Informal writing is power tool
Learning aid runs on pens or pixels
Writing that is informal is not sloppy writing but tentative writing.
It captures what my mother used to call, "What I think about
something to which I've never given a minute's thought."
Informal writing takes a snapshot of the writer's thinking
at the moment it was written. If the snapshot is presented for
discussion, the writing is shown with the understanding that the
thinking is open to change.
Giving writing prompts is usually the only way to get
teens and adults to write informally enough times to understand
that writing can help them learn without depending on a teacher's
Any teacher who wants students to become independent learners
should regularly give writing prompts requiring informal written
responses. Few techniques show students the value of writing for
them personally as does informal writing in class.
Informality assumes many names
Writing prompts that don't require a formal response go by a
variety of names that suggest how teachers use them. Some of the
more common names are listed here with links to pages that discuss
those particular uses:
A single prompt can perform two or more of these functions simultaneously.
Note: I deliberately omitted freewriting. Technically
it belongs on the list, but freewriting is typically used to identify
a writing topic than as a tool for learning about a topic.
Goals define prompts' uses
What all these ways of responding informally to prompts have
in common is a goal of helping students become:
- Active learners who canand dolearn independently,
- Competent writers who canand dowrite without
help from a teacher.
Choose high tech or low tech
One aspect of writing informally that makes it useful is its
suitability to both high-tech and almost-no-tech teaching situations.
Teachers can choose technologies that fit the:
- Assignment and course learning objectives.
- Students' technology access.
- Students' technology skills.
- School's technology tools.
- School's technology policies.
If technology options such as posting to blogs, wikis, Twitter,
Edmodo or Google
docs are not feasible, students can use pen and paper. Even
scrap paper used on one side can be cut to half- or quarter-sheet
size and used for responses to informal writing prompts.
Don't obsess over technology
Rather than fretting about which technology is the coolest to use
in the classroom, the smart teacher spends time thinking about the:
- course objectives
- wording of the prompts
- sequence of the prompts
A pencil stub and scrap paper can be as effective as the latest
high tech tool if the teacher has planned its use well.