Teaching to the Text Message
By ANDY SELSBERG March 19, 2011
I'VE been teaching college freshmen to write the five-paragraph essay and its bully of a cousin, the research paper, for years. But these forms invite font-size manipulation, plagiarism and cliché=E9. We need to set our sights not lower, but shorter.
I don't expect all my graduates to go on to Twitter-based careers, but learning how to write concisely, to express one key detail succinctly and eloquently, is an incredibly useful skill, and more in tune with most students' daily chatter, as well as the world's conversation. The photo caption has never been more vital.
So a few years ago, I started slipping my classes short writing assignments alongside the required papers. Once, I asked them, "Come up with two lines of copy to sell something you're wearing now on eBay." The mix of commerce and fashion stirred interest, and despite having 30 students in each class, I could give everyone serious individual attention. For another project, I asked them to describe the essence of the chalkboard in one or two sentences. One student wrote, "A chalkboard is a lot like memory: often jumbled, unorganized and sloppy. Even after it's erased, there are traces of everything that's been written on it."