More Writing Guides

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Here’s another writing guide, this time on sentence structure, and how the same information can be encoded in a written sentence in a variety of ways:

I love that making these videos is so easy, and that the same lesson can be taught to a kid again and again, with none of the frustration on my part and all of the learning on the kid. When the kid “gets it” — she won’t have to watch the video any more; it will have served its purpose.  But it will be there for the next generation of student, whenever that student comes along.

Part of me worries.  If it’s this easy to create digital content that’s educational, and short, and directed, and specific — what will teachers do in the future?  Make content, for certain, and probably more than they do now.  Evaluate specific assignments? Yes, that too, and probably more than they do now.  But for all that, I don’t know any teachers who got into this business of teaching because they wanted to make worksheets and grade papers.

Simple Writing Videos

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Making writing videos is ridiculously easy, using the premium version of Jing (and I imagine it’s almost as easy with the basic, free version):

And since my students don’t have access (officially) to YouTube, I’ve actually double-saved and double-shared them.  They’re online at YouTube, for everyone here and there who’d like to use these short writing guidelines; they’re also available to my students on our wiki, as blog entries.  This means that I get credit for the work in two places — with my school, and with my online audience.

I was trying to explain this to a colleague on Friday, and she almost got it.  Maybe she did get it, and just was too concerned about potential for disaster to go all the way.  But increasingly, as teachers, we can be judged by our online presence and ability, and perhaps we should be.  Is the maker of such videos as these someone you want working at your school? Will such a teacher reach your students more effectively over the long run than a teacher who isn’t “wired”?  In some ways, it’s too early to say. 

In other ways, it’s way too late.  A few hundred such of these videos could easily teach a student more about writing and sentence structure than all thousand pages of Warriner’s Grammar of the English Language.  And yet the world is better off with MORE such explanations rather than less.  There’s more chance for people to “get it” when they have a multitude of instructors and guides — and not just the one to whom they happen to be assigned. 

There’s a potential revolution in the making, here.

Writing Videos


My students are not particularly good writers.  They need additional advice.  But how to give them that advice?  It’s an age-old question for teachers: slow the class’s content-transmittal down in order to teach better writing skills and habits, or require out-of-class reading and writing to fill in the gap?  And how to provide that instruction?

In the 21st century, maybe there’s a better way.  If I make a series of videos, like these below, that cover some of the essential issues of writing instruction, then maybe my students will make fewer mistakes in basic categories, like punctuation and grammar.  If a student continues to make the same mistake, I can direct him or her to the relevant video.  And I could ask my foreign-language students to show that they understand by adding subtitles in the relevant language.  It’s not a bad idea.

There’s a multitude of issues that come with this decision to develop such videos.  First of all, they’re free.  Potentially, I’m instructing a huge number of people in how to write in a grammatically correct style.  That tends to reduce the need for my services over the long haul.  Second, who do these videos belong to — me or my school?  Or to YouTube?  Can I sell them, as a recent article in the New York Times indicated other teachers are doing?  Or should I make them — poor quality as they are — available to all my colleagues online?

When is good enough for free the equivalent of quality education? Because with such videos, the teacher doesn’t always need to be present.  It’s simply possible for me to point my students at the relevant YouTube link when I grade their assignment, and theoretically (especially if they lost points for missing this fact), they won’t make the same mistake next time.  Moreover, I can point students at a dozen other such videos, so if my explanation isn’t good enough, they have others from which they can choose.

Grammar used to be the province of dusty exercise books like Warriner’s English Grammar.  How I loathed that massive compendium! And yet now, I wish every one of my students had to work their way through the exercises.  Will seeing them online be enough to motivate them to better writing?  For some, it may be enough.  For many others, I will have to compel them to watch it at least once, and show them where to find it.

Does making such videos make my future teaching career obsolete?