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    22nd October 2011

    Modern Writing

    From October 22, 2011

    Click on the above picture to see a bigger version of a chart that I created giving different types of writing that most of us do or have done. (I created the chart using, exported it to jpg, and then loaded it onto google docs). I started the chart by modifying one found in Kathleen Yancey’s report for the National Council of Teachers of English, “Writing in the 21st Century”. She made a distinction in her chart between “obliged” writing and “personal” writing – obliged being writing for school or work or other obligations. I added a distinction between formal and informal writing. There is, of course, a great deal of overlap as well as some blurring between these categories. Letters/emails are written for personal reasons as well as for work/school reasons. They can also be formal or informal, depending on the recipient and occasion.

    Yancey’s point is that we can no longer only use traditional academic writing forms in the classroom because 1) essays and reports do not pique the interest of students – which of course isn’t itself a reason not to do them; but, 2) ignoring other – especially web 2.0 – writing forms will not adequately prepare students for further schooling and work in our modern, wired world; and 3) privileging the traditional canon of literary forms shuts out important modern voices.

    I’ve thought a bit about this on my own – how to use facebook or other net media in writing assignments. Could we have writing prompts that begin with, Imagine you’re writing a note for all of your facebook friends, trying to convince them to take action on a certain issue… Or, imagine you are one of the main characters in X book. Create a series of 10-20 160 character or less entries that he or she would have tweeted if he or she had a Twitter account. Give page numbers for where the tweet would have happened in the book. Bonus points for actually creating the Twitter account (like this one for Frodo Baggins).

    It’s no secret that most commercially successful writing fits within a range of expected formulae, whether we’re talking about novels, magazine or news articles, or television shows and movies. There’s a book called The Screenwriting Formula: Why It Works and How to Use It. Some screenwriting is so predictably over the top that it inspires parodies, such as this.

    But writing for academic purposes can also be formulaic. Hook-general statement-thesis. Topic sentence-detail-detail-transition. Topic sentence-detail-detail-transistion. Concluding detail- concluding detail-restatement of thesis-possibly another research angle. I really appreciated James Collins take on how strategies and forumulae can be useful, but they must be accompanied by the student knowing why, when, and how to effectively use a given formula.

    “If it is a pattern to which students must conform without knowing when or why to use the pattern… it is indeed formulaic. If, on the other hand, the structure provides a meaningful scaffold for writing, meaningful because students know how, when, and why to use it to guide their writing, it is not a formula at all. It is a writing strategy.”
    -James L. Collins, “Writing strategies are no formulas: (But they can be used strategically)”

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    Copyright 2005 by Daryl Holmlund - All rights reserved.