The cyclical process of weaving a narrative is fundamentally changing. Writing an essay or research paper is always going to have value, but it will not be the end of the process. Teachers still have to teach writing. We have to make sure our students can communicate ideas effectively with words. Traditionally, students who can do that have mastered the art of communication. This is not so anymore. Unfortunately, teachers don’t seem to see beyond teaching those basics. So, what do we need to do? We need to shift our teaching to include three basic changes in how and why we write.
Gathering Information as a Craft
A greater emphasis needs to be placed on how to gather information. A research paper built around the library is pretty much a useless skill. No one needs to sit and open up an encyclopedia or gather a truckload of books on a topic. Yet, class after class is marched off to the library to check out books. I am a lover of books—so don’t get me wrong—they are awesome. The problem is that the information age is entirely more vast and diverse than a library could ever offer. Students need to know how to gather information effectively from the web because that is where the real information lies. The skill that is needed is teaching students how to navigate the internet and make meaning of what they see.
Producing for a Purpose
Writing an essay and turning it in to the teacher is useless. The kids know it is just an exercise in authority or ignorance of reality. Students need to learn that the product is just as important as the process. Ditto for the lame PowerPoint presentation you stand up and share with the class. Nings. Wikis. Storify text. Blogs. Indexing those essays for a secondary use. Feedback from someone other than the teacher. Make communication meaningful as a product and goal oriented task.
Teach Test Writing as a Genre
I am sure tons of teachers are cringing at the thought of the red pen not leading the writing curriculum by shouting: What about the tests? Test Writing should be a genre of its own. It is NOT real life writing, but a necessity and gateway to other educational opportunities. It should be taught that way. Don’t masquerade that persuasive essay as a real life skill because a kid might need to persuade someone one day. That is akin to teaching a Penguin Unit because you like penguins and justifying it because on day you may encounter a penguin. Get real and start teaching what they need to know to be successful!
These are three simple things, but they aren’t happening. They simply don’t exist enough in the classroom. We cannot prepare students for 2020 when we are teaching what they needed for ’82.