When I was a student, writing assignments consisted of essays, occasional research papers, maybe a poem or two, a lab report, and perhaps a journal entry. These efforts required pen and paper, encyclopedias, textbooks, and other hard copy resources. Sometimes they spanned content but more often than not they centered on a specific focus---a book report, the story of a famous person's accomplishments, an opinion about a historical event. We wrote, we turned it in, and we received a grade. Often, that was the end of it.
Today's students have a much different and potentially richer relationship with the written word. In addition to the traditional writing assignments cited above, consider the other forms of writing in which they might participate---blog posts, Facebook comments, YouTube reviews, and text messaging. Ponder their worlds beyond pen and paper handed to a teacher to postings on the internet and mobile devices accessed and read by many. In 2011 students don't become writers; rather, they ARE writers at a very young age, surrounded by opportunities to hone their skills, collaborate, and share their work way beyond the classroom or school walls. They practice daily, and the input from a teacher well versed in developing the skills of writers is invaluable.
When I think about the seemingly endless ways students now express themselves in writing, I'm convinced programs like The National Writing Project are more important than ever. The statement on the NWP website sums it up:
Writing is essential to communication, learning, and citizenship. It is the currency of the
new workplace and global economy. Writing helps us convey ideas, solve problems, and
understand our changing world. Writing is a bridge to the future.
The moving blog posts collected in recent days about the wide-reaching, positive influence of The National Writing Project exemplify the passion the NWP generates for both learning to write and teaching the writing process. Take a few minutes to read the heartfelt pleas from educators, parents, and students advocating for the restoration of funding for the NWP and consider telling your story to help this worthy cause. If you want background information about the project and the demise of its funding source, read Chad Sansing's initial post. If you are moved to voice your support to members of Congress, the NCTE's Action Alert site makes it as easy as entering your zip code.
As I was thinking about my own trajectory as a person who writes officially with some regularity and unofficially everyday, I stumbled upon this New York Times opinion piece, Teaching to the Text Message, in which author Andy Selsberg advocates for teaching how to write effectively in today's shorter, more concise formats. I thought about my teenage son who sees little relevance in writing five paragraph essays analyzing plot or character development in classic literary works but who carefully crafts advertising language to sell an iPod on Craigslist and labors over the language he selects for Facebook status updates. I agree with Selsberg that writing in 2011 ought to include practice with writing text messages and online reviews, and the NWP's Digital Is component strives to incorporate the use of social media and new communication tools in the writing process. I realized how much I would value a summer institute experience where I collaborated with other educators on best ways to support both old and new forms of writing, and I hope my children land in classrooms facilitated by NWP-trained teachers.
Our students write everyday. Let's continue to fund the proven program that helps them continue to grow and improve as writers and adapt as new forms of written communication emerge.