Saturday, March 20, 2010

Different Strokes for Different Folks

In the article, Dialects and Writing, I was reminded of an activity I did last summer while participating in the Summer Institute for the Minnesota Writing Project. The class was asked to do an activity where we wrote letters to two different people on the same topic. One of the letters was to be addressed to a friend, while the other letter was addressed to our school superintendent. After writing, we compared the style of the two letters. Even though the letters were on the same topic, they were very different. The differences between the two included formal writing vs. conversation writing, especially noticing differences in the headings and closures. This activity was relevant because it showed the importance of learning to write in different styles with different voices.

The author of Dialects and Writing discusses the contrast between oral language and written language and the challenges for all writers regardless of their dialect. The importance of developing written language expertise in order to make choices about style at different levels of language is also stressed. "To become successful writers, students must eventually master such contrasts and understand the connotations of alternative way of expressing the same thought." What I appreciated about the article was that students are encouraged to continue using their colloquial, or everyday, language for writing, but yet to learn the appropriate time.

These three guidelines for supporting the development of writing skills in vernacular-speaking students stood out.

  • Regular and substantial practice in writing, aimed at developing fluency.

  • The opportunity to write for real, personally significant purposes.

  • Experience in writing for a wide range of audiences, both inside and outside of school.

To me it is not important to change a student's colloquial language, but that students learn to make choices about their writing style for their intended audience.

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