Saturday, July 3, 2010

Are You Teaching Connective Writing?

The other day I was getting groceries at the corner store and a younger balding man came up to me and said, "Hello Mr. Comfort!" He stood there and looked back at me while I squirmed to figure out who he was. Turns out I taught him 28 years ago in the small town of Wakaw, Saskatchewan. We had a very nice conversation and amazingly I remembered him quite well. He was a quiet young man in grade 7 or 8 then who rarely spoke his mind. He now works for immigration Canada and handles difficult situations routinely.

He and I enjoyed our conversation thoroughly and before he said goodbye he told me I was a great teacher. Of course he was young and impressionable when he was in grade 7 and is now old enough to be experiencing significant memory loss. He certainly was kind to say what he did. It reminded me of how I feel every time I meet a former student. Did I do the best job I could? Did I provide experiences that would prepare him for his future? Do my present students feel like I am a good teacher and preparing them for the future?

In particular, I am concerned about how we teach kids to read and write in today's world. Surely writing and reading has evolved. I have been reading quite a bit about the use of links in reading and writing. Will Richardson calls this connective writing and reading. I looked it up in wikipedia and there is no entry for either concept. Since I read his blog and heard him speak at the IT Summit this spring, I have been very eager to develop activities in my classroom that teach these important 21st century skills.

Turns out that others are talking about using links in writing and reading. The Harvard School of Journalism has been debating about whether or not journalists should use links in their writing or not. In this article they argue that:

  1. Links are good for storytelling. Links give journalists a way to tell complex stories concisely.

  2. Links keep the audience informed.

  3. Links are a currency of collaboration.

  4. Links enable transparency.

I love to read writing that is full of links. They entice me to do more thorough research as they provide more detailed information, often from the original source. Links are often definitions important to the understanding of the concept being discussed. Readers less familiar with the material can choose to look at the background material. Links can provide a chronological perspective with references to previous material. They can lead to photos, graphics or video which enhance the point being made by the author. Links can allow the writer to concentrate on making a convincing main argument or point and supporting material can easily be viewed if the reader so chooses.

"Connective writing" gives the reader choices as to the depth and direction they wish to take their reading and thinking. One might argue that links can increase the depth and detail of writing as well.

"Connective reading" is surely not the same as "conventional reading". Do all of our students know how to navigate through linked writing to derive meaning? I don't think we can just assume that because they are immersed in a world of links that they know how to do it well. I also think that educators need to learn about connective reading and writing themselves.

Connective writing has changed the face of "journalism proper" (Globe and Mail, Indiana School of Journalism) and "journalism 2.0" (blogging). I agree with Will Richardson. I think 21st century teachers need to consider how they teach connective reading and writing in our classrooms. Last year (sadly) I did not teach students in my class to connective read and write. I believe that I cannot be a 21st century teacher if I don't address this. Next year I will. Will you? How will you do it? Leave me a comment.

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