Authentic reasons to write

One of the 10 Reasons Your Students Should Be Blogging by an elementary special educator who blogs under the assumed name of “Mr. Foteah,” hit a nerve.  His fifth reason for having students blog is this:

5. Authentic writing for authentic audiences. The writing is authentic because kids are writing about whatever they want. Even if I decide to give them prompts or topics to write about, they know teachers and other students will be reading them – not just me. Again, it’s all about their investment, and no doubt knowing you have an audience waiting with baited breath to read what you have to write is something that motivates.

That comment is similar to dozens of others I’ve seen in various blogs by various writers. While I understand and value the concern for students that underlies it, I have serious questions about “Mr. Foteah’s” use of the term authentic writing to mean “writing about whatever they want” for a readership “waiting with baited [sic] breath” to read it.

When educators use the term authentic that way, they create the impression that students are going to be able to write whatever they want all their lives for readers who are salivate at the thought of being allowed to view it.

I know all too well my first year college students think they can write about anything they want in any form they like. They are shocked to learn a poem describing their honest feelings about dissection is not considered an acceptable alternative to a biology research paper. And they are horrified to learn their employer expects them to write the employer’s message rather than their own more creative ideas.

I am not opposed to students’ blogging. However, I am concerned that teachers use it in ways that don’t set up false expectations for students or create misunderstandings for other teachers to correct later.

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4 Comments

Filed under Teaching writing

4 responses to “Authentic reasons to write

  1. So what's the point? Kids who have little belief in themselves and often don't have many people believing in them unconditionally shouldn't be writing about anything they want because eventually somewhere down the line someone's going to say it's not good enough to do so? Um, okay.Fact is, choice and authenticity build confidence and independence. If these traits are undesirable in our students, then I must be a heinous person.Did you consider that maybe my methods might be giving kids incentive to write or even develop a love for it?

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  2. Allowing second graders to think that they have an eager audience is damning them to a deluded life where they think people will always anticipate their writing? Hardly a logical argument. I guess we should tell parents to also not stick their children's colorful scribbles onto their fridges for fear their children will ask top dollar for their assumed-masterpieces? This is why differentiation is such a beautiful concept. Encouraging children to write and not be stunted by every spelling, grammar or literary convention *is* authentic for their age group, as is writing as if they are the center of the universe. It isn't until fourth grade when teachers are expected to start shattering their egos and sense of self.

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  3. I don't put my college students' writing on my refrigerator. I have, however, been known to give students lollipops when they did really good work.As I said in the original post, I have some reservations about inflating the value of blogging. I have no quarrel with photomatt7 a.k.a. Mr. Foteah. As I said, I had seen many other bloggers make similar statements; his just happened to be the handiest when I reached my tipping point. I'm also perfectly happy to have LaFlecha's second graders writing like second graders. I approve of teachers doing age-appropriate activities with their students. However, since I work with teens and adults and my website is for those who teach writing to teens and adults, I have a somewhat different perspective on teaching writing.

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  4. More importantly, you argue that people won't always be able to write what they want, and so that anyone who promotes that philosophy through blogging is setting them up for disappointment. True, in college, grad school, and other classes, I had few options as to what I wanted to write. Now that I'm out of that world, I can write whatever I want. There is light at the end of the tunnel. If we teach that writing is only something to be done for approval (by the teacher/professor/rubric) then we are turning off many who would someday write for pleasure.

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