I’ve been reading extensively in Digital Citizenship lately as I prepare for some new research projects, prepare my Media Literacy Institute on Digital Citizenship (more information here), and reconsider approaches in composition classrooms that could include more direct conversation on our social media/content creation use as digital citizenship. The goal for me has become the idea of digital citizenship as critical approach to technology and stewardship to support digital citizenship understanding by others.
So with these two approaches to thinking always at the forefront of my thinking, I read an Inside Higher Ed post on “Bad Writing“. While the blame is placed heavily on K-12’s required standardized tests that force the hands of educators – I think we need to stop calling this Bad Writing. Again – at the forefront of my thinking is this idea of stewardship, if we (educators/faculty) continue to have public conversations about how “kids today don’t write so good” that negativity will continue to be associated with writing. While there is plenty of evidence that standardized testing to measure writing ability requires very formulaic structure that has very little to do with the actual content of writing, scores are decent which means kids today write very well! For where they are measured!
This is the key for me – for where they are measure, how they are measured. When students come to my composition courses with my adapted Teaching for Transfer curriculum (shout out to #4c18 and my panel on this curriculum on Friday 3/16), they are asked to understand the interchange among discourse community, purpose, audience, and ethos. As the understanding develops through the theme (for me, remix) students begin to understand that certain discourse communities allow for certain arguments and analysis – purpose is not global it needs to match the argument within the discourse community AND be meaningful to the audience. I could go on and on – but the key here is – coming out of high school these students graduated and were admitted to college. They understood how to develop an argument on a standardized test that met the needs of their audience (the test grading service), and demonstrated their ability within the discourse community (K-12 education).
If I supported the idea that these students were bad writers i’m not allowing them agency over their successes so far. In fact – I’m denigrating their successes so far. I’m taking away the success they had at developing an argument for a discourse community. They are in college! They have succeeded. My job is to help them be successful at navigating the more nuanced discourse communities. I want to empower my students to recognize these communities and determine how to adjust their writing process accordingly. Because, let’s be honest, they’ll take a class from that one professor who cares more about spacing in APA citations than they do the content of writing (ahem….how is this different than the standardized test?). They’ll also need to understand their education and educational experiences so they craft themselves as strong employees to their internship supervisors and future employers – so they get the interviews, the jobs.
Again, I’m approaching life through positive development of digital citizenship and stewardship. We’re all already using technology. If I rage about the misuse of Twitter I’m accomplishing nothing – my students are just hearing more negativity (by the way, there is an interesting IHE post on citizens stepping back from social media sharing). They are sick of the negativity, so they tune it out. This – tuning out – that is dangerous for writing instruction. I don’t want students to tune out and not care about thinking and writing and learning and how all these will help them in their classes – their careers. So why would I approach the situation so negatively? It’s not working for cyberbullying campaigns (thanks Digital Citizenship theory) why would it work for teaching writing?
So I’m calling on al my readers (hello!) to consider their approaches to teaching, or studenting (there is not good word for this, hahahahaha), or citizenship as stewardship. I’m not just an eternal optimist arguing for positivity, I’m drawing on real data from digital citizenship studies that show positive approaches – stewardship – to digital citizenship supports better understanding and critical engagement with technology and what citizenship means in a global technology world. Let’s use that in composition studies – let’s use that with writing!
What would it mean to drop the conversations about “Bad Writing” and instead focus on the ways that students succeeded in writing, and the ways we (educators/instructors/researchers) can help students develop a richer understanding of writing (again TFT model here) for more successful writing for specific situations. Let’s actually make this happen and stop calling writing ‘good’ and ‘bad’ which confuses college students by removing their agency. Let’s say “Great work – you’re in college! Now, let’s start developing a richer understanding of writing so you don’t write a 5 paragraph essay for a discourse community – a course – where your audience will not approve of the stilted argument development and structure”.
Let’s approach the teaching of composition as stewards instead!