From Text Messages to Essays….

My husband and I were out to dinner this weekend at a local hibachi restaurant and we were seated with a group of high school girls.  I would guess they were freshman or sophomores.  The girls spent the entire dinner on their cell phones or making comments about each other, which my husband could not understand. “Why are girls so catty?” he kept asking me.

I, on the other hand, was fascinated by the care they took when crafting their text messages.  One of the girls was in the middle of some sort of fight with a boy and every time he texted her they all crowded around her phone and dissected his short text messages.  But what I was intrigued by was the time they spent in crafting the perfect response.

*Imagine this conversation taking place with all four girls constantly talking over each other.*

“What should I say?” the girl with the cell phone asked her friends.

“Just say that’s ok”.

“No!  Not ok.  Say something else…”

“That’s not cool?”

“You’re an idiot? Ha!”

“Try that’s fine!”

“Yeah, that works. But don’t use an exclamation point. You don’t want him to think you’re excited.”

“Right. You don’t want to be nasty but you want him to know you’re annoyed. Not angry, just that you’re annoyed at him.”

“Ok. So I wrote ‘That’s fine.” period.”

“Perfect!”

This took about three or four minutes.  But I’ve been thinking about it ever since.  These girls took such care to choose exactly the right words and punctuation in order to convey the tone they desired.  They knew what they wanted the audience (the boy) to think when he read the words they crafted.

How do we get these girls, and all students, to care this much about the writing they do in the rest of their life?  I don’t just mean in school- having a teacher read your essay isn’t exactly a real audience. But what about the words they write online? The Facebook updates, the tweets, the tumblr posts…..all of these deserve the same care in word choice and punctuation.  We need to capture this scene and transfer it to all writing.

One way to do this in school is by providing opportunities for students to write for a real audience.  A great way to do that is publishing online. I’ve started doing that this year and the response has been great.  My students just finished writing creative nonfiction literature responses about books that have influenced their lives and in my search for the perfect online publishing space I discovered posterous.com

Posterous is a lot like tumblr but I find it to be a bit more academic.  There are more controls (moderated posting and moderated comments for instance) but the ease of use is still there, which is key.  And the best part, for teachers, is that students can email work directly to the blog account and with a quick once-over I can post them. It’s practically instant!

I gave my students the option of publishing this last writing piece and about 25% of my freshman followed through. Those who chose to publish are thrilled with the response and love getting comments.  If you are interested in taking a look, the essays can be found here.

Where online do you publish your students? I’m always looking for more outlets and I’d love to hear from you!

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