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Friday, November 05, 2010

Pretty Perfect

Teacher in primary school in northern LaosImage via Wikipedia
Just taken aside by an Edutopia Article How to Help Students Use Social Media Effectively and I had some concerns to share there and that I thought I'd cross post here. In the article Andrew Marcinek says:

 "Educators must model effective writing and editing as well. I comb through thousands of tweets, blogs, and status updates from week to week, and one glaring pattern is typos. Some may argue that this is just a simple error and not a big deal. However, it is a big deal if we want to maintain the sanctity of the English language and get people to connect to our message. If you regularly cannot self-edit 140 characters, do you really think I am going to want to pay to see you speak? Want to buy your book? Or take you seriously as an educator? Not likely."

So, below are my edited comments to Andrew's post.

About Perfection
Quality does matter. I will say this.

Right now, I am having a horrible time with my laptop because the space bar is sticking and NOT WORKING.  Therefore, I have an inordinate number of errors with spacing.  I edit and try to catch it but have missed a few of late. 

It is a struggle to check and recheck and still once you've looked over it a thousand times, unless you want to hire an editor you're going to make mistakes.  I've thought about hiring one for my own blog when I make the inevitable mistake but then again, I'm a full time teacher and don't have the money to do that at this point.

So, to me, I think that in order to "preserve the sanctity of language" that perhaps it is best to teach people how to let others  know when they've made a mistake. My engineering husband is a genius but God bless him, he cannot spell. If he tweeted he would make mistakes.  As for me, I type quickly and rarely have more than a few minutes here and there to blog, sometimes I make mistakes for that reason.

As a blogger, I really appreciate when my friends send me a private message or dm to let me know I've messed up -- then I quickly ALWAYS go fix it.  I appreciate the kindness and grace and truly count those who help me edit as friends.

Then there are the "grammar sharks."  They descend upon my every mistake like sharks tearing me apart for unprofessionalism and slackness WHEN I make a mistake. Note that I said WHEN not if. 

If you look at this, you've hit upon a reason I think more educators don't share.  They are afraid they don't have time to be perfect.  As for me, if I have a friend who isn't a great speller but has wonderful thoughts, I'd rather have a once a day tweet with a typo and learn something than a perfect tweet once a week.  Perhaps it is shallow but often I have to edit tweets to get them down to 140 characters and intentionally cause typos because of it! It is the nature of the tweet.

Let me also add that there is a BIG difference between Tweeting, blogging, and writing for a magazine or a book. The magazine and book authoring require a great deal of editing and I hire an editor for those.  My blogs I proofread and proofread (but still make mistakes -- I do! Not from lack of trying, though.)

So, I think you're right:
1) As educators, we should aim for grammatical perfection.

But I also think you should add that

2) The Community Ethos of Grammar.

Communicating with social media is about developing relationships. Our communities should encourage striving for grammatical excellence by editing one another and helping each other improve our writing as a community belief system. This should be done in ways that are positive and build relationships.

3) Good grammar should be encouraged because of those who speak English as a second language.

IM speak and mistakes are probably most harmful to those who speak English as a second language. For this reason, I don't let my students use IM speak.

What Andrew says about motive:

"The best educators must model this skill daily and practice what they preach. Think about what information you are putting out there and why you’re presenting this to your PLN. What is your motive? Can someone really learn from this tweet? Or am I just looking to build my following number and increase the activity of my mentions column? Think about these questions and think about your audience. Are you really giving them something of substance? "

Finally, motive is an interesting thing as they are as varied as we all look! Last time I checked I could not see into your heart nor could you into mine.  Pure motives are important, however, who is to determine the "purity of a motive."  If a motive is to make money is it impure to want to get more subscribers? If a motive is to share a message, is it impure to want to share that with as many people as possible?

We must be careful to allow students to understand the medium and ethical behaviors of using the medium, but it is also important to discuss ethical issues and realize that motives are unique to individuals. I'm not sure that teaching kids "proper motives for using social media" would really fit neatly in a package as the teacher's own belief system might be too entrenched in what comes out of it.

Seth Godin, I think, is a great blogger and writer.  Does he have pure motives?  Who can tell -- he most certainly as multiple motives that are a lot more complex than can be clearly ascertained. One of them certainly is to maximize his number of followers and RSS readers - I don't fault him for that.  In fact, I want to teach my students how to be an effective contributor that does receive followership! Is that bad? I don't think so.

In Conclusion

I applaud you for encouraging this conversation because it is an important one. As you expand on this, perhaps considering the social aspect of things and also fostering communities that positively encourage excellence is more important than telling kids they have to be perfect. Knowing how to deal with mistakes WHEN they happen and discussing lots of cases of those who use social media can help students make up their own minds and become part of a community in the career that they choose.

Thank you for encouraging the conversation.

Surely there is a way to encourage the goal of perfect grammar and speech without styming the desire educators have to share because of the pressure of perfection.  When the grammar sharks circle, it makes it very hard to keep blogging and sharing.  

I guess the question to us is "Is pretty perfect perfect enough or is pretty perfect too ugly to share?" Should we only write when the package is pretty.  

Come to think of it - one of my favorite presents last year was the ornament made by my son wrapped in some toilet paper with tape wrapped around it about 30 times - the package wasn't pretty but what was inside was great! I can work on the package but what is inside is important if not more important than the passage!
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