Writing as Play

In a previous post, I talked about the need for more playtime in tech training for teachers. I think that goes for students as well. I was interested then to see this article about schoolchildren improving literacy through social networking. I found the article through @newsfromtengrrl on Twitter. I then ran across Alex Reid’s blog post responding to the same study. He says, “I don’t know that we are going down a good path if we really try to tie enjoyment to writing.”

I don’t even know what to say. On the one hand, I do appreciate his point. When I wrote my own teaching philosophy last spring, I said that writing and learning to write are constant struggles. So if we see it as all play and no work, we aren’t going to get very far. If we’re too easily satisfied with our writing, or indeed if we’re satisfied at all, we probably aren’t doing it right.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun and productive at the same time. It doesn’t mean we’re off the tracks if we try to make it fun for students. It doesn’t even mean enjoyment on the part of our students shouldn’t be one of our primary concerns.

Alex Reid refers to students with an excess of self-esteem. Honestly, I don’t get too many of those at the open admissions two-year-college. I get a whole lot more who are struggling for even basic literacy and who have all but lost hope in their own capacity to learn.

I see other students who have talent and some belief in their own talent but who lack direction, focus, drive, or whatever it takes to believe their abilities matter enough to make something useful out of them and of their lives.

I see all kinds really, and with every kind of student I see that finding pleasure in writing does lead to better writing. I see that being socially engaged as writers leads to better writing.

The study that says Facebook improves literacy skills in kids doesn’t surprise me at all, and that is who it targets. It’s about kids. If we don’t make writing fun for them, we’ve lost them already. We’ve lost the chance to teach them when they’re at their most teachable.

Universities, especially graduate programs, operate under different assumptions. A grad program is preparing people to be part of a profession. A two-year college is more about preparing people to be productive members of a community, to live their lives the best way they can. A grad program weeds people out. A two-year college brings everyone in.

We have to have different philosophies. But I never got anywhere much by taking myself or what I do too seriously. Practicality humbles theory every time. It humbled Einstein. It humbles me.

I write this because I care about teachers and students. I write this because I believe I have something to say. I write this because I believe that writing for an audience makes me a better writer, and I want to always be in a process of improving. I write this because it is a way for me to have a voice in a profession from the perspective of the place and situation that is my own particular reality. I write this because I bore easily, and I feel bad about myself if I’m not reading, thinking, learning, writing. I write this because I want other people to care about issues in education as much as I do.

Most likely I don’t know or understand every motivation I have, but I do know this much. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t enjoyable to me. I have too many other things I could be doing.

I think about that when I think about student writing. Malcolm Gladwell’s claim that 10,000 hours of practice is required to become expert at any skill resonates with my own experience and observations as a writer and a teacher. I may not be a virtuoso, but what I do have is the confidence to try, which has stood me well time and again. I wasn’t born with that. I didn’t have it when I first when to college or even to graduate school. But in the last twenty years I’ve spent well more than 10,000 hours writing when I was just goofing around, just playing, just amusing myself and my friends.

That’s worth something.

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