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New Relationships with Content

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As we begin focusing on 21st Century Content Reading and Writing strategies and examine content area reading and writing strategies to prepare for the conversations this school year, I asked students to describe what reading and writing is like in various content areas.

The most immediate answers center around "facts to be memorized," "vocabulary to be defined," and strategies to "remember EVERYTHING to pass the test!"

In school, content reading and writing instruction revolve around consuming and remembering - what I call Hear It and Hold It - what someone else has produced.

In stark contrast, outside of the classroom, "content" is positioned in a drastically different way. We are simultaneously filters, producers, and co-creators of content. Successful producers of content must do more than simply churn out meaningless facts and ideas.  

9ways Successful online writers use their creative and curious spirit to generate content not only to inform, but will inspire, even transform the lives of their audience. Success on this age of read/write web is not determined by how much you know, how many pages of content your produce, or how long you have been "expert" in your content area. Success is determined by how your audience responds. If your readers are not impacted by your message, then how much you know matters little.

We must prepare our students for a very different relationship with content. Perfect penmanship, knowledge of participles, and the perfect 5-paragraph essay will not be enough to adequately prepare students for the content that will be mediated and vetted by a global audience that demands consideration.

Our students must leave our classrooms understanding how to communicate what they know and beleive in a way that considers, honors, and believes in their audience. Author and Entrepreneur Rajesh Setty writes a brilliant piece on how audiences respond to content.

  1. Spam: If your content does not provide a reasonable ROII (return-on-investment for an interaction) for the reader or is self-serving or simply useless, the reader will mark it as spam. Posting something that may be assessed, as “spam” is the fastest way to losing credibility.
  2. Skip: The reader makes an assessment that he or she won’t lose much by reading it. In this case, the reader has not written you off yet but if you consistently create content that is worth “skipping,” the reader might write you off.
  3. Scan: The reader thinks there are only a few parts that are of relevance and wants to get right to the core of the content and skip the rest.
  4. Stop: The reader is touched by the article and stops to think about the article, it’s relevance and what it means to him or her personally and professionally.
  5. Save: The content is so good that the reader might want to re-visit this multiple times.
  6. Shift: The article is transformational. The reader is so deeply affected (in a positive way) by the article that it shifts some of their values and beliefs. In other words, this piece of writing will transform the reader and make him or her grow.
  7. Send: The content is not only useful to the reader but also to one or more people in the reader’s network. The reader simply emails the article or a link to it to people that he or she cares.
  8. Spread: The reader finds the article fascinating enough to spread it to anyone and everyone via a blog, twitter or the social networks that he or she belongs.
  9. Subscribe: This is the ultimate expression of engagement and a vote of confidence that you will continue to provide great content. When the reader wants to continue listening to your thoughts, he or she will subscribe. 

I might suggest SCAMPER as a 10th 

The article also uncovers four things every content producer (writer) should think about before writers hit "send."

 What would instruction be like if THIS was our new 21st Century writing rubric?

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4 Comments

Support (like "spread" but specific reference in own work) could be included. Understanding of 21st Century skill and literacy is essential for schools to embrace. Student motivation for productivity will not play into content creation until teachers teach and assess differently, i.e. not to "hear it and hold it" but to create it and share it. However, "it" has to have meaning as you suggest.

You are exactly right on. Having an authentic audience changes everything for a writer. Students are motivated to create relevant, powerful, and meaning-driven content when we provide them the opportunity and context to do so.

It's interesting to think about how Setty's model applies to the way that information moves around a traditional classroom. Watch a typical whole group discussion in the classroom and you'll most likely see a "hub / spokes" flow of information. Teacher to student A and back to teacher. Teacher to student B and back to teacher. So it goes as the "bluebirds" get to show how smart they are.

Using Setty's framework, students are encouraged to treat peer discussion as "spam" that can easily be "skipped." Over time, students learn that their comments are of provisional value until "approved" by the teacher. That's because in this style of discussion the teacher is most likely searching for specific replies - sort of playing "guess what I'm thinking" with the "best" students in the class.

Students need opportunities to critically evaluate information in the context of the classroom. Too often, teachers dominate that assessment of information and leave our students to fend for themselves when faced with the deluge of information they encounter outside of school.

For more on this subject see my post "Engage Student Discussion: Use the Social Network in Your Classroom" http://bit.ly/TlzrN

In response to Peter's comment, he is right on in his assessment. The hub-spoke model is still prevalent in many classrooms: student answers question and looks to teacher for approval. Teacher either approves or asks for further clarification from another student. Used in conjunction with other methods this is fine, but as a sole means of having discussion, it's not enough. Other systems have to be in place.

Modeling effective filtering of information, in the way that AP teachers model how to handle multiple documents in a DBQ, or how they manage their information flow is essential now. It used to be that teachers just put on the show that proved they had the information that the students need, but now it's equally as important that our teachers show how they came to that knowledge. What are the systems they have in place that filter that knowledge? How do they figure out what is good information?

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  • Patrick Higgins: In response to Peter's comment, he is right on in read more
  • Peter Pappas: It's interesting to think about how Setty's model applies to read more
  • Angela Maiers: You are exactly right on. Having an authentic audience changes read more
  • DHRhoads: Support (like "spread" but specific reference in own work) could read more

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