I would argue that public writing is one of the most important experiences for our students and critical if we believe in writing to learn. From the network public to citizenship, public writing makes our thinking visible and allows us to establish our voice in a broader context of learning for life.
But the idea of public writing disturbs many in education.
Blogging is confused with angry teens in the basement or irrelevant writing better served as sketches held private. Published research is feared to be too routine to hold any value for the public. Published writing is feared to be exposing student mistakes and creating opportunities for a loss of intellectual property. Social media is feared to be too frivolous and social for the rigors of the classroom. And let us not forget the concerns of fertile grounds of plagiarism and evil strangers.
While these are not to be dismissed, I’m left with a couple of ideas that are perhaps at a deeper level of resistance.
- and provocative
And I would add “Personal”.
When we think about engagement and learning, those four plus the fifth P are foundational; however, they represent a difficult shift for educators and their resistance comes out in other forms like the aforementioned ones. So how do we facilitate such a shift away from academic exercises and schooling? How do we help teachers recognize their resistance is rooted deeply in the pedagogical?
And I think English teachers and other disciplines that subscribe to this philosophy of the traditional writing process really resist public writing. In an age of publishing and the networked public,
- audience is much more complicated.
- audience is real and often invisible.
- turning in is replaced with publishing
- revising and editing are on-going
- feedback is multi-faceted and diverse
- the writing process is infinite
- the final draft is a dated concept
- hyperlinks are language and citations
- and so much more
In other words, the writing process we’ve used for decades is blown up. What was once the end is now the middle with everything after and before being new! Imagine the fear this evokes in teachers that have spent a professional life-time growing themselves and students towards this framework. And now that framework, in many ways, is under question.
Working with students last week on their blogfolios (each student in our school has one for all classes, all years), this reality sunk in for the students and the teacher. As the students were publishing pieces of their portfolio and designing how their personal brand was to look, an astute student said “hey, we can now continue working on these pieces, can’t we?”
Others jumped in and started talking about how this was their space, their timeframe. For many, the focus of this being an assignment to submit as it had traditionally been quickly faded to complete ownership of who they are. In other words, they embraced and owned the five Ps: purposeful, productive, public, provocative and personal
Even with school structures still in place, the act of public writing created a harmony between schooling and learning. Now isn’t that a beautiful thing…