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Home | Opinion | Op-Ed: Are we Teaching our Kids to Write Like This?

Op-Ed: Are we Teaching our Kids to Write Like This?

I was turned on to this article some time ago that appeared in the New York Times Magazine “A Game of Shark and Minnow” which describes the story of eight men in the Philippine Navy on an abandoned ship in the South China Sea who stand guard against the Chinese Navy.

While the story is interesting, what really drew my attention was the way that the story was presented. If you just casually scroll through the story, you will see that it is presented in multiple formats:

  • Text
  • Photos
  • Movies
  • Audio
  • Maps
(Photo by Ashley Gilbertson / VII Photo)

Writing in the 21st century is far more than simply writing text. Writing in the 21st Century involves all of the above. Maybe even more.

Check out this video for instance:  How many words would it take to describe what is presented in that short video?

The point is, I think that almost no one would argue that this is a powerful way to present information.

 

A powerful way to write.

Think about it: You probably, unless you were truly interested in the topic, would have skipped over a text only, on the paper page article about eight guys on a boat in the South China Sea.

But I bet that once you logged onto the article, you started scrolling through it, looking for the videos, looking for the interactivity. You spent a lot more time on the article, I bet, than you would have if it were simply text.

Writing in the 21st century should be inclusive of ALL the ways we now have to easily integrate items into writing:

  • Audio
  • Video
  • Photo
  • Hyperlinks
  • Animations
  • and of course, text.

Look at the list: What are we spending most of our time teaching kids to do? It is text.

The written word. I bet if we graphed out most of our classes, students are spending the vast, vast majority of time communicating in text in one form or another.

Text, text text.

We are supposed to address the learning needs of different students, but we address their communication needs all the same.

Are you a visual learner? Good write in text. Are you an audio learner? Good, write in text. Are you a kinesthetic learner? Good, write in text.

Get the idea?

That is where digital storytelling comes in. Digital storytelling, or digital communication in general, addresses all of those “non-text”

Luckily, there are those out there that have decided to take up the digital storytelling mantle:

Digitales Nice introductory site to digital storytelling. I would like to see more inclusive ideas here, about how DS can be used in various curricular areas.

David Jakes has a site about Digital Storytelling here. Some of the links are broken, but you can find good basic info here as well as link to some tools.

Here is a nice collection on Diigo on digital storytelling tools:

What would happen if a teacher said this:

In your report/paper/lab/thing that you must turn in to me, you must include the following:

  • Photos
  • a short video with audio
  • text
  • a hyperlink

Why should you start incorporating digital storytelling into student writing? According to this article, there are several plusses when students write in a digital storytelling mode:

  • It develops creativity and critical thinking
  • Students who are shy or afraid to talk in class get a chance to speak out their minds
  • It empowers students voice to deliver rich, deep message that is capable of conveying a powerful message.
  • It helps students explore the meaning of their own experience, give value to it, and communicate that experience with others.
  • It promotes the notions of life long learning and independent learning
  • It develops students communicative skills
  • It is a reflective process that helps students reflect upon their learning and find deep connections with the subject matter of a course or with an out-of-class experience.
  • It fosters students sense of individuality
  • It also gives students an opportunity to experiment with self-representation and establish their identity
  • Students creating digital stories develop proficiency with multimedia applications

What is wrong with a goal of having student write and communicate in a fashion that looks like the New York Times Magazine article?

Nothing is wrong with it. In fact, it should be the norm, not the exception.

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

About Tim Holt

Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

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4 comments

  1. Great piece! You are correct that in today’s world, students (everyone) are reading diverse texts. These texts full of words, images (in various formats) and sound; thus it is imperative that we teach them to write the same way because in doing so, we are also teaching them to comprehend this format.

    • Thank you Armando. This particular article in the NYT really caught my eye as an example of how we should be approaching future writing with out students.

  2. Well, I sure there was an ancient caveman who decried the use of the alphabet after tapping out pictographs on a cave wall. Communication like all things of this world evolve, sometimes we are challenged by it’s pace or direction but it will evolve unabated. We can all show preference over one form or another but preference and choice are the rule of the day. This is the rub of education we have to take what we feel most relevant in our lives and tie it what students will find relevant in theirs.

    • Andy,
      Thank you for reading this column. Trying to predict the future of anything is difficult, but I think almost anyone can see that future communication is going to involve everything that is in this particular type of essay and more.
      I say, we err on the side of showing students how to do all of these, don’t you think?

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