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Beyond Pop Culture: Helping Students Dig Deeper with Their Writing

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What do Taylor Swift, The Hunger Games, and Snapchat have in common? The answer is: they’re all big in pop culture for teens and tweens. That makes them likely topics for papers, should you invite your students to write about what matters most to them. But are these topics going to require your students to dig deep? Will these topics inspire them to express themselves as only they uniquely can?

To explore this topic, I invited educator Vicki Davis to Studentcentricity. Vicki teaches writing. In fact, she’s passionate about it and is the author of Reinventing Writing: The 9 Tools That Are Changing Writing, Teaching, and Learning Forever.

Vicki told me she wants her students to “wow” her and that typically can’t be done with subjects they can simply Google. Nor is she likely to get them to “wow” by simply instructing them to write about whatever they want.

I encourage you to listen to our discussion. During it, I asked:

- if it’s wrong to try to steer students away from pop culture, when we know how vital choice is to intrinsic motivation;

- if “digging deeper” referred to doing more research, or to writing from the heart about personal issues;

- about writing prompts;

- how to encourage more meaningful writing;

- how to help students struggling with writing; and

- what constitutes “wow” to a writing teacher.

When I was a kid, when instructed to write about a place, I chose Switzerland. When instructed to write about a person, I chose Albert Schweitzer. Granted, there was no Google at the time but there were encyclopedias. And as worthy as Switzerland and Schweitzer were, if I’d had a teacher like Vicki, I would have had to choose topics much more meaningful to me. I would have had to dig deeper, and the writing experience would have been that much more compelling. And if digging deeper could make writing more significant to me – someone who loved to write – imagine what it can do for the kids who don’t necessarily see the point of it.

You can -- and should! -- listen to Vicki's thoughts here.

Additional resources:

The Unstoppable Writing Teacher: Real Strategies for the Real World by Colleen Cruz

Teaching Adolescent Writers by Kelly Gallagher

 This episode of Studentcentricity was sponsored by Turnitin's Revision Assistant.  Learn how to make teaching good writing easier...



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Rae Pica has been an education consultant specializing in the development and education of the whole child, children's physical activity, and active learning since 1980. A former adjunct instructor with the University of New Hampshire, she is the author of 19 books, including the text Experiences in Movement and Music and, most recently, What If Everybody Understood Child Development?: Straight Talk About Bettering Education and Children's Lives. Rae has shared her expertise with such groups as the Sesame Street Research Department, the Head Start Bureau, Centers for Disease Control, the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, Nickelodeon's Blue's Clues, Gymboree, Nike, and state health departments throughout the country. She is a member of the executive committee of the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences and is co-founder of BAM Radio Network, where she hosts Studentcentricity, interviewing experts in education, child development, play research, the neurosciences, and more on teaching with students at the center.

  • Jon Harper /  @Jonharper70bd
    Jon Harper / @Jonharper70bd Sunday, 06 March 2016

    Rae this is so important! We must somehow find a way to get kids to love writing as much as we do. I think once they see it as a way to express themselves and a way to create, then they will jump in. The podcast with Vicki was great and she has so many good suggestions for making writing fun.

  • Rae Pica | @raepica1
    Rae Pica | @raepica1 Monday, 07 March 2016

    Jon, that's exactly right: kids have to see writing as a way to express themselves -- in the same way they might write music or create a game or make something! Otherwise writing becomes just another thing the teacher is making them do.

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