Unless you’re a red-meat conservative fundamentalist, the recent news from Alaska has been disturbing. Snow Job. Square Glasses. Need I say more? Finally, there’s some progressive news from the 50th state that showcases a simple, inexpensive and effective approach to teaching middle school writing.

I’m talking about a multi-author blog called Tell the Raven that is one Fairbanks, AK teacher’s grass-roots effort to make writing relevant to the kids in his 6th grade class. Teacher Doug Noon writes,

One of my challenges as a writing teacher is to show my students that their writing can be a celebration of the ordinary. After watching what they choose to write about, and how they respond to each others’ writing, I’ve come to believe that global citizenship begins with local knowledge. Without a solid grasp of what’s happening in their own backyards, students have difficulty understanding the wider world. It is my hope that learning to care about, and take responsibility for what happens in our own communities, will encourage an ethic of care that extends out to the whole world, which is what our totem pole story teaches. […] We write every day. Each student has a spiral notebook in which they do their “rough draft” thinking. From there, they can take their work directly to the Web. I moderate all posts and comments, so if a piece needs revision, it doesn’t go out until I’ve seen it. They can read each others’ work at every phase of the process. They share their rough drafts informally, and they love to read and leave comments for one another on the Web site. These interactions are critically important for building our writing community, as students come to realize they are writing for each other and for people from around the world, and not just the teacher.

Seems to me this practice could be syndicated to every middle-school classroom in the country at little cost but to great effect. Among other benefits, it makes writing relevant and not something done “…just for the teacher,” as Noon observes. It helps blur local, regional and national boundaries, impressing on kids that they are writing for — and are part of — a global community. And it channels kids into using the web as a creative tool for personal expression, a core 21st Century Skill they need to succeed.


Doug NoonDoug Noon is in his 26th year of teaching in Fairbanks, Alaska. He teaches sixth-grade at Denali Elementary School, and holds a M.Ed. with a focus in language and literacy. He lives with his wife and family outside of Fairbanks, and writes for The New York Times’ Lesson Plans blog.