Teaching Techno-Writing

New report on “Writing in the 21st Century” calls for new curriculums and pedagogies.
February 24, 2009

WASHINGTON -- A new report calls on English instructors to design a new curriculum and develop new pedagogies -- from kindergarten through graduate school -- responding to the reality that students mostly “write to the net.”

“Pencils are good; we won’t be abandoning them,” said Kathleen Blake Yancey, author of "Writing in the 21st Century," a report from the National Council of Teachers of English. “They’re necessary, as a philosopher would put it, but not sufficient to the purpose.”

Yancey, a professor of English at Florida State University and immediate past president of NCTE, described by way of example the case of Tiffany Monk, a Florida teen who, during a flood caused by Tropical Storm Fay, observed that her neighbors were trapped in their homes. She took photos and sent an e-mail to a radio station; help soon arrived.

“This was composing in the 21st century. She chose the right technology, she wrote to the right audience,” Yancey said, during a panel presentation at the National Press Club Monday.

Where did Monk learn to do this? Not in school, said Yancey, where “we write on a topic we haven’t necessarily chosen. We write to a teacher; we write for a grade.”

Also on Monday, NCTE announced a National Day of Writing (October 20) and plans to develop a National Gallery of Writing intended to expand conventional notions of composition. Starting this spring, NCTE is inviting anyone and everyone to submit a composition of importance to them, in audio, text or video form; acceptable submissions for the gallery include letters, e-mail or text messages, journal entries, reports, electronic presentations, blog posts, documentary clips, poetry readings, how-to directions, short stories and memos.

Amid all the focus on new platforms for writing, a panelist who made his name as a nonfiction writer in pre-digital days, Gay Talese, made a case for old-fashioned research methods. Research, he said, “means leaving the desk; it means going out and spending lots of time with people. ... The art of hanging out, I call it."

“Googling your way through life, acquiring information without getting up, I think that’s dangerous,” Talese said.

“The modality isn’t what’s crucial,” said Kent Williamson, executive director of NCTE. What is, he continued, is “a commitment to the process” and deep engagement with a subject.


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