So isn’t it ironic that in the midst of this discussion about how writing seems to be changing, the English chair at my school invites me in to her department meeting today to talk about, what else? The changing nature of writing. Now this was my old department, having spent 20 years in the classroom here before moving into my supervisor’s job almost three years ago. It’s bigger now…31 in all, I think. And almost half of them have arrived since my own departure. Yikes.
Anyway, I spoke for about 30 minutes, talking about how my own writing has changed profoundly, how easy publishing is changing the landscape, how texts are now not just paper, how collaborative environments are becoming more prevalent, and how paper is becoming more and more restrictive as we shift toward a more “connective” writing environment. (No, I didn’t actually use the term.) I was trying to really key into their reaction as I was going through this, and the one feeling I got more than any other was…angst.
“How is this different from the writing we ask our students to do now?” (Because the purposes of the writing change when we ask students to publish to a wider audience.)
“Isn’t this just making it easier for kids to plagiarize?” (Yes, which means that we may need to think about what we do changes when the sum of human knowledge is online.)
“I don’t see how I have the time to do this.” (I understand totally that this requires extra time, which requires us to reconsider much of what we do now.)
“I won’t put my students’ work online for other kids to plagiarize.” (Oy.)
“They may be using these technologies after school, but we have to teach them the five paragraph essay to get them out of school. And they don’t put much effort into that to begin with.” (And this is where the friction is, the need to teach to tests that assess student’s ability to do the basics vs. the desire to have them write with passion about things that interest them in language they are familiar with.)
In general, I could see the fatigue on their faces, the “I’ve got too much on my plate to think about this” looks. And I totally, totally understand it. And, by and large, this is a very smart, very dedicated group that I really believe wants to do the best for their students. But they’re pretty overwhelmed as it is.
But I also wanted to push back and say we need to be more imaginative in our approach to these ideas. That we need to be willing to accept some of these changes and find the opportunities instead of clinging to our old paradigms. That we need to embrace these changes instead of resist them, because this is our students’ future, without question. None of it easy, I know.
As Jim McGee says, we are all “apprenticing at light speed” with this:
We are all improvising at some fundamental level; making it up as we go along. Instead of looking for someone with an answer to copy, we now have to participate in the invention process ourselves. Even in the most enlightened settings, this is an uncomfortable place to be in.
We “have to participate in the invention process ourselves.” How do we make that concept palatable to our teachers?