I had the privilege of meeting, for the first time, Julia Skinner at the recent BETT show. Julia tweets as @theheadsoffice, and is the instigator of the 100 Word Challenge, which has been instrumental in encouraging many pupils to engage in, and enjoy, writing.
One of the big issues of our time seems to concern writing. Or, to be more specific, NOT writing. And to whittle it away even further, boys' writing. Apparently, boys don't like writing. If that's the case, perhaps Web 2.0 can help?
I think the first thing I'd like to say is that if it happens to be true that boys don't like writing, perhaps that's because they're not being asked to write about anything they're interested in. I know that's either a really facile statement or a no-brainer, depending on where you stand on the issue, but it strikes me as pretty obvious that if you ask someone to write about something they have no interest in whatsoever, why would they?
You might say that the same argument applies to girls, and you'd be right. Except that in my experience girls tend to (a) be more compliant than boys and (b) like writing for its own sake anyway.
I recall that in one class I had I could not get one of the boys to settle down for more than ten minutes at a time. Then one day, he was really quiet and engaged for about 25 minutes before I could risk breaking the spell by talking to him.
"I don't understand this.", I said. "Normally you're a complete head-banger, and all of a sudden you're a model pupil. How come?"
He laughed and then gave the brutally honest response, "'Cos usually I don't find it interesting enough to bother."
So what was so interesting that captured his attention for the entire lesson? He was compiling a list of all the games his team had won in the last ten years, from a whole load of football programmes he'd brought in. For me, that would be the most boring thing on earth. For him it was captivating. As my American friends might say: "Who knew?"
But even if you regard this example as an aberration, is even the broad statement about boys and writing true?
I think not, because boys write all the time. Perhaps what is meant is discursive writing, but boys text each other, and send each other games cheats by instant messenger or Facebook, to take a couple of examples.
Well, that's a start for an article like this, because there are several ways in which teachers can take the enthusiasm of boys for writing, which I believe does exist, and the variety of Web 2.0 applications, and harness them together. Here are some suggestions.
- Get the pupils to take it in turns to act as the class scribe. The scribe writes down the main points covered in the lesson, and writes it up in the class blog. Check out Sue Waters' Using Scribe Posts on Class Blogs for some tips and references about this.
- Get the youngsters to write film and book reviews, either using a blog, or using something like Blippr. Blippr is a social network which specialises in reviews. It gives you 160 characters -- the same as you get for a text message - in which to have your say. It's possible, and it's fun -- but it's challenging (which is, more than likely, WHY it's fun). Have a look at mine for some examples.
- If 160 characters strikes you as far too easy, how about 140? You can use Twitter for the same sort of thing, or for writing short (very short!) stories. See, for example, Twitterfiction.
- If you like the idea of a book review in 160 characters, but not the idea of a social network, try Wallwisher. It's like having post-it notes, and you can type up to 160 characters on each one. You can also include pictures and, a big bonus, everyone can see each others' efforts. Maybe you could even get boys to work together on some writing.
- Blogs are useful for writing book and film reviews too. There are one or two great examples of this in the forthcoming 'Amazing Web 2.0 Projects' book.
- Also in the book are some creative uses of Twitter, including its use in getting a class of primary school children to understand what life on the run must have been like from the standpoint of one of the Gunpowder Plotters.
I could go on giving example after example, and don't forget there is also the writing involved in podcast and video scripting - not just the dialogue but 'stage directions' too.
I think that by using a variety of Web 2.0 applications it can't be that hard to get kids -- including boys -- writing.
Of course, finding a topic they're actually interested in -- or making a topic interesting to them -- no doubt helps!