Wake up to the new literacy

Writing by Anthony Russo

A writing revolution has been happening over recent years. It's not on show, and it's not happening in the classrooms. On holiday recently I saw it again, under my very nose.

Virtually every young guest at the Heilala Holiday Village was writing daily in a blog. They'd brought a netbook in their luggage, or used the iMacs in the dining room. And they were not just tossing careless words at the screen and hitting Send. They spent time and care over what they wrote. They exhibited precisely the behaviour that English teachers dream of.

They structured their prose. They edited it. They massaged it. They proofread. Above all, they wrote for an audience.

Older people watched the young travellers and waited for the iMacs to come free. And waited. And waited.

I was amazed and impressed. Even as one older guest was ranting on about the Poor Literacy Standards of Young People Today, there they were, under our noses, polishing their prose for a real audience. Writing and writing and writing.

Years ago, when my kids travelled through wild and dangerous lands, I hoped for a postcard every few months. They didn't write much: maybe because they had to say the same thing over and over again. Today's lucky parents can open Firefox, join the crowd and sweat over their children's hair-raising adventure of the day, told to the whole wide world in a blog.

Why this revolution? Why do people work so much harder at a blog than a school assignment? It's the audience: real, known and unknown, they're out there and they respond. Sure beats writing for a teacher, and ultimately, no matter how ingenious the teacher, school writing is done for a grade. Then there's the reward of seeing your writing look good on the screen: a printout cannot compete for glamour.

Clive Thompson calls this "the new literacy". In Wired magazine he tells us Andrea Lunsford at Stanford has been studying young people's writing for five years and come to some fascinating conclusions.

"I think we're in the midst of a literacy revolution the likes of which we haven't seen since Greek civilization," she says. For Lunsford, technology isn't killing our ability to write. It's reviving it—and pushing our literacy in bold new directions.

The Stanford Study of Writing


Sep 14, 2009 • Posted by Ray Tolley

Rachel thanks for your lovely piece ‘the New Literacy’. I really enjoyed it and much truth in what you say. See my observations in relation to e-Portfolios:


Best Wishes,
Ray T

Sep 15, 2009 • Posted by rachel

Ray, thanks for noticing! This is such an exciting development for educators to observe—and understand—and benefit from.

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