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Saturday / September 25

Looking for Writing Instruction That Kids Enjoy? Get Real! 

Where do we see real, authentic writing in the world?   

All around us.  

Everywhere.  

Daily. 

Textual subheadings? They don’t only reside in documents, but also in grocery and department stores (think about the signs at the top of all the aisles), on Pinterest (name that board), and on restaurant menus. (Should we order appetizers or desserts?) 

Argumentative Writing? Check out ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, read a closing argument from a court case, or turn to the Editorial section of a newspaper in print or online. 

Main ideas? They also take the form of hashtags, email subject lines, and article subheadings. 

Summaries? Watch a morning news show, tune into your favorite television show that has a continuing storyline (“Previously on The Bachelor…”), pick up a brochure for a theme park, or check out your resume.   

And just yesterday, while in the local CVS, I picked up four separate “How to” pamphlets in the greeting card aisle that describe ways to nurture relationships, offer support to someone who is ill, and encourage others.   

These real-world examples tickle me because they offer educators even more avenues to showcase and support real-world writing with students. Because many students fail to see the connection between their academic and personal lives, we must make those connections clear. When students can see that the skills they are acquiring in their classrooms are ones that can be leveraged in their personal lives (and vice versa), there’s a greater chance for academic achievement and engagement. 

Leverage Students’ Real-World Writing  

Now let’s be honest. Writing is not an activity many students readily want to complete.  In fact, many meet the task in the same manner that I approach the organization of my office — with fear and trepidation. But what if students began to see that forms of writing exist all around them and they are actually doing more writing than they think?  In fact, many students are writing on a daily basis, though it may not be the “academic” type of writing that standard sets and state mandated curricula require. However, those non-academic writing engagements that students are taking part in daily translate into spendable capital in the classroom.  

Think about your students for a moment and consider the real-world research and writing they’re already doing…which you can harness for academic writing, too. 

Are your students experts in a certain sports figure, pop icon, social media influencer, or movie star? My guess is that their expert knowledge of that figure came about by employing some type of research skills to uncover that information. These research activities might include looking up information online, reading about that figure, speaking with others, and/or watching films or video clips that focus on that individual.  All of those are research activities that are commissioned in classrooms on a regular basis. 

Do you have students who are athletes and spend time with their coaches breaking down film while making notes about the opposing team’s strategies? Then they are already working on close reading skills, observational note taking, inferencing and predicting, and analysis of texts. 

Are your students engaged with social media? They probably have considerable experience with writing responses to an image, video, or caption. They also make decisions about who they will follow (who they read) and who they respond to (who they write about), as well as about who their target audience is. These are all skills writers use, too.   

Turn Social Media Experiences Into Academic Writing 

These experiences offer countless opportunities for utilizing social media in the classroom.  

For example, consider this idea for implementing social media knowledge into classroom instruction.  Many students can name multiple social media influencers. Do they understand that these individuals have mastered the art of the persuasive genre, a skill that is a resident in standard sets from kindergarten to twelfth grade?   

  • How about creating opportunities for students to discuss the persuasive genre from the social media stance?   
  • What makes one post have more likes than another and how can posts be revised to improve their “likeability”? 

It’s that easy. In one fell swoop, we’ve merged personal knowledge with the academic and have given students a tangible example of writing in the real world.  Plus, this sets up opportunities for using social media to…  

  • create mock posts for a Shakespearean character, historical figure, or inventor,  
  • determine which details from a novel are “story worthy” (these are  the less important details) and which ones show “posting promise” (these are key details and important facts), or  
  • build of a fake Instagram feed that showcases details from a variety of sources across one common theme. 

Now think for just a moment about the types of writing that are assigned in your classroom? Are they authentic? Relevant? Do they allow students to capitalize on their current background knowledge? While some may, I encourage you to evaluate the writing that students do daily – such as ready-made writing prompts, research outlines, textual evidence engagements – and notice whether these feel authentic… or do they appear disconnected and disjointed from what your students are doing outside of class?  

Drawing attention to the real writing students do in the world can help them recognize the authentic and practical nature of writing – and can make in-school writing feel more interesting and relevant. You can help build bridges between students’ academic and personal lives with their daily writing, which can improve student motivation and academic performance. It’s no secret kids are online and on phones most of their out-of-school lives, so why not use that for academic good, too?  

Written by

Rebecca G. Harper is an associate professor of literacy at Augusta University.  Her most recent book, Write Now & Write On, provides easy-to-implement strategies for daily writing in all content areas. In addition, Rebecca delivers literacy professional development sessions across the country and serves as an invited speaker and keynote presenter for a variety of literacy conferences. Her research interests include sociocultural theory and critical literacy and content and disciplinary literacy. Reach Rebecca on social media: Instagram @dr.harperwritingdivaTwitter @Drharperwrites 

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