Writing is a significant skill necessary for college and career readiness. With that said, writing is used to support reading, learning, and displaying knowledge. Youth who write well can accomplish academic goals, shape their educational and pre-career trajectories, and advocate for themselves and their communities. In other words, writing well is a necessary requirement for success in the future. Understandings of a college and career ready writer have changed, however, with the increasing use of digital and social media as a composition tool. How, then, can youth prepare for successful writing in the 21st century?
This question is important for all Guilford County students, and is especially so for the increasing population of diverse language communities in Greensboro who are learning to write in a new language. To answer, I, a former teacher and current teacher educator in English education, have six points for individuals to consider.
- Social media (e.g., Facebook) can be a comfortable space for diverse language communities to read and write in a new language. At the same time, social media might limit how diverse language communities learn and use more formal types of writing and has the potential to foster negative commentary from online viewers. Young writers need experience with critically examining what they read and write online, including how to recognize trustworthy sources and how to be mindful of what they post on social media. This means helping young writers to be aware of the author, accuracy, objectivity, currency and coverage of site. In addition, adults can help youth understand that what they post on social media now can impact the careers and opportunities they receive in the future.
- Youth can take advantage of the global community of writers online. There are several spaces for young writers to write, publish drafts, and receive feedback from more experienced writers, many of whom speak several languages. For example, many youth write Fanfiction, fiction written by fans about characters or settings from an original work. For young writers from diverse language backgrounds, Fanfiction is an empowering arena for them to develop their second-language skills because they are able to write in a familiar genre (e.g., anime) within a low-stakes environment. They are also able to receive comments from other writers, many of whom speak both English and their native language.
- With a larger community of writers comes easier access to authors. It is important for young writers to meet and interact with a variety of authors. This provides young writers the chance to build a relationship with a possible mentor. Online, young people can follow and potentially communicate with favorite authors via social media to ask them questions about the writing process, writing careers, and/or receive feedback on their own writing.
- To help young writers through the revising and editing process, there are many online resources focused on conventions, organization and word choice, such asquickanddirtytips.com written by Grammar Girl. Specifically for diverse language learners, sources such as the Purdue Online Writing Lab for ESL Instructors and Students focuses on grammar and workplace writing.
- To grow as a writer, young writers need the opportunity to publish their work for the public to read. For young writers learning a new language, publications that highlight writing in two or more languages can more fully celebrate their writing skills. Options, such as Flipsnack, offer such a space. For example, a young writer might write in English on the left page and then in their native language on the right page so that their work reaches a more global audience, including all members of their family.
- It is important to expand our notion of what it means to be a writer. Many people who make a career from writing, write with several other people, many of whom live all over the world. Much of that writing includes scripts for short videos, blogs, and/or informative material on websites, which is required to reach a global audience. Thus, it is important that young writers are exposed to various kinds of writing and writers so that they are knowledgeable about that variety.
Not everyone has access to digital and social media. That doesn’t mean that young writers can’t develop the writing skills they need to succeed in the future. They can, however, practice writing through digital and social media by accessing free wireless at public libraries and/or taking advantage of community programs focused on writing (e.g., readings by authors at Scuppernong Bookstore or attending UNCG’s young writers’ camp: www.
In addition, parents can attend community classes focused on reading and writing in English with programs such as, Real World English. More information about that program can be found by contacting CDLC at cdlc.uncg at uncg.edu.