a different definition, this one from Merriam-Webster: The way you use written words to express ideas or opinions.
This one is well-aligned with the goals of most popular writing curricula and the Common Core State Standards: “To build a foundation for college and career readiness, students need to learn to use writing as a way of offering and supporting opinions, demonstrating understanding of the subjects they are studying, and conveying real and imagined experiences and events. They learn to appreciate that a key purpose of writing is to communicate clearly to an external, sometimes unfamiliar audience, and they begin to adapt the form and content of their writing to accomplish a particular task and purpose. They develop the capacity to build knowledge on a subject through research projects and to respond analytically to literary and informational sources.”
Nowhere does this summation mention activities or process because any activity or process is fine as long as it achieves the goals. Sure, "Share knowledge" works better with appropriate transition words and comma placement, but those sorts of skills better fit “Language” than “Writing.” Writing is about the thoughtfulness and creativity required to communicate based on audience, task and purpose. These include (rephrased from Common Core Writing Standards):
Iconic writing activities -- like online writing sites, book reports, biographies, and trifolds -- place student focus on words and paragraphs. This for many interferes with their ability to achieve the real goals of writing. Instead, try something new. Three of my favorites are comics, Minecraft, and non-paper media, but three more fresh options are listed below.
There’s a lot Twitter brings to the education world:
In this activity, students write a novel in Twitter. Just to be clear, we’re talking about squeezing all those novel parts required for a manuscript:
He said he was leaving her. “But I love you,” she said. “I know,” he said. “Thanks. It’s what gave me the strength to love somebody else.” James Meek
I opened the door to our flat and you were standing there, cleaver raised. Somehow you’d found out about the photos. My jaw hit the floor. Ian Rankin
Rose went to Eve’s house but she wasn’t there. But Eve’s father was. Alone. One thing led to another. He got 10 years. Rachel Johnson
Clyde stole a lychee and ate it in the shower. Then his brother took a bottle of pills believing character is just a luxury. God. The twins. Andrew O’Hagan
“It’s a miracle he survived,” said the doctor. “It was God’s will,” said Mrs. Schicklgruber. “What will you call him?” “Adolf,” she replied. Jeffrey Archer
Before starting this writing activity with students, review these four tips:
Now, simply follow the grade-appropriate writing conventions and write your novel!
Start by discussing the meaning of a serialized novel—a normal length novel published one chapter at a time, in small bites for people to read. Many early writers were published this way including Leo Tolstoy, Joseph Conrad, and Charles Dickens. Show students examples of serialized novels from authors they are reading in class.
There are a lot of reasons why serialized novels are making a resurgence. Consider these two statistics:
Here’s what students will do:
At this point, students write one installment of their serialized novel each week (maybe during class) and then publish it to their blog. They use whatever writing tool works best for them (word processing, a comic creator, a video, an audio tool, or another they suggest) but it must be embeddable into their blog. Let them select the best tool for their communication style. When done with each chapter, they will visit and comment on three of the stories written by classmates.
Discuss the meaning of “Vignettes.” Help students understand it is a verbal sketch, a brief essay, or a carefully crafted short work of fiction or nonfiction based around a setting, an atmosphere, or characters. Well-known vignettes include:
In this option, students work individually or in groups to write vignettes around a cast of characters and a central atmosphere. Here are basic rules to follow when writing vignettes:
There are lots more rules, but these vary depending upon your curriculum. Share what is necessary to fit your unique student group.
Here’s how this works:
Whichever of these three activities you (or students) pick, remember that the goal is not writing words but communicating ideas.
Teach Writing with Tech (an online class)
Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for over 15 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, CSG Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.