I have also taken a foray into new media and new approaches to writing with our blogging course for adults. This teaches creative writing along with some technology, writing skills, and self promotion (and protection) skills by helping people create or improve their blog. It's our most popular course in terms of student satisfaction (they love it) but our least successful course in terms of marketing it and making it profitable (It's turned out to be an expensive hobby for me).
2. I've done some reading where people are critical of this approach, most notably Steve Peha of Teaching That Makes Sense (TTMS.org, great thinking and writing on that website, nice guy too). I'm not convinced that it's so ill-conceived. Here's how I think about it.
3. Writing skills are open-ended and building them provides a solid foundation for all types of writing. Lets use a sports analogy for a second. When basketball players practice, they do endless layups by themselves trying to execute an exact string of steps. Martial artists endlessly practice kata which are arcane and stylized. In both cases, the practice is not "real world" since in real games (or fights), there is almost a never simple layup to the basket (and of course, a fighter never ever never gets into a cat stance or a horse stance when they are fighting). Nevertheless, these forms of practice build skills, coordination, and control which can be applied to more complex situations at game time (or when the bell rings). Martial artists have for centuries practiced blocks (inwards, outwards, upwards, downwards) which are ultimately more like calistenics than real world paries. My point is that just like in sports, the practice simulates only a fraction of the real deal. And if students the writing skills to meet academic writing requirements, they have a solid foundation from which to learn to attack real world writing challenges.
4. Another thought is that the real educational problem is not just writing skills development, it's motivation. Students are often not highly motivated (yes, I'm trying for the understatement of the year award). Does the writing assignment have anything to do with how motivated the students will be and whether they will struggle to express themselves and thence build skills? Of course yes. A thousand times yes. But, it does not follow that writing prompts per se are necessarily demotivating. Bad writing prompts are demotivating, good writing prompts are inspiring. On the corner of my desk sits a book called Teacher Man, by Frank McCourt. He suggests that his greatest success as a language arts high school teacher might have come from when he had the students, an ethnically diverse academically-uninterested batch, read aloud their favorite recipes in class. One could argue that part of the appeal was that everyone knew it was something new, an experiment. Couldn't writing prompts, properly designed, provide the same appeal?
OK, time's up. I have people coming to my office. I'll conclude that this is an interesting discussion and probably, the closest that I could claim as a consensus view is that canned time-proven writing prompts are an inferior tool to a teacher, in touch with the students, designing prompts that inspire and challenge the students at that time. Creating a prompt involves many skills but mostly it has to do with knowing what matters enough to the students so that they'll struggle to really express themselves.
Looking forward, I'll probably do some cross over work taking new media techniques into teaching writing to K12 students (I just bought a slew of books on the subject) and I'm interested in adapting our Time4Writing materials to the problem of teaching some remedial writing skills to adults. I find many adults are embarrassed by their writing and they just need help:
- mastering some confusing words: their they're too two to your you're etc
- ensuring subject verb agreement
- mastering short expository sentences
- mastering effective paragraphing and essaying
BTW, below is an example of the type of lessons that we teach at Time4Writing (double click on it to see it full size)....