Public Writing and Writing to Learn

Public Writing and Writing to Learn

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.

Pedagogical Lens

Antero Garcia sheds light on this in his recent piece “The Social Relevance of Public Writing when he talks about what he now asks of students when they create:

  • purposeful
  • productive
  • public
  • 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?

Writing Process

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,

  1. audience is much more complicated.
  2. audience is real and often invisible.
  3. turning in is replaced with publishing
  4. revising and editing are on-going
  5. feedback is multi-faceted and diverse
  6. the writing process is infinite
  7. the final draft is a dated concept
  8. hyperlinks are language and citations
  9. 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.

An Example

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…


  1. I found this post to be intriguing in a number of ways, but here is one personal takeaway.

    What would happen if we could merely make a change in our lexicon? What if we decide to completely trade in “turn in” for “publish?” Merely that change – even as big as that is – changes the entire conversation. Inherently we would need to talk about audience in a different way. Purpose takes on a whole new meaning. Voice, word choice and accuracy become even more critical. Discussions about digital identity and digital citizenship become a must.

    In my opinion, there is enormous potential in making this change.

    • Right on, @Devin. This gets to the heart of it now doesn’t it: what happens when turning in becomes publishing?

  2. Hi Ryan,

    I liked this post a lot. I would add one “P” to Garcia’s list “emPowerment.” Writing for public eyes gives the student power – an uncomfortable situation for many teachers. (It is also an uncomfortable situation for many administrators when their teachers blog.)

    If for no other reason, students should be writing for as wide an audience as possible since it raises their level of concern over the quality of their work. Who cares if there is a misspelling if only the teacher is going to see it anyway.

    Anyway, this was great – made me think,


    • @Doug thanks for the thoughts. Ted Nellen was way ahead of his time with your exact thoughts. When it becomes real beyond the classroom and the students are empowered, it brings a much different perspective on learning.

      And I like how you tie-in the various levels of comfort into the question. I’m not sure how we get beyond it or if we should, but it sure is an issue.



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