The neXt 6 posts will centre around an unpacking of the 6 competencies of The NeXt Lesson but I am going to break the traditional order for no other reason than access to something that I found very interesting this weekend, so let’s talk about….
This is a key competency and I would say a rather controversial one as well. As an English teacher myself I understand the concern that people have about the “new literacy” that comes with a world dominated by online and social media. Let me back pedal a bit; I have heard the concerns about it but I would not go so far as to say that I understand them. I routinely struggled in my English classroom with having students see the relevance of some of the more traditional assignments and I found it more and more difficult to answer the question, “When am I going to write a formal English essay again after school?” Truly, for about 99% of students, they will never have to write such an essay after their formal schooling and so the relevancy of this work can be tough to communicate.
This leads me to the following TED talk that I viewed recently presented by renowned linguist, John McWhorter. In this talk he debunks the theory that texting is ruining the writing and abilities of our young people and actually calls this new form of communication a “miracle”.
I found this talk interesting and refreshing because it speaks to what the competency of Skilled Communication is all about. The education system needs to look for ways to embrace this new form of communication for one simple reason: it is being created and shaped almost entirely by young people. For a profession that struggles with student engagement and seeing real-world connection to lessons, this is the golden fleece. We are seeing a linguistic creation that is not only world-wide but constantly and rapidly changing so why not ride that wave?
A similar argument can be made for Twitter and its structure that truly does adhere to the advice that Polonius could not follow that “brevity is the soul of wit.” Why not utilize this medium to demonstrate the power of succinct and direct communication. Gone are the days of filibusters and long orations. The graduates of this century will have a much more demanding and distracted audience and so their ideas not only have to be to the point, but in a vernacular and diction that people relate to and understand.
There is an urban legend that Ernest Hemmingway was at a lunch with writing colleagues and made a bet that he could write a 6 word short story that could convey a complete story with emotions and a definite story. His table mates gladly laid down $10 each to meet his challenge and so Hemmingway scratched the following on a napkin.
” For sale, Baby Shoes, Never worn”
Suffice to say, Hemmingway did not pay for his lunch and his point was proven but I think this also speaks to what education needs to move toward and I am calling out my English teacher colleagues here. We have an obligation, a moral imperative, to make our students literate and able to communicate to the audiences that they will face. The Catholic Graduate Expectations calls us to this when they ask for:
An Effective Communicator who
CGE2a -listens actively and critically to understand and learn in light of gospel values;
CGE2b -reads, understands and uses written materials effectively;
CGE2c -presents information and ideas clearly and honestly and with sensitivity to others;
CGE2d -writes and speaks fluently one or both of Canada’s official languages;
CGE2e -uses and integrates the Catholic faith tradition, in the critical analysis of the arts,
media, technology and information systems to enhance the quality of life.
This means considering multi-modal and modern media that allow, for the first time in human history, the ability for ANYONE to communicate to the entire world INSTANTLY. This is a lot of responsibility but one that I know we can deliver on.
P.S. I would love to see some comments with ideas for how to use this level of skilled communication more.