I think there have always been major challenges in teaching writing, no matter the era. It’s a very abstract activity, at least initially, when one is trying to get a hold on ideas and feelings and translate them into words and syntax. This is tough enough for many people, not to mention 13 year olds preoccupied with life at middle school. Then layer over that the different technologies we are using today for writing: cell phones, blogs, e-mail, etc. These are definitely more engaging for students, but they also erode a lot of what traditional writing instruction emphasizes: correct use of conventions, strong organization, thorough development of ideas. Think about a lot of the emails we receive from colleagues! No wonder teachers like Lisa Mulka have such varying levels of ability in their incoming students!
It seems to me, then, that a major challenge for teaching writing today is how to employ these new, highly engaging technologies, but still maintain consistent expectations for the quality of the writing. My 6th graders who are using Moodle for their book clubs instantly began communicating in IM language; so step one, it seems to me, is to explicitly state expectations to students for when they use such tools: no abbreviations; use complete sentences; address people’s questions/comments directly; use specific examples and ideas. A simple rubric could be created to communicate this.
The other necessary component is to montior regularly students’ use of the tools, which is no easy task, I think. It’s a lot of information that is happening all the time. Additionally, regular feedback to the students about how well they are meeting the writing-quality expectations would help them to keep focused.
Well, those are my thoughts. Thanks for a great question, Bud, and a nice follow up, Lisa. Have a great week!