October 18, 2013

Dream tools for ANY writer, including your students

Filed under: creativity,edtech,teaching,writing — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:09 am

pencil-leafIf you frequent this blog, you know that writing matters to me. As a teacher, I helped many a student improve his/her writing skills, even when the subject was not “English” or “Language Arts.” As a college prof helping educate teachers-to-be, I emphasized the importance of writing for a teacher’s professional presence, even in the short notes scribbled to go home in a backpack or in the short paragraph of directions at the start of an assignment. Today’s Common Core underscores writing across the curriculum as part of college and career readiness. If you cannot write, you are very limited in what you can accomplish. Even the carpenter who left notes during my basement  renovation had to write understandably so I knew what he was asking. So, yes, writing is a passion of mine. In this post I share two recent Featured Sites from TeachersFirst that sing out to me.

One focuses on poetry. Poetry, while not a life skill, certainly celebrates the power of a single, carefully selected word. Like the scarf that picks up the blue in your eyes or the bright orange sweat socks that define your persona as a tennis player, a single word can relate far more than its own meaning. A tool like Tranquillity  lets us play with poetry. Poems are infinite jigsaw puzzles of ideas: the piece with a green edge and one with a curly, jagged side fitting together after you flip them around until they make sense. Tranquility lets you play with words and shows the value of one word to fulfill a rhyme and hit the final note of your thought melody. Play with some words in Tranquillity. (This really should be an iPhone app to de-stress people waiting in lines!) Share it in a science class, and challenge students to write poems to explain Newton’s Laws or to tell the tale of oxidation/reduction in chemistry. Even self-described “tech nerds”  like those who created Tranquillity enjoy poetry.

The second, Slick Write, is my dream tool. I have been looking for this tool since I was fellow in the Capital Area Writing Project in the early 1990’s. I tested a simple piece of software back then that could tell a writer about such things as the number of prepositional phrases in a passage. Why bother?  A surfeit of prepositional phrases means you have weak or imprecise word choice. As a statistician would put it, conciseness of writing varies inversely with the number of prepositional phrases. (Take that, data mongers!). Slick Write also targets other writing foibles: passive voice, cliches, and much more. You can configure it to focus your writing self-analysis on one area at a time. (Sports coaches know the importance of focused correction in skill building.)

I like Slick Write I so much I’d like to politely share it with my adult friends and colleagues, especially those who… well, don’t get me started on the amount of passive voice I read. Try it secretly and see if it makes a difference in how you write.

—————Stop reading here if you don’t care about the example——————-

Slick Write analysis of the above: (I have bolded the things I wish to improve)

Words: 508
Function words: 217 (42.72%)
Adverbs: 22 (4.33%)
Pronouns: 66 (12.99%)
Uncommon words: 69 (13.58%)
Filter words: 9 (1.77%)

Avg. word length: 4.61
Passive voice index: 9.84
Prepositional phrase index: 108.27 (The tool explains that a score above 100 means you should consider revising)
Automated Readability Index: 9.31
Unique words: 284 (55.91% of total words)
Unique function words: 61 (21.48% of unique words)
Unique uncommon words: 59 (20.77% of unique words)
Paragraphs: 4
Average paragraph length: 6.50 sentences


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