Ask any writer, and they will tell you that the one thing all writers need are readers. This concept - providing writers with an audience - is crucial for writers' development as they look to refine their work. Borrowing on this concept, teachers of writing know that students demonstrate significant gains when they understand their audience and are writing for an authentic purpose. The employment of technology and the use of social media allows teachers to provide students with real audiences and authentic purposes like never before.
It is this exposure, this presentation of writing to outsiders that leads to a writer's growth, argues Grant Wiggins in an article for English Journal. "The best writing, like all learning, only happens through a constant and disciplined escape of self to explore the consequences. This draft horror story was meant to be scary; is it? This description was meant to be vivid enough for you to picture the person; can you? (Wiggins, 2009).
Through the use of Twitter, blogs, magazines like Teen Ink, and self-publishing sites like Issuu, students have a bevy of venues where they can publish their writing for free. This act of publication pairs students with a receptive, responsive audience, which can truly let them know how well their intentions and purposes for writing succeeded.
Given that publication venues are now electronic, and that writing and literacy comes in disparate forms, perhaps we should rethink our definition of writing. The editors of replacing the word writing with “composing.” They also advocate for an expanded definition of composition that includes the creation of “texts that might include words, images, sounds, and hyperlinks that connect any and all of the above to other words, images, sounds, and hyperlinks” (Herrington, Hodgson, & Moran, 2009).
With an expanded palate of possibilities, educators and administrators need to account for this "new" writing, which is becoming more and more commonplace in the workplace. But this conceptual shift need not be done simply because it will help students in the future; it can also help them in the present as they work to demonstrate their proficiency with various local, state, and federal learning standards. "The Web-based electronic portfolio can be a valuable alternative assessment tool for teachers and students in the 21st century" (Jacobs, 2010).
By using social media to provide students with opportunities to publish and get feedback on their writing, English language arts teachers can successfully utilize the latest technologies to create more engaging, relevant, and authentic lessons and activities.
Herrington, A., Hodgson, K., & Moran, C (Eds.). (2009). . Berkeley, CA: Teachers College Press.
Jacobs, H. (2010). Curriculum 21: Essential education for a changing world. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Wiggins, G. (2009). Real-world writing: Making purpose and audience matter. English Journal, 98(5), 29-37