July 16, 2013

The Impact of Digital Tools on Student Writing and How Writing is Taught in Schools

Part III: Teachers See Digital Tools Affecting Student Writing in Myriad Ways

Majorities of AP and NWP teachers in the study see digital tools having several distinct, beneficial impacts on student writing, including providing a broader audience for student work, encouraging creativity and personal expression in a multitude of formats, and offering more opportunities for collaboration, interaction and feedback.  Many teachers say that taken together, these three impacts of digital technologies make writing both more meaningful and less intimidating for many students, while also encouraging greater commitment to, and personal investment in, what they produce.

Yet many of these AP and NWP teachers also express concerns about how digital tools and platforms are shaping the way their students approach writing.  Of most concern are what some perceive as diminishing grammatical skills and vocabulary, which they attribute largely to the informal writing in which today’s students are heavily engaged.  In addition, some AP and NWP teachers worry that rather than encourage greater understanding of and appreciation for different audiences, digital tools actually blur the boundaries between formal and informal audiences and discourage student sensitivity to these distinctions.  Finally, many of these middle and high school teachers worry that their students are losing the ability to develop, organize and express complex thoughts because they generally communicate in more concise forms of expression.

Majorities of AP and NWP teachers see digital tools benefiting student writing in several key ways

Asked whether they agree or disagree with a series of statements about potential impacts digital tools may be having on today’s students, majorities of AP and NWP teachers in this sample agree that:

  • Today’s digital technologies allow students to “share their work with a wider and more varied audience” (52% strongly agree, 44% agree)
  • Today’s digital technologies “encourage student creativity and personal expression” (26% strongly agree, 52% agree)
  • Today’s digital technologies “encourage greater collaboration among students” (23% strongly agree, 56% agree)

In focus groups, teachers spoke at length about how these three perceived impacts benefit student writing.  Many said that not only are their students are doing considerably more writing outside of the classroom than they would without these digital tools, but they have the unique experience of writing for broad and varied audiences because of the internet. Exposing student writers to a wider audience via online platforms is a considerable change from a time when only one’s teacher and perhaps a few classmates would read a student’s writing.

Not only do many of these teachers use online platforms such as GoogleDocs to have students edit each others’ work in a public way, but many have students work together on Wikis, use whiteboards to share and edit student work in class, and have students “publish” their work in other online forums.  While teachers acknowledge that some middle and high school students may struggle in this more public learning environment, overall these AP and NWP teachers felt that more students benefited from writing for a broader audience than were inhibited by it.  Many of these teachers see exposure to a wider audience as an opportunity for students to get more diverse feedback on their work, which encourages them to think more consciously about audience as they write, and in turn leads to greater investment in what is written.

In addition, many AP and NWP teachers noted that digital tools encourage personal expression in many forms, not just “writing.”  This benefits students who might otherwise struggle to express themselves in formal writing, and pushes those more comfortable with self-expression to be even more creative.  According to these teachers, the many diverse forms of self-expression available today make the process of communicating one’s ideas less intimidating and more accessible for students today.  Several teachers noted that for many students, digital tools take the “scary” factor out of “formal writing.”

Figure 7

On AUDIENCE, AP and NWP teachers say…

One way these tools help young writers is to see their work in another forum. Many students are used to only “desktop” publishing. They write on their desktop, finish their writing, and put it on the teacher’s desk. I have found that students take a closer look at their writing when they know that the audience will include their peers. At RAW INK Online, their work is often seen by teachers and authors from outside of our school. So, students take a closer look at their blog posts and responses. Through having students share their writing with their peers in these modalities, I have seen them become more at ease with the writing process. They are more willing to put their ideas down in writing when writing for an authentic audience. The students begin to develop an awareness for the need to write/communicate in a way that makes sense to the reader and communicates clearly their intended message.

Based on my own personal experiences I would have to agree that today’s digital technologies have provided students more opportunities to develop and share their thoughts creatively. When I was in school, if I wanted my voice to be heard by more people than just my three best friends, I would have had to write something up to submit it to the school newsletter or the local paper. Whether or not what I wrote was published would then be left up to the one editor that read my piece. Today I can simply tweet something to my several hundred followers and immediately incite some kind of response. Personally, I feel my voice matters more because I know that when I tweet something or post it to my blog it has the potential to be read by a lot of people, and the positive feedback that I receive when I do post propels me to want to write more. I know my students feel the same way. I have seen a heightened sense of responsibility on the part of my students to be more thoughtful in articulating their ideas because they know others will read their work. Additionally, I have seen where students feel empowered to contribute on seemingly niche subjects (specialized knowledge about video games, etc.) because they know they have knowledge that will add to what is being shared on the web about that subject.

For my students, this is an issue of communication, of meeting the standards not only as writers, but as people very aware that the audience is not their teacher, but a much broader venue. I try to help them see a bigger space for their writing than just the four walls of our room. For my students it comes down to developing something to say, and then creating the most effective means to say it. Their writing is not really “long, formal writing,” but rather it’s writing that gets their point across in the most effective way, developing a sense of style (not necessarily formal) and engaging an audience. We spend a while unpacking the relevant standards – drawn from the Common Core, and, a key component is engaging an audience and orienting them to a point of view of specific context for the issue. So, effective writing is a key part of that, but for most of the work my students do, writing is one component, and at times it’s just a basis for the videos or other multimedia they’ll create.

When my students make digital films we screen them together, talk about their work together, and then students subsequently post links to their films on Facebook, etc. So, if a kid is engaged, this writing has a whole new element that traditional writing did not have. The audience enlarges, the retrospective self evaluation increases and the com position matters m ore because it will be publically shared.

In my experience the extended audience provided by online writing encourages students to be more deliberate and thoughtful. My students have been using a Ning and m ore recently their own blogs to post writing pieces and then use the comment features to provide peer feedback. While at first students were hesitant and shy both to post work and make thoughtful and useful comments about others’ writing, once the routine was established and the community proved to be a safe one, student writing has benefitted.

Another thing that I love is the authentic audience that digital tools can provide for students. I have my students blogging—meaning that students “publish” a variety of different types of writing to a public site where anyone can read and comment on their work. I had a student share that a pastor from somewhere in the country had commented on her blog. She was beyond ecstatic to read that someone thought her work was excellent. I can, and do, tell her that all day long, but when she hears that from someone else she is convinced.  I have seen students able to develop a stronger voice in their writing when they post it to their blog as opposed to them just turning it in for the teacher.

On COLLABORATION, AP and NWP teachers say…

GoogleDocs is used as a drafting and revision tool that can easily be shared among one another. We engage in response writing on a daily basis to: a TED talk, or a Podcast, or an episode of This American Life. These responses are posted onto the schools Ning to be shared with the class as a whole and can be seen by other educators. These formats allow the students to share their thoughts, interruption and understating of the material with one another in a real time form. It’s all about connecting. I believe that students are reading, writing, creating and sharing more than ever through digital media. By being able to connect with others they remain invested and passionate about what they are creating.

I think writing becomes less hinged on the types of length requirements I remember focusing on in high school and college. We are a more collaborative writing group: editing our school Wikipedia page, editing work simultaneously on GoogleDocs or sending texts via polleverywhere means everyone is producing and authoring short and long texts simultaneously. Writing can feel less high risk as a result.

I think we’ve always been a creative species that has produced a lot of thoughtful articulation of ideas. I don’t know that digital technologies have really changed that. And there have always been a lot of opportunities to write. Back in the day I wrote a lot of songs, poems and stories in notebooks, on napkins and scraps of paper; my students today do more of that kind of drafting digitally. I think what’s different now is the conversations around writing. There are more ways writers can talk back to others about their compositions now – chats in Google Docs, via comments on their Flickr content, etc. The opportunities to collaborate have created more chances to converse with a more diverse audience. Writing is m ore social now, and my students are much more aware of audience than I was when I was a teen.

Digital technologies have allowed my students to be more collaborative in their writing experiences and to experience writing for a larger audience. My expository writing class is now a high school version of a blended course. Students are able to respond to one another through an online academic social network. Through this site they brainstorm together, share responses to writing in forums and share resources through shared links and wiki creation. They also share their writing through sites like GoogleDocs or wiggio. We even collaborate on how we pace our writing assignments through an online calendar. Students research together by sharing links through diigo. In my freshman class students are able to use elireview.com for online peer review, which is especially nice for them so they can easily share their writing and focus their responses to one another. We also collaborate with other classes. We have six American Literature classes at my high school and we’re all connected through our online academic social network. We post on forums and create wikis together and share resources across classes. Students now have around 180 peers as their audience for a lot of their writing, instead of just a teacher or one class.

I teach at a New Tech school, in which everything we do is a project-based learning model and our projects are always completed collaboratively, whether in pairs or larger groups. My students use GoogleDocs extensively as they move through their projects for planning and then com position. I think the collaboration allowed on GoogleDocs is really changing the way people and our students write. Most of the students I teach have been learning in this model for the past three years and for the most part have been using GoogleDocs along with other digital tools increasingly during that time. At this point they are very comfortable writing with one another, editing each other’s writing, and accepting feedback from one another. I love the transparency of GoogleDocs as well – the history is all there for students and teachers to revisit past editions and know who has contributed what.

I have seen students more willing to go back and revise or improve their work in order to provide more clarity when using digital tools than when they are writing it on paper. Many times after we have had a conference I hear students saying, “Ok, can I go back and fix that?” It’s music to my ears. I am actually interested in seeing how digital writing plays out a little more because I think it does give us more reason to go back and evaluate, fix, add to, change any given work over time.

On CREATIVITY, AP and NWP teachers say…

I strongly agree that [digital tools] encourage developmental skills such as creativity. There are so many wonderful platforms available to students and they can express one single idea in so many ways. If students read a book, they don’t have to do a book report, they can create a blog, a glog, or a digital video about the book.

I think this generation of students have many more opportunities, not only to write (in many forms) and learn to express themselves, but the added benefit that social media and GoogleDocs have to offer is to provide them with an audience for these thoughts and expressions. We know our students can write–they text all day. My students’ expressions make up the majority of my Twitter stream. While in the past we may have written in our diaries and journals and hid them under our pillows, students today write and post their feelings for the world to see. I do see this as helping them to articulate their thoughts and I often wonder what the effect is of them having an audience, the opportunity for immediate two-way
communication or at least validation of their musings (the Like button) and what that does to their confidence as writers/thinkers.

I think students are writing and reading more because of their online lives than ever before. But it’s not just writing, of course. I have students who are reluctant, ill-educated writers who produce videos and organize websites. There is a lot more self-directed learning happening now than I’ve seen before. And it’s exciting to get out of the way of this.

Actually, I tend to disagree more with this idea than agree. There is definitely a higher volume of writing [in the digital age], but the purpose and audience for most students’ writing is not automatically an invitation to greater creativity or more thoughtful articulation. There is an emphasis placed on speed and immediacy that actually can eat away at creativity. Moreover, the thoughtful articulation of ideas is compromised by a widespread expectation that all writing should be short and direct, which may not always be clear.

With all of these technologies, I think writing is at the heart, but our students are also driven to take it a step further to include video, sound, hyper links, images, animation, etc. That’s a huge boost in creativity.

In focus groups, AP and NWP teachers were careful to point out that simply having access to a wider audience and more platforms for self-expression does not necessarily translate into effective writing and communication.  Writing for varied audiences, and particularly writing for online audiences, is a skill that must be taught.  Likewise, communicating in the appropriate style for a particular venue and/or audience is something many students have not mastered, according to these teachers.  As a result, many teachers report spending class time teaching just these skills.

On collaboration, AP and NWP teachers say…

The ability to have wider and more frequent conversations about their composition I think has helped my students’ writing. But just having the potential for wider conversations and a larger audience doesn’t always mean more people are listening. I mean, we’ve got to explicitly teach the art of online conversation.

Like reading, I think writing is also about thinking and learning. A former student said that writing a research paper for my class and then repurposing it for larger audiences [as a blog post] allowed her to think in an organized manner and critically read and apply her thinking in ways other experiences did not. She felt she learned how to think and develop extensive ideas through the process of writing a long formal text. She then had to reexamine her research and repurpose her work for another audience. She felt that experience continued to challenge her thinking about the ways in which writing and researching relate to various life situations. Additionally, she suggested that students may read blog posts on their own, but the challenge of reading and synthesizing material based on scholarly research was one students needed to be challenged to do through an academic environment. So, research paper or blog…it all has to relate back to thinking and learning with purpose.

I do feel like students are writing more than I did.  Instead of notes, students are sending texts and emails, instead of calling, students are messaging.  There is so much more communication centered around writing today.  One thing we do need to address is the careful crafting of these electronic messages.  They are easily misinterpreted without the visual and verbal cues.  This is where intention, audience, tone, etc. need to be taught.  It’s the whole notion of identity and perception.  How did you mean to represent yourself in that message?  What do you think the perception of your identity and your message is by others?  These are skills that need to be addressed and taught.

I think it is important for students to have a sense of a discourse community when it comes to researching and sharing out from that research. To understand that one side of the continuum are the blissfully-unaware and on the other are the highly-qualified respondents. When they draft a response, revise a paper, post a blog, enter a discussion thread, they become—almost automatically–a part of that discourse community. Can the student self-identify where they appear upon this continuum? What might this tell the student about their place in the conversation? To which end do they stand with the response they are offering when they offer it?

These technologies also have helped my students understand various rhetorical situations for their writing because we explore how our academic social network is different from other sites or other writing experiences. For instance, some Facebook qualities are in our site, but students know they also have a very formal audience for their work too. I think teaching about concepts of writing actually makes a lot of sense when we are direct in explaining how writing is impacted by audience and purpose and medium. Students understand that texts have characteristics that research papers do not and they understand that they need to be mindful of the differences in writing based on audience, purpose and medium of writing.

Overall, when these three key impacts are taken together – a broader audience, increased opportunities for creativity and personal expression, and greater collaboration – the vast majority of AP and NWP teachers participating in the study see a tremendous upside to writing in the digital age.  In focus groups, teachers repeatedly used the words “investment” and “engagement” to describe the impact they see digital tools having on student writing.

On whether today’s students are more invested in their writing, AP and NWP teachers say…

In thinking about digital writing and the potential for audience, I think that idea of someone beyond myself reading their work is a real key factor in what drives many of my students to extensively stick with a piece of writing and keep digging in, revising, working on things m ore, and really feeling an investment in a piece. I know that at the start of one of my courses, when students understand that the writing we’ll be doing is for a mass audience, the idea can be intimidating for some students right off, but once they understand that they have extensive support from me as their coach, and that we have a process where work is developed and really built, then that apprehension goes away. Once we get to the stage where we’re ready to publish work, students are so proud of what they’ve produced that they’re psyched to see it going public. So, I’ve steadily seen students having a real investment when they are writing publicly.

I see an improvement in students’ writing as a result of new technologies in the classroom: Students are more aware of audience and thoughtfully consider their purposes for writing and what readers will gain from their work. Shy students often come alive online in ways they don’t in class because they have time to think and compose before sharing their ideas and opinions. My students respond to each other’s writing through our Edmodo page and learn how to provide constructive feedback. Technology tools increase students’ engagement and interest in writing. Students collaborate more through Googledocs, Edmodo, and our class blog. Students consider their online presence.

In a way, technology has made writing for a public audience less intimidating.  If we exploit the possibilities of using these forums to share ideas and to enhance writing skills, that would be a very exciting thing.  So, our goal may be to go forth and eradicate the poor grammar and spelling, as well as the odd contractions (might’ve???) and get our students’ work out there!

I still know some teachers that insist students hand write everything because she doesn’t want them cheating on their notes. To her there are a lot of negative thoughts about using technology because it makes it easier to cheat. I don’t guess she realizes they cheat more on her assignments than they do mine. For her the other problem is that the teacher has to relinquish a little more control to the students if you are allowing the students to collaborate and think freely. I find that a huge benefit, but other teachers who have to be in 100% control all the time, find the use of technology a huge downside. For me, the negative impacts are minor because real world connection, collaboration, and creativity
kids are able to use when using technology far outweighs any of the negative things.

Along with these benefits, 68% of these AP and NWP teachers say digital tools make students more likely to take shortcuts and not put effort into their writing

Asked about specific impacts digital tools may have on student writing, AP and NWP teachers in this sample expressed the greatest concern about these tools increasing the likelihood their students will “take shortcuts and not put effort into their writing.”  Just over two-thirds of these AP and NWP teachers (68%) say that digital tools are having this impact.  Fewer teachers, but still a sizeable percentage, also say these tools make students more likely to “write too fast and be careless” (46%) and more likely to “use poor spelling and grammar” (40%).  (On the latter measure, teachers are fairly divided, with 38% saying digital tools make students LESS likely to use poor spelling and grammar—an indication of the tension between the positive and negative effects of automated spellcheck and grammar check.)

This question was originally posed in a 2007 Pew Internet nationally representative telephone survey of teens and their parents.  At that time, 49% of teens 12-17 said the use of computers and other digital tools for writing made them more likely to take shortcuts and not put effort into their writing, and 41% said that digital tools make them more likely to write too fast or be careless. In addition, 42% said these tools make them more likely to use poor spelling or grammar. Parents’ views in the 2007 survey generally aligned with those of their teens.11

Figure 8

English/language arts teachers have the most positive view of the impact of digital tools on student writing

On all three of these measures, English teachers in the sample express the most positive view of the impact of digital tools.  They are the least likely to say that digital tools make students more likely to take shortcuts in their writing, use poor spelling or grammar, or write too fast and be careless.

Figure

Conversely, most AP and NWP teachers surveyed (56%) say digital tools also make students more likely to revise and edit their work

Reflecting the mixed impact teachers see digital tools having on student writing habits, many note potential positive impacts as well.  More than half of the AP and NWP teachers in the sample feel these technologies increase the likelihood their students will revise and edit their work. In 2007, a similar percentage of teens (59%) said this was the case.  Math (64%) and English/language arts (60%) teachers are more likely than both science (53%) and history/social studies (48%) teachers to feel that digital tools are having this positive effect on student writing.

Also on the positive side, a plurality of teachers (50%) say digital tools make students more likely to “be creative,” a finding which is consistent across AP and NWP teachers of different subjects.  Yet on other potential impacts, these AP and NWP teachers are divided.  For example, 32% of AP and NWP teachers surveyed say today’s digital tools make students MORE likely to communicate well, but almost as many (28%) say these tools make students LESS likely to communicate well.

Despite lengthy discussion in focus groups about the benefit of learning to write for varied audiences in today’s digital ecology, just 24% of AP and NWP teachers feel that digital tools make today’s students MORE likely to write in multiple genres and styles.  Instead, most teachers (63%) say digital tools have no impact on student writing in this regard.

Focus group discussions revealed some additional concerns about the impact of digital tools on student writing

In addition to the concerns captured in the survey of AP and NWP teachers, focus group discussions revealed other concerns these teachers have about the potential impact of digital tools on student writing.  In these discussions, three main concerns emerged:

  • diminishing grammatical skills and vocabulary,
  • an increasingly blurry line between formal and informal writing, resulting in the creep of “text speak” into formal writing, and
  • a general emphasis on short forms of expression

As use of today’s digital technologies—including the internet, cell phones and social networking sites—becomes more prevalent in the classroom and in students’ personal lives,12 some AP and NWP teachers say the overall quality of student writing is declining. The clearest evidence they point to is the “creep” of more casual language and grammar (sometimes referred to as “textspeak”) into students’ academic writing.  Because more informal settings such as texting and social network site posts have distinct norms about what is acceptable (such as incomplete sentences, misspellings, widespread use of abbreviations, a generally informal tone), some AP and NWP teachers worry that they ultimately undermine students’ formal writing.

While some AP and NWP teachers in the study described these informal expressions as a unique language or register that can benefit student self-expression when used in the right venue, others worry that their students are increasingly unable to draw a distinction between informal and formal writing. In focus groups, teachers were divided as to whether the transference of rules and norms from one writing domain to another was the result of students simply not recognizing the distinction across domains, or if it was conscious disregard for those distinctions.

On GRAMMAR and VOCABULARY, AP and NWP teachers say…

Technology has increased the amount of writing students do, but decreased the quality. For instance, instead of writing letters, quick texts are sent instead. Also, students use substandard grammar, or become overly reliant upon spelling and grammar checkers on the computer.

The single biggest negative impact [of digital technologies is] poor writing skills and verbal skills.  Yes, so the use of word processing programs and spell-check and all that stuff is wonderful, but they rely on it so much that even when it changes their thoughts and words and it doesn’t even make sense anymore because they’ve put in words that they’ve substituted words for misspelled words that don’t even make sense, it hinders their ability.

I tell them, I have sophomores and juniors and I tell them, read pre-1970 writing.  It’s richer vocabulary. Most of them have very poor vocabulary just because they simply do not read books and they certainly don’t read things written before the 1980s.

“The one that always jumps out at me and I find really frightening is they have horrifically bad vocabularies. I primarily blame that on just simply not reading and certainly not reading anything with any challenge to it.  Like a lot of the more recent books that they will read, they just don’t have the depth of language.  They don’t have that complexity of language or the complexity of vocabulary.”

In addition, some AP and NWP teachers note a potential decline in vocabulary and grammatical skills among their students, exacerbated by an overreliance on automated grammar, spellcheck and dictionary tools built into word processing programs.  While these tools have unquestionably made word processing faster and easier, and can benefit students when used thoughtfully, some teachers worry they can also undermine students’ understanding of and attention to basic writing principles.

On the BLURRING LINE BETWEEN FORMAL AND INFORMAL WRITING, AP and NWP teachers say…

Texting has spilled over into so much of my students’ writing that trying to decipher what they are writing has become difficult. They don’t see the problem, and feel that as long as they have written something, it should be accepted no matter how it’s written.

Although my students probably don’t see texting and entries on Facebook as writing, I guess they are still writing. However, I have seen the negative effects because much of this writing uses incorrect grammar, spelling, and capitalization. I have a hard time with some students using the lowercase i and abbreviations in their essays.

I think my students would say that any ‘writing’ they do is for specific assignments in classes, essays, research papers, etc. Outside of the classroom they are texting a lot. While texting is a form of communication, it is not ‘writing’ in my opinion, and because of texting, I think there are some serious issues that are surfacing more and more these days. A lot of students don’t know how to write a complete thought. They can’t use correct punctuation, and they don’t start sentences with capital letters. They are supposedly learning all this in class, but it is their outside communication that seems to predominate in their ability to communicate. There is a definite laziness happening with the students and writing.

I see them as minor issues. I see Text Talk as another language. There’s a time and place for it, but not everyone understands it. Still, there are those contexts where it is socially acceptable and expected. I wouldn’t rob them of that, but it is my job to teach them how to negotiate the many registers and codes they use in language every day. To me, this code-switching is an important part of being literate.

What is hard to discern is how much of this is due to the influx of all the technology at their fingertips and the actual developmental stage of a typical adolescent. There is a definite challenge for many students in making adjustments in formality and purpose, because so much of the writing they do is casual in nature, mainly due to the array of digital technologies afforded to them driven by instant connection. Adjusting to an academic mode, for example, proves more difficult than might be expected.

Texting may have a negative impact on students’ writing in that the informalities of texting are definitely seeping into their writing, but that is not what I want to comment on. Texting has created a greater connection between myself and my students and an ability to respond quickly to their questions. My students often text me with questions about assignments and I love that I can quickly and easily answer their questions.

I believe that writing has been somewhat negatively impacted by technology. With texting is a key form of expression there is little thought or effort put into essential elements of writing, such as spelling, grammar and exposition. That transfers over to students’ attitude about writing for school assignments.

The biggest challenge is to get them to write well in a math class. They do not feel it is important because to them math is “not English class.” Because of the prevalence of texting, they are lazy writers and expect you to “know what they meant” when they poorly word responses.

Automated word processing tools, and the speed that accompanies them,may contribute to an additional concern expressed by AP and NWP teachers—a lack of patience among some students to execute longer writing assignments.  Some teachers in the study question whether a growing cultural emphasis on speed and on truncated forms of expression (from tweets to status updates to blog posts) has conditioned students today to write, and think, in morselized, less developed pieces.  These teachers are particularly concerned that what appears as impatience or carelessness is actually a diminishing set of cognitive skills in this area, or a lack of appreciation for subtly constructed arguments.

On TRUNCATED EXPRESSION, AP and NWP teachers say…

The effects [of digital tools on writing] are both positive and negative. Students are expressing their opinions more. I think my students are thinking more about what is happening in the world because of technology. They are communicating more in written form with texting, social networks, etc. However, and this is the big problem, they are not doing it well. They have more opinions, but they cannot express them in a complete manner. I have also noticed that it seems to take the students longer and longer to write essays these days. Because they are only used to writing little snippets of information, when they actually have to write a short essay of substance (2-3 short paragraphs, a 15-minute assignment) it takes them a half hour or more.

One big thing that is apparent to me is that students actually write a lot m ore than we often believe. What, how, and why they write might not be what is always desired in school, but it seems to me they actually do write more than ever. What is interesting is that very few think of themselves as writers. There seems to be a disconnect. So a lot of writing has a careless quality to it. The writing is sloppier and unpolished more often than not. For example, ask them to write or develop some kind of personal correspondence, regardless of mode, and they are more able to be successful.

Most students lack craft, which certainly is not new, yet because they spend so much time engaged in these sort of shorter, more direct, unruly writing tasks, there can be a tendency to resist technique and craft instruction. Thus, truly developing anything at sophisticated level of depth is difficult. So the prospect of writing with longer, complexly constructed structures, modeled on the likes of sentences from Faulkner or Dickens takes a lot of assistance. In fact, the writing is directly linked to the reading, where many struggle to unpack even mildly sophisticated text in reading, because they have an ingrained expectation that everything can be short and direct, even if they intellectually understand the limitations of the expectation. It is common for students to see pieces of writing as repetitive, rather than recognizing the subtle wrinkles or different color that might be used in restatement of an idea or theme. In their own writing, they tend to think of development as “filler.”

  1. “Writing, Technology and Teens“ available at http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2008/Writing-Technology-and-Teens.aspx
  2. “Teens and Technology 2013,” available at http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2013/Teens-and-Tech.aspx