There were two things I found interesting in the July 6 NCTE Inbox.
First, it turns out that writing instruction might be important because bad writing costs businesses too much money. Shocking news, huh? Here’s a somewhat troubling passage from the Business Week article that the NCTE folks link to:
In a conference call interview last week, Kerrey, Huckabee, and Gaston Caperton — a former West Virginia governor who now leads the College Board — said many of the costs when state employees cannot express themselves clearly are hard to pin down. E-mail, which is so easy that workers can fire something off without thinking it through, may compound the problem.
“Increasingly as more things are done electronically, or via e-mail or blackberry, I think we tend to almost get even more sloppy,” Huckabee said. “The truth is we need to get clear and concise. That adds to productivity.”
Ah yes, it’s that darn technology that is screwing up writing. Never mind the fact that electronic formats like email represent a significant percentage of the writing that people in the business world actually do.
All of this is based on a report, which is available online here (pdf). There’s been quite a bit of talk about all this on the WPA-L mailing list, and I think most of that conversation has been productive, though no one has really talked about what counts (or doesn’t) as “good writing.” Not that we could ever be completely clear about what is or isn’t “good writing,” but I suspect that some of the problem is what counts as good writing for some folks is bad writing to other folks.
But I also have to wonder is what’s the point of comparison? Has there ever been a commission or organization that has determined that writing skills (or math skills or science skills or whatever) among members of a particular group (state workers, students, teachers, or whoever) are good or even adequate? I doubt it. And if that’s the case, if writing has always been important and if workers have always been bad at it, well, what does being bad at writing mean then?
The second piece I was interested in was an article about teachers keeping blogs. The article NCTE Inbox is linking to was published in the Palm Beach Post (I presume Florida). In the NCTE blurb about the article, they highlight Will Richardson’s work at Weblogg-ed, as well they should. But I was a lot more interested in this part:
Word of mouth can be powerful as pioneering teachers talk about the benefits to co-workers.
That’s why more than 300 of the 7,000 teachers in Macomb County, Mich., are already registered bloggers on a site called visitmyclass.com. Blog names range from the eloquent (“A Literary Escape”) to the pointed (“Ms. Klosowski’s Helpful Suggestions for GED Improvement”).
Chris Burnett, a self-described technophobic language-arts teacher in Macomb County, used a blog for the first time this past year to engage her students.
Rather than hang their writing around the room, she’s publishing the musings of one of her eighth-grade classes on her blog. Readers can share their thoughts in postings on the blog.
Macomb county is the northern suburbs of Detroit, and I swear that the name Chris Burnett rings a bell…. Anyway, this might be an interesting piece to bring up when I teach 516 again.