Do We Agree on Writing?

Educated people in the United States and in most of the world, are expected to have developed basic academics skills: reading, writing, and math. Those represent the small openings in the sieve that separates those that "make it" or, otherwise, fail to meet college or current expectations along different career paths. 
We have dialogued at length over different definitions for reading in earlier discussions and, hopefully, broadened our views in that regard. With regard to writing, our  expectations for adult students have shifted rather dramatically from simply having them write letters, resumes, and paragraphs well enough to show that they could pass college courses or perform on the job. More and more, our students are not only expected to, but required to effectively format writing using word processing apps online and offline, apply workplace terminology in reports, and use sophisticated approaches to convince, describe, define, defend, narrate, compare, entertain, analyze, negotiate and more, and deal with different kinds of audiences before being considered competent enough to be regarded as "educated."  
  • How do you help your adult students meet current requirements quickly enough so that they can afford to devote time in their demanding lives to become "educated" enough to qualify to enter college or workplace training?
  • What is your definition for good writing that goes beyond describing it as the activity or skill of marking coherent words on paper and composing text, or the process of using symbols to communicate in a readable form?



Following are just a few LINCS resources that approach writing from different current perspectives to start us churning thoughts on this topic:

How do you approach writing? Who are your students? Leecy

Thanks Leecy,

Here are four more LINCS reviewed writing and technology resources:

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology group   

Hello Leecy and others,

In an earlier conversation on the definition of reading we explored a kind of reading called "auding" in which those who are blind, or have severe specific reading disabilities, and now increasingly those who read  text in traditional ways quite well, choose to have digital texts read out loud to them, often at lightning speeds. Now we must also look at dictation as a kind of writing, especially because free dictation software makes this way of turning speech into written text so easy for those who have regular access to a computer or portable digital device such as a smartphone. I know at least one of our colleagues here in the Integrating Technology group who frequently uses a digital tool to dictate his posts and replies. I wonder if many of us do, and if they could tell us what software they use, and how they use it to dictate-write.

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology group


David, I really appreciate your comments regarding dictation. Dictation, in its traditional definition, got a very bad rep because so many instructors used it as a primary instructional tool to correct errors in student writing. My view? I love dictation WHEN it is used briefly and wisely.

You bring up a whole new meaning to "dictation" as a digital rather than "human" interpretation of sound. I have to assume that when people use digital tools to write from sound clips, as you mentioned, they probably go back and edit what the text says. That, in itself, develops writing skills. I know that when my voice is challenged, I often use "speakers" ( to read/record what I write. However, I always have to go back and edit since, sometimes, what the "robot" hears is not accurately portrayed in text.

I second you question, asking what software people use, and I encourage others to continue to broaden this discussion, contributing writing strategies tools for adult learners.

Leecy, and others,

Is writing as dictation new? Not at all. One of the greatest writers in English, Geoffrey Chaucer, is likely to have dictated his great works from memory, to a scibe who wrote them down.

We might say the same thing of one of the most famous “writers” in our language, Geoffrey Chaucer. People who knew Chaucer in the 14th century liked to draw him, and there is a particularly elegant portrait of him at the front of one of the oldest copies of his masterpiece “Troilus and Criseyde.” In an important study of Chaucer from the 1970s this picture is reproduced with the caption “Chaucer Reading from his Book.” This makes sense as an interpretation of the picture. Chaucer is performing the poem before an audience. But, as was noticed more recently, he isn’t holding a book:

Image removed. Photograph: The Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.  

What this picture shows is Chaucer reciting his lengthy poem; it assumes he knew the whole of it by heart; and it provides evidence that, in the paper-poor culture in which he worked, Chaucer must have dictated this poem to his own secretary in the first place. Indeed, we know the name of at least one of these secretaries because Chaucer wrote a poem both naming him (as “Adam Scriveyn” or “Adam the Scribe”) and cursing him for his “negligence” in failing to write down accurately what Chaucer had said.  From "Can Siri Teach Johnny to Read?"

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology group

David, this dialogue leads into many paths in the writing labyrinth, where unlike most, there are several ways to find "home." Thanks for posting the image that tells a great story! Indeed, dictation precedes us by centuries. In our current practices, I hope that is it revived to serve different purposes, all in the right direction! There are wonderful outcomes from short, well-implemented dictations that go beyond having instructors add red marks that circle and emphasize mistakes! Of course, error correction is another topic that I hope emerges in our communities! 

There are several wonderful Websites that let students record and share their dictations online. Great learning Maybe others will share some of those here!

I had a blind student in one of my English comp classes. He attended class with an assistant. Initially, I reacted very negatively to his presence, assuming that his helper would take what he dictated and add her own punctuation and organization to the task of writing coherent essays. Once I got to know the student and the helper, I found that he dictated everything, including punctuation. Was he writing? Yes, he absolutely was! Live, learn, and learn to learn about others, especially our students! Leecy


As we wait for others to join us here, I'll quote from Robert Wessel's comment in another discussion last month: Are We Helping Our ABE/ESL Students Transition Effectively?

The one (really two) writing skill - When I was tutoring, the most important skills -- writing and otherwise -- I wished learners had possessed when they came in to the program were (1) a hunger to learn new things, and (2) a readiness to go out and find answers on their own. To paraphrase someone whose name I forget, the more you know, the more you can know. Writing is not knowing how to format a document according to conventions. Writing is not knowing the mechanics of using a word processor. Writing is the content: having ideas to compare and contrast; having questions to wrestle with. The more information you have to begin with, information gained from actively seeking information, the better the content of your writing will be. The content is the what; the formatting, the how. And if you understand the what, the how will follow.
I used to always tell students in my composition classes, "Writing doesn't happen between your hand and the paper (at the time...). It happens in your head. Putting your thoughts on paper is just recording what you hear in your head. That's where you'll organize your thoughts. In the US, organization is your first step in college writing, not the act of recording your thoughts.    What do others here think? Does it help to define writing among your adult learners? Could they write about writing? Leecy