NCTE Report: Writing in the 21st Century
An historical perspective like the one I’ve sketched out here helps us understand an increasingly important role for writing: to foster a new kind of citizenship, one that has roots in an earlier time but that is being reimagined today.
–Kathleen Blake Yancey, NCTE Past President
In the first half of this nine-page report, Kathleen Blake Yancey looks at the evolution of writing and writing instruction in 20th century United States. She situates this historical perspective by outlining themes of writing and writing instruction that emerged early in the century:
- with society’s notion of children as receptors rather than producers, writing was seen as a threat to society (in contrast to reading)
- reading was associated with church and family, conjuring feelings of happiness, while writing was associated with work or sadness
- writing was hard work, especially before the invention of the pencil or ballpoint pen
- writing was linked to testing
Yancey discusses the impact of science and progressivism on writing and writing instruction through the 1930s and 1940s. She notes the emphasis on “everyday genres” during this time period. Curriculum included writing diaries, recipes, summaries, and stories.
The historical review continues into the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s with a discussion of the emergence of process writing and the influential work of educators Lucy Calkins, Nancy Atwell, Donald Graves, and others. Finally, Yancy considers the benefits of computerized composing, which emerged near the end of the 20th century.
21st Century Writing
The second half of Yancey’s report focuses on how writing has changed with the emergence of digital technology and what this means for writers and writing instructors. One of the main differences she sees in writing now is that writers and audiences are everywhere. Writing is a participatory activity–no longer isolated. People become writers through “an extracurricular social co-apprenticeship” rather than formal instruction. On blogs, wikis, and in social media spaces, writers guide each other as peers and mentors. Yancey presents two examples of 21st century composing and discusses what these examples can teach us about our students.
She encourages us as educators to take up three critical tasks:
- articulate the new models of composing developing right in front of our eyes
- design a new model of writing curriculum K-graduate school
- create new models for teaching
Yancey’s call to action feels ugent when presented within this historical context. When we look at how writing and writing instruction have evolved in such a short period of time, we realize this “Age of Composition,” as she calls it, is truly a writing revolution.