It is insight into human nature that is the key to the communicator’s skill. For whereas the writer is concerned with what he puts into his writing, the communicator is concerned with what the reader gets out of it.
– William Bernbach
A lengthy debate has been going on at Clay Burell’s blog regarding the weight and value of writing in Language Arts education, the effects of technology, and the importance of other aspects of communication like verbal or visual.
I’ve been thinking about this in reference to the new Pew Internet Poll regarding student writing and technology ‘diversions’ like texting, etc.
In the Pew study, teens reported that:
“They are motivated to write when they can select topics that are relevant to their lives and interests, and report greater enjoyment of school writing when they have the opportunity to write creatively. Having teachers or other adults who challenge them, present them with interesting curricula and give them detailed feedback also serves as a motivator for teens. Teens also report writing for an audience motivates them to write and write well.”
Those findings are what we might expect–that when they are challenged, passionate, and have an audience, they feel more motivated to write well. But they seem to understand that the technology cannot “give” them the ideas they need to communicate:
“Many teens feel that while technology can help them compose, edit and present their ideas, it cannot improve the quality of the ideas themselves.”
And the survey shows that teens are doing all sorts of writing–from creating powerpoint presentations(73%) to writing journals(both personal or for school) (65%).
Also interestingly, some students find that computers help them write better(witness the discussions on Clay’s blog) and some think they help them write less well:
“In comparison, three in ten teens who write on a computer for non-school purposes at least occasionally feel that computers help them do better writing—and twice as many (63%) feel that computers make no difference in their writing quality. A small minority of teens feel thatwriting on a computer makes them write less than they would otherwise (12% feel this way) or that they write more poorly as a result (6%).”
After looking at this survey, and thinking about the discussion on Clay’s blog, it’s no wonder there is a difference of opinion. The end users themselves have a difference of opinion!
Another interesting finding of the survey which is important for those of us having students write blogs:
“Teen bloggers in particular engage in a wide range of writing outside of school. Bloggers are significantly more likely than non-bloggers to do short writing, journal writing, creative writing, write music or lyrics and write letters or notes to their friends.”
Personally I wonder if blogging provides the sense to students of an audience who is interested in their writing, which motivates them to engage in more writing of more kinds. And that the sense of writing for an audience actually serves to improve them as writers, because they are making that transformation to “communicators”?
Which brings me back to the quote at the beginning of this post–that a communicator is concerned with what the reader gets from the writer(or the visual or the oral presentation).
Our students need to be skilled communicators, whether they are communicating visually, orally, or in writing–they need to have mastered the craft well enough that they can focus on the reader/audience. They need to have enough encounters with communicating that they become much more aware of audience. And they need to have these encounters in a variety of ways.
One of the Pew findings, which wasn’t that surprising, is that most in school writing is done primarily in English classes, and that the writing done in other classes mainly consists of short paragraphs. If we want students to grasp the finer points of communicating–if we want them to have finesse as communicators, then whether they are writing, speaking, Skyping, or presenting a visual, they need to practice enough across the curriculum that they internalize the skills they need.
Do we need to emphasize one skill over another? Or do we need to do a better job of reaching across the curriculum to help students become more able to reach their audiences, no matter the subject, no matter the topic, and no matter the means of presentation?
And a complete sidenote, but important to librarians: One thing the Pew study discovered is that many teens are connecting and writing via libraries–60% use it from the library and 76% from school; also the usage in libraries varies by socio-economic group (making libraries a real democratizing force for these students).