Thanks to the immediacy of the web, learners of all ages and experience levels have access to audiences that print-only spaces have previously denied them. Digital publishing dominates all industries, and today’s learners need an entirely different skill set in order to be influential there. This creates new opportunities and challenges for every teacher and the learners they support. It’s not enough to master today’s content or design solutions for today’s problems. Learners must be future-ready.
The web is shifting the balance of power by democratizing the tools of creation, production, marketing, and distribution. Now, anyone with internet access can turn an idea into a desirable product or a much-needed solution. Then with the push of a button, one can launch it into the world where it will land inside of a wide market. This is completely transforming industry, as hobbyists are becoming professionals and even entrepreneurs. It’s changing how we publish as well.
Today’s students can say anything they want to anyone they want anytime they want, and they can share their work on a scale that we’ve never experienced before. But in a world where anyone can become an entrepreneur, our students must produce work that stands out, is influential, and worth sharing. Those who have important contributions to make no longer need approval to do so, but they do need a skill set that’s often missing from traditional classrooms. They must master far more than content, print, process, or craft. They must be multi-medium designers who integrate diverse forms in order to communicate, engage, and serve wildly diverse audiences.
Now the balance of power is squarely with the learners who are design thinkers: those who practice empathy and creative problem-solving in order to make things that matter to others using diverse tools. The beauty of design thinking is that it celebrates so many of the values that teachers have always tried to cultivate in their classrooms: compassion, self-directed learning, thoughtful communication, invention, experimentation, creativity, and teamwork. This, in and of itself, might be enough to inspire you to leverage it in your classroom. There’s more though: design thinkers of all ages and all walks of life engage wider and far more diverse audiences. Design thinking is a sort of universal language.
Chris Anderson, former editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, suggests that over the past decade, we’ve experienced a significant shift in the amount of time we spend reading content crafted by amateurs for the web, instead of reading professionally created work. This reality has significant implications for those who teach and write inside of our classrooms and workshops and studios. It also illuminates the significance of design thinking. Our purposes, outlets, and genres are constantly evolving. The most creative expression is multisensory, multimodal expression, and this changes everything about what it means to create things that are of real value.
A Portrait of the Future-Ready Learner
Future-ready learners are courageous explorers who know how to sit with discomfort. They’re other-centered and attuned to inequity and privilege. They’re committed to learning more about those who are different from them and experiences they’ve never had, to create things that change the way people think and feel and live.
Future-ready learners consider the consequences of only writing and creating what they know. They consider whose voices are missing, whose stories need to be told, and who is disenfranchised and in need of better solutions. They create things for a changing world, not for themselves or the small audiences they find inside of their classrooms, homes, and local communities. They also consider the consequences of replicating form. They must iterate on the familiar while inventing things that are entirely new in order to delight, empower, or call their readers to action.
Continuing Our Conversation
If you read my first book, Make Writing: 5 Teaching Strategies that Turn Writer’s Workshop into a Maker Space, then you know that my work began with the study of resistant writers. Those early experiences taught me something important: The kids who were confident with print sometimes struggled to express themselves using other modalities and mediums, and the kids who were confident with other forms of expression sometimes struggled with print. Rather than approaching this as a problem, I began to frame it as an opportunity. And this changed everything.
Hacking the Writing Workshop: Redesign with Making in Mind deepens the conversation that I began in Make Writing by challenging teachers to redefine what writing is and how we might help students create it inside of future-ready classrooms and workshops and studios. Here, kids with wildly diverse strengths make things that are of real influence in the world. Here, our students become our greatest teachers, collaborators, and leaders. They learn how to assess the constantly shifting interests and needs of their audiences. The curriculum they consume and the work they create flexes in response to their discoveries, and so does the way we teach, assess, and intervene.
Quite a few people have been asking me what makes this book different from Make Writing, and this is a question worth asking. This book provides the tools you need to put theory into practice. It also inspires readers to approach writing as something that is bigger than print and valuable to learners within and well beyond the writing workshop.
I hope you find it useful. I’m looking forward to your feedback.