—Ellen Goldberger, “Everyone Should Teach Writing,” Inside Higher Ed, 2014
More and more, colleges are beginning to move the Teaching of Writing from strictly the English Department’s territory to school-wide efforts—efforts that necessitate contributions and collaboration with professors from every department and every level. Writing skills have always been of the utmost importance, and yet only now and only begrudgingly are some of our brightest teachers dedicating any significant time to ensuring that their students are able to well communicate thoughts and ideas through writing.
According to Goldberger’s “Everyone Should Teach Writing,” “Conventional wisdom and practical experience tell us that students’ ability to secure jobs and advance in their careers depends, to a great extent, on their communication skills, including polished, professional writing,” and what’s more, “writing is not separate from content in our courses, but can be used as a practical tool to apply and reinforce learning.” These are things we can all agree on whether we’re parents, students, employers, grade school teachers, high school teachers, or college professors. The stickiness comes in, however, with the notion that the teachers and professors themselves should have to make the time and extra effort necessary to better embed this most foundational and complex of skill sets within their own syllabi as opposed to someone else’s.
And while I stand behind this concept of better spreading and reinforcing the teaching and learning of writing across all disciplines, I must say that the most compelling component of Goldberger’s argument for me was her concerns regarding student responsibility and reading habits. As she argues, “students do read, but what they spend their time reading is not helpful”—if not outright detrimental—“in learning how to write” and learning how to communicate in a variety of subtle, professional, personal, and academic styles.
As Goldberger explains,
The key, as always, is to not simply stand around hoping that you land the best teacher or boss every time you enter a new class with new demands or a new job with new coworkers. The key is to take things into your own hands and expose yourself to as many different types of writing and writers as you possibly can. But more than simple exposure, more than simply enjoying your beach reads, you must be willing to take things a step further; you must be willing to spend time analyzing even the breeziest of novels all the way up to the most obscure and difficult. You must be willing to think critically about works you’d never given much thought to before, voice opinions and ideas to others regarding new works and interpretations, start book clubs, engage in book-related forums, and experiment with new styles of writing and new kinds of reading materials.
We must be willing to invest time in ourselves to reap the benefits of reading and writing. We must be willing to sit still a while apart from distractions and allow ourselves to become absorbed into another’s world before we can reap the benefits of improved communication skills, artistic expression, professionalism, progress, empathy, and socialization.
Whether you’re preparing for the SATs, a job interview, fiction writing, improved vocabulary, or any other number of possibilities, there’s one clear-cut road to take: Reading.
Read diversely. Read often. Read.
- Frank Bruni’s “Read, Kids, Read,” The New York Times
- Tutoring 101’s “Student Voices: Reading, Writing, and the Digital World“
- John Coleman’s “For Those Who Want to Lead, Read,” Harvard Business Review
- Neil Gaiman, “Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming,” The Guardian
I recently came across Mission Viejo Library’s blog, Teen Voice, and was struck with a tutor’s inspiration!
But first, a bit on just what exactly MVL Teen Voice is:
“Mission Viejo Library Teen Voice exists to promote teen literacy. When visiting this blog, you can expect to find book reviews, book lists, author interviews, book trailers, and event reports for author talks and other related events.” – Written by and for teens, under the guidance of MVL’s Teen Services Librarian, Allison Tran
In other words, MVL’s blog is a place where teens not only get to actively create content, practice a variety of writing styles and essays for a wide audience, conduct research, and discuss what they’re reading with others, but they also get to read and engage with the work and writing of their peers—illustrating just how valid, adult, and important teen writing, reading, and research skills can be.
However, though the value of a teenager’s reading and writing skills is well and widely understood by teachers and parents today, this understanding does not always extend to the teen in question nor, unfortunately, always to the actual practices of said teachers and parents. This failing is tragically evident in the state of the U.S.’s adult reader population. As Megan Rogers explains in her article (Oct. 2013) “Troubling Stats on Adult Literacy” for Inside Higher Ed,
“The Survey of Adult Skills by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows that despite having higher than average levels of educational attainment, adults in the United States have below-average basic literacy and numeracy skills.
The U.S. ranked 16th out of 23 countries in literacy proficiency, 21st in numeracy proficiency, and 14th in problem solving in technology-rich environments, according to the OECD survey.”
In other words, despite how much lip-service we pay to the wonders and importance of strong reading and writing skills in the U.S., we’re doing a pretty terrible job of putting those words into action. Scholastic’s Ginny Wiehardt further elaborates on the vast importance and challenges of getting teens to read in the 2011 article, “Realistic Ideas to Get Teens Reading”:
“The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reports that students who said they read for fun almost every day had higher average reading scores in 2004 than those who said that they never or hardly ever read for fun.
Junior high school and high school students who [don’t spend time each day reading for fun] could face significant setbacks in later life. Even those who don’t plan to attend college will need strong vocabulary and comprehension skills. In fact, one school administrator consulting with Scholastic recently indicated that a mechanic’s manual requires better reading skills than a standard college text. And throughout adult life, they will likely need to decode complex information such as healthcare forms and insurance documents.”
So, we know it’s important for teens to be exercising their reading and writing skills regularly, but how can we help encourage these practices, especially given how busy our young students tend to be (or at least think themselves to be) these days? Well, this is where that “tutor’s inspiration” I mentioned before comes into play.
While there are many options and many avenues for getting teens more interested and involved in extracurricular/fun reading and writing, learning from MVL Teen Voice’s example isn’t a bad place to start.
Thanks to digital tools like blogs, students are now able to interact with written texts in a wide variety of new ways, such as in the creation, collaboration, and reading of works by and with their peers. According to the Pew Research Center, 96% of AP and NWP teachers surveyed “agree (including 52% who strongly agree) that digital technologies ‘allow students to share their work with a wider and more varied audience’”; “79% agree (23% strongly agree) that these tools ‘encourage greater collaboration among students’”; and “78% agree (26% strongly agree) that digital technologies ‘encourage student creativity and personal expression.’”
In other words, students given the opportunity (using digital technologies) to write for, read, and interact with the written works of their peers are those most likely to see improvements in their ability to collaborate with others as well as in their exercise of creativity and personal expression—all of which make for stronger readers with stronger reading comprehension skills. Speaking from personal experience, as one who once kept blogs as a part of college courses and who has also been published in larger academic conversations, I can certainly say that when one knows that their audience is composed of their friends, classmates, and the incredible vastness of anyone surfing around the internet, it has a way of making you think more carefully about your words, style, arguments, and opinions. It has a way of better personally investing young writers in their research and audience. And when you start writing with one eye toward the integrity of your research and one toward your audience, you likewise become a better, more empathetic, more critical, and more analytic reader.
What’s more, and perhaps what lends these collaborative/digital writing and reading opportunities their greatest advantage, is the simple fact that if you have access to a computer or public (or school) library, then keeping a blog or other online writing forum is typically free of charge and easy to set up for immediate use. Computers, however, are by no means a necessity to making these kinds of collaborative, peer-oriented writing and reading opportunities available to students. Many schools and local libraries also host various writing clubs, extracurricular groups, elective courses, and much more that can help make these experiences and opportunities more available to students, computer or no computer.
Want more? Just take a look at some of these other examples of student writing, reading, and collaboration:
- Beyond the school yearbook, McKinney North High School (McKinney, TX) also offers its students extracurricular opportunities in Journalism as well as in a more generalized Writing Club (for both writers and visual artists!)
- Lovejoy High School (Lucas, TX) has its own student-oriented, student-driven, and award-winning! news source in The Red Ledger
- Allen High School (Allen, TX) also offers student-oriented writing, reading, and collaborative opportunities through their school newspaper (The Eagle Angle) and their Poetry Society
- And, as Emerson College has so generously shown here, there are a slew of student-driven literary magazines across the country with every type of focus, style, and submission/editorial policies imaginable
Bottom line? Get reading, get writing, and get moving!
Also, just for fun, here are a few of the awards Lovejoy’s The Red Ledger has won so far…
- Gold Star in the Interscholastic League Press Conference contest – 2014
- Best Website in the High School Journalism Day & Competition for the Dallas Morning News – 2014
- Best Series or Project for 14 Days of Love in the High School Journalism Day & Competition for the Dallas Morning News – 2014
- Gold Medalist in the Columbia Scholastic Press Association News Digital Critique – December 2013
- First Class with two Marks of Distinction in the NSPA Publication Website Critique Service – 2012
- Gold medal certificate from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association – 2008, 2009
- Best of Show Award from the National Scholastic Press Association -2007
- Many neighborhoods have neighborhood newsletters (some more formal and exclusive (insofar as the creation of material is concerned) than others), and there’s no reason why any one student, family, or club couldn’t band together to create and locally promote their own such newsletter