You need to read to write

In order to write, you’ve got to read. Reading is essential for acquiring new thoughts and perspectives. It widens your vocabulary and helps you find your voice as a writer–especially if you’re diving into books by great writers.

The words dry up in my mind when I’m not reading. This is because books are the spring from which all my creative juices flow. It’s interesting how when I read non-fiction, I blog about non-fiction stuff. When I read fiction, I write flash fiction entries and work on novels. I can push myself in different creative directions by reading various books. They’re like oars, so to speak.

Unfortunately, reading many times takes a back seat to everything else going on in life. In order to be creative, it’s important to remember that reading is part of the creative process. Taking time to open a book is like taking time to type at the computer.

More on student blogging

Students write better when the audience is larger than the teacher. I truly came to realize this when students shared Google Documents with one another on their 1:1 devices. They had to proofread each others’ work and leave comments, and this motivated many of my students to put extra effort into their punctuation and grammar.

Blogging is the ultimate way for anyone to share thoughts. Students are empowered when they’re given a writing prompt and blogging platform on which to craft their ideas into words.

The problem is that when you’re writing on the internet, you’re writing to everyone. Over the years I’ve written for Rise and Converge, I’ve received hundreds if not thousands of spam messages that were blocked by WordPress–and possibly 15-20 comments that slipped through that I had to block. We have to protect out students physically and emotionally from many different threats that emerge from the internet. Specifically, when we open up our students to online criticism, we have to make sure they know how to handle it.

That’s why Kidblog is such a great tool for students who are in the 4th-8th grade range. The Kidblog interface for the control panel from which students write and comment is very similar to WordPress, so kids can get a true blogging experience. You must be signed in as a teacher, parent, or student to read the blogs, so there’s a lot of protection. Students can still read every post that’s written within their group or class, and teachers must approve every comment.

Kidblog is the perfect place to start young kids with blogging. They’re writing posts that are published on the internet, but it’s safe. Students learn good digital citizenship because the teacher has control over the platform, which has greatly helped me teach the kids how to interact productively online–especially when they comment on each other’s work.

So as it stand right now, I’d say that elementary to 8th grade students should use Kidblog, and 9th to 12th grade students may be given the responsibility of publishing somewhere like WordPress (based upon the school site’s professional opinion).

If you have any questions about students blogging, feel free to reach me on Twitter: @SJohnsonEDU

Sit and begin

I read a statistic stating a high percentage of people believe they can write a book. If ability were the only factor in completing a novel or nonfiction book, then there would be a lot more books (especially ebooks) flooding the market right now. Unfortunately, the other factor in writing–and it’s probably the biggest factor–is finding time to sit and begin.

Once a person has begun a project, the next hurdle is to keep writing. This is where longevity comes into play. If you’re going to produce something, especially the creation of a book, it takes long, solitary hours typing away at a computer.

But this goes for any endeavor. Doing something well takes time. FInishing any type of project takes time, and it’s the people who are willing to put in the long hours that will reap the reward of completion–and completion is a wonderful reward. In some cases, it may be the only reward; and for the artist, that should be all that’s needed.

On Writing Well

If you want to sharpen your nonfiction writing skills, look no further than On Writing Well by Willian Zinsser. This book provides the reader with invaluable information to build a piece with simple, clear, and concise words.

Tidy thinking is greatly encouraged by tidy writing. The best writers create linearly, building one idea upon another. The words are vibrant and useful, and ambiguity is banished for hacks to pick up*. Deliberately choosing meaningful words when writing crosses over to effective speaking. One of my hopes for writing everyday is to become better at speaking with lucidity.

Here are some helpful hints from On Writing Well off the top of my head:

  1. Use “however”  at the beginning of a sentence, not the end.

  2. *Don’t worry about ending a sentence with a preposition; especially if doing so makes the writing sound less stilted.

  3. Use humor (something I’m really trying to get better at wielding).

  4. Build and maintain a personae.

  5. Edit and trim. Then edit and trim some more.

Becoming a better nonfiction writer helps in many areas of life. With all the emails, texts, blogs, tweets, and memos that are ubiquitous in our personal and work lives, developing good communication skills has never been more important.

A brave new classroom

Satya Nadella is Microsoft’s new CEO, and he sent a letter to the employees. From what he wrote:

 Our industry does not respect tradition — it only respects innovation.

Yes, the technology field truly does respect innovation more than tradition. I think the field of education should follow suit. Things are changing extremely fast. What we’re teaching kids today may not be the same tomorrow. As such, teachers, administrators, and professionals in the curriculum and technology departments need to continually adjust strategies, lesson plans, and procedures to help better aid our students.

I’ve been working on a book off and on for the last five months entitled A Brave New Classroom. It’s directed toward teachers, but anyone who’s interested in education can read it. I’m posting it here as a work in progress. There are some reasons for this:

  1. Once I finish my next novel, The High Places, I plan on spending more time writing about education.

  2. Posting a book you’re writing online is a great way to inspire motivation to finish it.

  3. I welcome advice and ideas from others. Sharing while I’m writing may foster a discussion that otherwise wouldn’t happen.

  4. I like the idea of having a book in a Google Doc because education is changing rapidly, and writing a book–even an ebook–doesn’t allow for the speed needed to make changes, additions, and subtractions from the manuscript. Maybe I’ll keep A Brave New Classroom as a Google Doc forever. Education’s not going to slow down anytime soon, and I’ll need the agility of changing the document when necessary.

(On a side note, what is a book? Does it have to be bound anymore? Does it need a cover? How many pages constitute a book? Can a collection of information in a web browser be considered a book?)

I’ll also include A Brave New Classroom in the Books Tab at the top of Rise and Converge. Whenever there’s a new and substantial addition, I’ll post it here. Some of these additions may include chapters, pictures, quotes, and ideas I receive from readers of this website.

 Our industry does not respect tradition — it only respects innovation.

This is so true. We all would benefit from trying our best to not rely on aging tradition when innovation can lead to positive change in others’ lives.