Teaching (and Defining) the New Writing

When Kristen offered me the opportunity to host a DLC study group this year, I was excited to do so with the collection Teaching the New Writing: Technology, Change, and Assessment in the 21st-Century Classroom, edited by Anne Herrington, Kevin Hodgson, and Charles Moran. This book was one of several that we received in the DLC’s inaugural year, but we hadn’t read it together. I was intrigued by the idea of “new writing,” especially since the book was published in 2009 which was basically forever ago. Obama was inaugurated that January and promptly began reforming the nation’s healthcare system, the country was mired in economic crisis, and we lost a true pioneer of “new,” Michael Jackson. (I vividly remember learning of his death from the Times Square tickers as I exited a movie theater on 42nd Street. Eric and I had just seen one of the Transformers movies. Don’t ask.) Barnes & Noble released the Nook, and Yelp released its iPhone app, making it possible for me to finally find an environmentally-friendly dry cleaner reasonably close to my apartment. So clearly a lot has changed in the world since 2009. But what about in the world of digital writing? Has that change been as rapid? This was one of the topics we set out to discuss at our March hangout.

Since the book is a series of essays divided up by grade band (elementary and middle school, secondary grades, and college), I decided to facilitate this study group like a digital jigsaw. I posted a list of the articles online and invited DLC members to sign up for the one of their choice. I also asked each member to post the gist of his/her article and a personal response a couple of days before the hangout so that everyone could have a chance to read, synthesize, and reflect before our online discussion.Eleven DLC members signed up to read, eight of those posted responses to their articles, and ten people attended the hangout, making this one of the most well-attended hangouts in DLC history, I think. I’m not sure if the attendance was due to the jigsaw format (inviting participants to read one article rather than an entire book) or my relentless nagging on Google+, but it was exciting to have so many folks join us for what turned out to be a robust and rewarding discussion.

Unfortunately, all of my devices united against me in some kind of Ex Machina-inspired revolt about ten minutes before the hangout was set to begin. Kristen heroically got us up and running for our discussion, but we weren’t able to record the hangout.

As far as the question of what counts as “new writing” in 2016 versus in 2009, numerous DLC members remarked on the extent to which their articles felt dated when discussing such topics as the death of print media (Jeannette), the usefulness of Microsoft Office (Eric), and using podcasts in the classroom (Kristen). At the same time, many of us found our articles to offer relevant, timely, and inspiring ideas for enhancing instruction around digital writing, including multimodal research projects (Ivelisse), poetry podcasts (Joe), Paul Allison’s Self-Assessment Matrix (Judd), and revision as a collaborative process (Emilie).

Perhaps what is most important is not that we agree on some definition of “new writing,” given that “new” is a relative term and by the time we’ve defined what it means whatever we’re describing as “new” is already old. Rather, I find myself fixated–even kind of haunted–by something that Marva Solomon wrote at the end of the article that I read for the jigsaw, “True Adventures of Students Writing Online: Mummies, Vampires, and Schnauzers, Oh My!”:

Recently, I read a warning from literacy researchers Labbo and Reinking (1999 [!!!]) that “researchers who fail to acknowledge issues of technology in their work may have to face the reality that their findings…may seem outdated, incomplete, or irrelevant” (p. 486). I took their words as a call to teachers as well. Today’s kids are digital kids with digital lives bombarded by digital messages. If I don’t learn to incorporate the digital into my classroom, I am also in danger of presenting a curriculum that is incomplete.” (p. 37)

I feel so fortunate to be part of the the DLC, a group of educators who strive to ensure that the curricula we teach is complete and who are constantly working both independently and collaboratively to develop effective, research-based strategies for ensuring that our students are ready to read, write, think, discuss, and collaborate successfully, both now and in the future.


Author: Rebekah Shoaf

educator, natural foods chef, rebel bookseller

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