DSISD Commons #8

In this one,

  • Dyslexia and shame
  • Open Education Pedagogy
  • Compliance culture and school to prison
  • The False Promise of Education
  • Special Education in Texas
  • These kids were bursting to tell someone
  • Created serendipity
  • Average social sensitivity and psychological safety in teams
  • Eye contact and neurodiversity
  • Connected Students and Explicit Instruction
  • Critical thinking
  • Coding, Education, and Teams
  • Writing in education in the age of collaboration

Dyslexia and shame

Most schools and reading programs designed for remediation of dyslexia are based on the idea that dyslexia equals brokenness. Their aim is to transform the child into a person who can read without problems. But I’m here to tell you that’s just wrongheaded. I’ve learned that if you make your primary goal teaching your child to read or spell just like every other child, you’re going to decrease your child’s chances of achieving success. It’s like telling a person in a wheelchair that she needs to put in more time to learn how to walk.

I am introducing these terms to address an underlying bias in our schools: that eye reading is the only form of reading. You can help move the needle on this limited assumption by using the terms eye reading, ear reading, and finger reading yourself and explaining them to your child. We need to celebrate children’s love of ideas and quest for knowledge and give them permission to not like standard books at the same time! When we give kids opportunities to gather information and explore ideas in other ways, they will thrive.

Focusing on eye reading overlooks the real goals of education, which are learning, independent thinking, and mastering the ability to make new connections in the world of ideas.

A central theme in this book is that we must question what we are taught is the “normal” way to do things, and instead integrate multiple ways for our children to access information.

Source: Foss, Ben (2013-08-27). The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan: A Blueprint for Renewing Your Child’s Confidence and Love of Learning (Kindle Locations 387-389). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

For more, see Ben Foss on Dyslexia and Shame .

Open Education Pedagogy

Puyallup provides the following advice to other districts thinking about using OER and joining the #GoOpen movement:

1. Free is good, but open is better. The ability to remix and adapt is more important than just free access – it allows you to keep the focus on teachers, honors their professionalism and improves their practice.

2. Think carefully about your platform. If you truly want to share and be open, you need a method of delivery that is accessible to all.

3. OER allow us the opportunity to be 100% aligned to standards. You have to do the work up front to align the materials, or you will lose out on the power of OER to address core instructional needs.

4. Recruit teachers to be ambassadors of OER – their enthusiasm will help to sustain the work.

Source: Puyallup School District: Investment in Teachers – Office of Educational Technology

For an open platform that provides accessible delivery to all, see Communication is oxygen. Build a district wide collaboration infrastructure and an open by default culture.

Compliance culture and school to prison

A collection of links on compliance culture and pipelines.

The False Promise of Education

This piece is chock full of structural ideology and systems thinking. I worked it into my piece on Growth Mindset and Structural Ideology.

But education cannot guarantee opportunity — it’s government policy and economic practices that increase or decrease the likelihood of success. The centrist promise of education is a false promise. This doesn’t mean education cannot be a force of positive social change, just that in its current incarnation, US education discourse simply works to release those with influence from the responsibility of making a social system that supports working people.

This is the centrist’s promise about education: getting an education will save your life; education will be the difference between success and failure. If your house, which also serves as a private daycare, catches fire — and you’re a single mother and have to work twelve hours a day — school will provide a way out. If your company lays you off after thirty years of service, don’t worry, you can get an education and switch careers.

Millions of new workers will enter the job market in 2017, graduating from their “paths to opportunity.” Yet the path to opportunity might not end up anywhere in the face of sluggish to moderate job creation. The number of graduates doesn’t correlate with the number of available jobs. It’s like saying if we teach people how to play musical chairs well enough, everyone will get a seat.

Education’s real promise is that it is one site among many others in the struggle to transform the social structures that create inequality.

Schools don’t necessarily make a better society; they simply get people ready for the society that exists. Recognizing this doesn’t mean giving up on the radical potential of education or descending into a vulgar or mechanistic view of education.

Blending the lessons of the reproductive view and resistance theory provides a crucial, materialist reality check on the centrist view of school. We must fix the social structures which create inequality and poverty in the first place.

If you want most people to be successful in the economy, the economy itself has to work for most people. It won’t matter if most people work harder in school, or if we reform school ad inifinitum. Schools will largely reproduce the existing conditions of the economy, not serve as compensation for the economy’s faults.

But just because getting a job requires having a degree doesn’t mean that more and better schooling will cause there to be more available positions society-wide. To get a job, you have to have a degree. But you don’t have to get a job because you have a degree.

This causal sleight of hand is symptomatic of the centrist promise. Schooling will not cause economic equality in an unequal economy, but it will certify people to find positions within that unequal economy. It may successfully lead folks to positions within society, but it won’t necessarily lead them to social success.

These data show that wealth goes to the wealthy, not the educated. At the macro-level, there is no relationship between socioeconomic success and schooling.

If the centrist promise were true, then greater educational attainment for the broader US population should have coincided with more economic success for more people. If schools create real opportunities for socioeconomic success, there should have been decreasing income inequality as the general population became more educated.

This is clearly not the case.

Schooling cannot control the number or kind of jobs available in an economy.

They articulated a more critical position on education, arguing that public education is part of a broader process of social reproduction: schooling activities correspond to existing echelons of social hierarchy and opportunity, preparing students for positions within that hierarchy. Schooling does not lead to opportunity in the sense that it creates opportunity; it simply prepares students to exist (or not exist) within the opportunity structure that the government and economy create.

Source: The False Promise of Education | Jacobin

Special Education in Texas

Inaccessible, inhumane, and in need of inclusion, neurodiversity, and the social model.

These kids were bursting to tell someone

@sara_ann_marie presents Design for Real Life in 50 minutes. Included is an anecdote about how lowering communication barriers even a little can help kids.

Design for Real Life

Created serendipity

Collaborate and seek perspective in the commons.

Average social sensitivity and psychological safety in teams

This piece on iterating teams at Google offers interesting insight on social sensitivity and psychological safety. I pulled several quotes here. Here are a handful on teams and psychological safety.

In Silicon Valley, software engineers are encouraged to work together, in part because studies show that groups tend to innovate faster, see mistakes more quickly and find better solutions to problems. Studies also show that people working in teams tend to achieve better results and report higher job satisfaction. In a 2015 study, executives said that profitability increases when workers are persuaded to collaborate more. Within companies and conglomerates, as well as in government agencies and schools, teams are now the fundamental unit of organization. If a company wants to outstrip its competitors, it needs to influence not only how people work but also how they work together.

Google’s People Operations department has scrutinized everything from how frequently particular people eat together (the most productive employees tend to build larger networks by rotating dining companions) to which traits the best managers share (unsurprisingly, good communication and avoiding micromanaging is critical; more shocking, this was news to many Google managers).

Norms are the traditions, behavioral standards and unwritten rules that govern how we function when we gather: One team may come to a consensus that avoiding disagreement is more valuable than debate; another team might develop a culture that encourages vigorous arguments and spurns groupthink. Norms can be unspoken or openly acknowledged, but their influence is often profound. Team members may behave in certain ways as individuals — they may chafe against authority or prefer working independently — but when they gather, the group’s norms typically override individual proclivities and encourage deference to the team.

As the researchers studied the groups, however, they noticed two behaviors that all the good teams generally shared. First, on the good teams, members spoke in roughly the same proportion, a phenomenon the researchers referred to as ‘‘equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.’’ On some teams, everyone spoke during each task; on others, leadership shifted among teammates from assignment to assignment. But in each case, by the end of the day, everyone had spoken roughly the same amount. ‘‘As long as everyone got a chance to talk, the team did well,’’ Woolley said. ‘‘But if only one person or a small group spoke all the time, the collective intelligence declined.’’

Within psychology, researchers sometimes colloquially refer to traits like ‘‘conversational turn-taking’’ and ‘‘average social sensitivity’’ as aspects of what’s known as psychological safety — a group culture that the Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson defines as a ‘‘shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.’’

Psychological safety is ‘‘a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up,’’ Edmondson wrote in a study published in 1999. ‘‘It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.’’

What Project Aristotle has taught people within Google is that no one wants to put on a ‘‘work face’’ when they get to the office. No one wants to leave part of their personality and inner life at home. But to be fully present at work, to feel ‘‘psychologically safe,’’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations. We must be able to talk about what is messy or sad, to have hard conversations with colleagues who are driving us crazy. We can’t be focused just on efficiency. Rather, when we start the morning by collaborating with a team of engineers and then send emails to our marketing colleagues and then jump on a conference call, we want to know that those people really hear us. We want to know that work is more than just labor.

Google, in other words, in its race to build the perfect team, has perhaps unintentionally demonstrated the usefulness of imperfection and done what Silicon Valley does best: figure out how to create psychological safety faster, better and in more productive ways.

‘Don’t underestimate the power of giving people a common platform and operating language.’

Source: What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team – The New York Times

I worked this into my piece on Agile and Scrum in Education.

Eye contact and neurodiversity

Don’t force eye contact. Gaze aversion is a sensory processing tool, one necessary to managing overwhelm.

Source: Eye Contact and Neurodiversity – hypubnemata

Connected Students and Explicit Instruction

“The new information economy, as opposed to the older industrial one, demands more innovation and less imitation, more creativity and less conformity.” In other words, this isn’t just about doing school “better.” It’s about transforming our work.

  • Develop proficiency with the tools of technology.
  • Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally.
  • Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes.
  • Manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information.
  • Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts.
  • Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments.

Regardless of how we define the skills needed by today’s global graduates, however, it’s undeniable that these needs will continue to morph as our ability to create and share expands and as we face increasingly complex global challenges—climate change, workforce shifts, changing demographics, the growing global threat of terrorism and violence, and more. That’s why, as the late Seymour Papert (1998) said,

The one really competitive skill is the skill of being able to learn …. We need to produce people who know how to act when they’re faced with situations for which they were not specifically prepared.

The bad news, however, is that new research suggests that traditional schooling may actually discourage these dispositions. For example, in one experiment described by Gopnick (2016), 4-year-olds were much less likely to find their own solutions to making a complicated toy work when the experimenter “taught” them (“I’m going to show you how my toy works”) than when the experimenter allowed them to observe her trial-and-error efforts and think about the problem (“Hmmm … I wonder how this toy works?”). As Gopnik writes,

Studies show that explicit instruction, the sort of teaching that goes with school and “parenting,” can be limiting. When children think they are being taught, they are much more likely to simply reproduce what the adult does, instead of creating something new.

The new reality is that our students will be required to build their own curriculums, find their own teachers, and assess themselves as learners and doers in an increasingly complex variety of contexts. That is the work of new global-ready learners. And preparing them for it is the work of the modern school.

Source: Educational Leadership:The Global-Ready Student:Getting Schools Ready for the World

Critical thinking

Overall, young people’s ability to reason about the information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak.

Source: Evaluating Information: the Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning

 

Coding, Education, and Teams

Adapting, working in groups, are those, in the end, the two necessary elements required to work in the digital world in general?

In my profession, when you want to hire someone who knows how to code, you make them sit and code. You don’t ask them for their diploma. If they have a diploma, that’s great for them, but we don’t care about it. Coding is a job or a know-how in which a diploma has no importance. In the end, people have it, or they don’t. It may be the case in other fields, but in mine, a diploma is not something that permits you to objectively judge someone when it comes to a know-how. Plus, the fact that there’s no diploma takes away some of the stress for the students.

A diploma also means following rules. 42 is a school that’s open 24/7. At 3 a.m., you can still see between 300 and 400 students working there. So we’re used to a system in which a certain number of rules are necessary in order to get a diploma, but those aren’t compatible with our teaching methods.

We’re doing something that works quite well: We rely on cooperation. People talk a lot about Collaborative Economics nowadays. Well, here at 42, we chose Collaborative Education. What does it means? It means putting people together and making them learn together. The knowledge, you can acquire it from the internet. You can type anything into Google, and there’s your answer. So lessons are useless, you’ll find the best lectures in the world on the internet, if you want to learn. But we do not wish to make them learn stuff by heart, we want to teach them how to develop, work, and live together, to build projects together and to make them happen. That’s what we want to teach them.

Source: Xavier Niel explains 42: the coding university without teachers, books, or tuition | VentureBeat | Entrepreneur | by Arthur Scheuer, Ulyces.co

Writing in education in the age of collaboration

As a hacker and writer, I spend a lot of time in text editors. Almost everything I write starts in my favorite text editor. A text editor is my thinking space. My notes are not just a record of my thinking process, they are my thinking process. Iteration and ideation happen in my editor, in plain text.

In the age of distributed collaboration, we are constantly writing. Equip students with the writing tools and flow popular with hackers, writers, scientists, and screenwriters—plain text & Markdown. Let’s infect education with the love of plain text. It’s portable, flexible, ubiquitous, and humane.

Source: Writing in Education and Plain Text Flow – hypubnemata

Writing in Education and Plain Text Flow

Update: An updated version of this post is available on my main blog.

As a hacker and writer, I spend a lot of time in text editors. Almost everything I write starts in my favorite text editor. A text editor is my thinking space. My notes are not just a record of my thinking process, they are my thinking process. Iteration and ideation happen in my editor, in plain text.

Writing this post in fullscreen mode in the Ulysses app.
Writing this post in fullscreen mode in the Ulysses app.

At my company, we say “communication is oxygen”. Most of that oxygen is writing. So far this week, we’ve written 99,786 Slack messages, 1,749 P2 posts, and 5,070 P2 comments using our three level communication flow.

We iterate, we communicate, we make people happy.
Screen Shot 2017-02-07 at 8.06.01 AM.png
793 Slack channels, 441 P2 blogs, 4,628 Zoom video chats

In the age of distributed collaboration, we are constantly writing. Equip students with the writing tools and flow popular with hackers, writers, scientists, and screenwritersplain text & Markdown. Let’s infect education with the love of plain text. It’s portable, flexible, ubiquitous, and humane.

Below are selections on writing in education, writing for authentic audiences, writing for empathy, plain text, and markdown.

Writing in Education

“I’ve had a fair number of kids that were traditionally disengaged— The most common complaint: ‘I don’t like to write, so I don’t like school.’ When I said, ‘Well, you can type it. You don’t have to write; you can type. And you can use the spell checker, and you can look up words.’ All of the sudden they say, ‘Oh, OK. I’ll do that.’”

“If you’re not a good writer, sitting and writing on a piece of paper is hard. But when they have a computer that can help with spelling, and with grammar, and they can go online and look up words and the pronunciation, and they can hear how it’s said, and they can write it down correctly. Now they feel good about themselves because they’re not getting a paper back with a thousand red marks all over it, correcting grammar and spelling that they don’t necessarily understand in the first place.”

High school students are often reluctant writers, especially when assigned to produce work that is uninteresting and unrelated to their personal lives. However, writing is a vital part of the help desk. Apprentices, both on and off the Communication Team, regularly craft articles for the support blog. My team offers starter ideas, but the apprentices select most topics based on their interests and the support needs of their peers. In this setting, writing feels less stilted, less pedantic, and more authentic. Writing for a real-world audience is vastly different from a traditional school writing assignment where a single teacher is a sole spectator.

Reisinger, Charlie (2016-09-29). The Open Schoolhouse: Building a Technology Program to Transform Learning and Empower Students. Kindle Edition.

Literacy in North America has historically been focused on reading, not writing; consumption, not production.

while many parents worked hard to ensure their children were regular readers, they rarely pushed them to become regular writers.

We are now a global culture of avid writers.

As Brandt notes, reading and writing have become blended: “People read in order to generate writing; we read from the posture of the writer; we write to other people who write.” Or as Francesca Coppa, a professor who studies the enormous fan fiction community, explains to me, “It’s like the Bloomsbury Group in the early twentieth century, where everybody is a writer and everybody is an audience. They were all writers who were reading each other’s stuff, and then writing about that, too.”

So how is all this writing changing our cognitive behavior?

• • • For one, it can help clarify our thinking. Professional writers have long described the way that the act of writing forces them to distill their vague notions into clear ideas. By putting half-formed thoughts on the page, we externalize them and are able to evaluate them much more objectively. This is why writers often find that it’s only when they start writing that they figure out what they want to say.

Poets famously report this sensation. “I do not sit down at my desk to put into verse something that is already clear in my mind,” Cecil Day-Lewis wrote of his poetic compositions. “If it were clear in my mind, I should have no incentive or need to write about it. . . . We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand.”

Culturally, we revere the Rodin ideal— the belief that genius breakthroughs come from our gray matter alone. The physicist Richard Feynman once got into an argument about this with the historian Charles Weiner. Feynman understood the extended mind; he knew that writing his equations and ideas on paper was crucial to his thought. But when Weiner looked over a pile of Feynman’s notebooks, he called them a wonderful “record of his day-to-day work.” No, no, Feynman replied testily. They weren’t a record of his thinking process. They were his thinking process.

Before the Internet came along, most people rarely wrote anything at all for pleasure or intellectual satisfaction after graduating from high school or college.

The explosion of online writing has a second aspect that is even more important than the first, though: it’s almost always done for an audience.

When you write something online— whether it’s a one-sentence status update, a comment on someone’s photo, or a thousand-word post— you’re doing it with the expectation that someone might read it, even if you’re doing it anonymously. Audiences clarify the mind even more.

Blogging forces you to write down your arguments and assumptions. This is the single biggest reason to do it, and I think it alone makes it worth it. You have a lot of opinions. I’m sure some of them you hold strongly.

When you move from your head to “paper,” a lot of the hand-waveyness goes away and you are left to really defend your position to yourself.

But studies have found that particularly when it comes to analytic or critical thought, the effort of communicating to someone else forces you to think more precisely, make deeper connections, and learn more.

When asked to write for a real audience of students in another country, students write essays that are substantially longer and have better organization and content than when they’re writing for their teacher. When asked to contribute to a wiki— a space that’s highly public and where the audience can respond by deleting or changing your words— college students snap to attention, writing more formally and including more sources to back up their work.

“Often they’re handing in these short essays without any citations, but with Wikipedia they suddenly were staying up to two a.m. honing and rewriting the entries and carefully sourcing everything,” she tells me. The reason, the students explained to her, was that their audience— the Wikipedia community— was quite gimlet eyed and critical.

Once thinking is public, connections take over.

Source: Thompson, Clive (2013-09-12). Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better (p. 50). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

We asked our building leadership teams, and we asked those Principals and Assistant Principals to ask their teachers, to experience a bit of “writing for empathy.” Medical educators have discovered that when doctors write from the point of view of their patients, empathy increases and the quality of care increases. We thought it might be worth seeing if this applied to our educators as well.

So we began, and told them not to be limited by structure – choose any writing mode you’d like – or grammar or spelling or where or how to write – on the floor, standing up, on paper, on phone, on computer – to just find the emotional path and write.

We so often stop our students from writing… we tell them that everything from how they sit to how they spell is more important than communication… and we thus raise children who hate writing.

This became powerful. People not only chose every and any place to write, every and any device to write on, they chose modes from poetry to an email exchange between high school students in class, from narrative to internal monologue to dialogue in the corridor. From tweet and text to song.

It is remarkable what happens when you stop telling people how to write and start encouraging them to write.

“Our kindergartners and first graders are natural writers,” one principal said, “and then we tell them to stop and worry about handwriting and spelling and punctuation, and they never really write again.”

And then we asked these leaders to share with another, and it became magical. The excitement of reading to each other, of listening, of wondering. People leaned into each other, with genuine smiles – smiles of recognition – and heard. The room was filled with the kind of excitement that – yeah – is mighty rare at Principal Meetings, that is – sadly – often rare in Language Arts classes.

Source: SpeEdChange: Writing for Empathy

First, students need to be writing constantly. Learning to write well, like any other skill, takes many, many hours of practice. Second, students need to write for a real audience and to receive regular, structured feedback from their audiences. Other than looking at the grade on the front of the paper, students are usually totally indifferent to the teacher’s opinions of their work. But when they are writing for or presenting to an authentic audience, which has been asked to assess the work being presented— whether it is their peers or someone outside of school— they work much harder to polish their work, and they seek and pay attention to feedback. Writing for a real audience, and writing about things they know and care about, are central to students’ development of an authentic voice in their work.

The problem with the way writing is currently taught, then, is the same problem that we have described throughout this book. Teachers spend an inordinate amount of time teaching the mechanics of writing— parts of speech, grammar, spelling, punctuation— without giving students any reason whatsoever to want to write, because that’s the way we have done it since 1893. And in the last ten years teachers have spent less and less time assigning and grading students’ writing because they must prepare students for meaningless tests that tell us absolutely nothing about the competencies that matter most.

What little writing that gets done in high schools today is almost always practicing short answers to test prompts and memorizing the mechanics of the standard five-paragraph essay, and nothing else. We are told that the new Common Core tests will require more writing, but it will only be more of the same kind of writing.

Computational resources are now affecting aspects of English classes in significant ways. Students type or dictate essays and benefit from embedded spelling and grammar tools. Granted, autocorrect software has a mind of its own. But when it’s almost impossible to write a word like receive, the days of memorizing rhymes like “i before e, except after c, or when sounded like a, as in neighbor and weigh” are over.

In many ways, the story of dyslexics— in school and life— is the story of U.S. education. Driven by standardized tests, schools focus on low-level capabilities (e.g., memorizing the proper spelling of words). High-potential kids (e.g., dyslexics, smart creative types, rebels) get “down-graded” and left behind. Advances in automation shine light on the fact that these low-level tasks (e.g., spelling receive correctly) are incidental to, not essential to, a person’s life prospects.

Source: Wagner, Tony; Dintersmith, Ted (2015-08-18). Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era. Scribner. Kindle Edition.

He was a slow typist. A painfully slow typist. And yet, his typing was about three times as fast as his handwriting, and, in the end there was a perfectly completed job application.

Source: SpeEdChange: Toolbelt Theory for Everyone

Backchannels and Neurodiversity

Ditch That Textbook provides examples of how to use blogs and team chat in the classroom. Chapter 3, Use Technology to Defeat Insecurity, offers good insight into the neurodiversity friendliness of backchannels, something familiar to tech workers. Written communication is a great equalizer and an important part of our culture.

A backchannel is a separate, often text-based, discussion students engage in while they’re receiving information via a lecture, a movie, a television show, or a PowerPoint presentation. Students use a digital device to participate in a behind-the-scenes chat so as not to disturb others trying to listen.

Backchannels provide the perfect outlet for students who have something to say but refuse to open up in class discussions. When everyone participates in the conversation, no one feels singled out. As a result, inhibitions about sharing decrease and the courage to speak up increases. Plus, when everyone types at once, the teacher spends less time calling on students one by one.

Source: Ditch That Textbook Ditch That Textbook: Free Your Teaching and Revolutionize Your Classroom

 I personally believe that the backchannel is the greatest unharnessed resource that we as educators have available to us. It does not threaten me nor bother me that you learned as much if not more from the backchannel the other night — in fact, it makes me feel great that I facilitated the connection.

Source: Cool Cat Teacher Blog: Backchannels and Microblogging Streams

And that’s not even touching on the ways this kind of technology supports the shy user, the user with speech issues, the user having trouble with the English Language, the user who’d rather be able to think through and even edit a statement or question before asking it.

Source: SpeEdChange: Bringing the “Back Channel” Forward

Written communication is the great social equalizer.

Remember this if you start to fear your Autistic child is spending too much time interacting with others online and not enough time interacting with others face-to-face.  Online communication is a valid accommodation for the social disability that comes with being Autistic.  We need online interaction and this meta-study demonstrates exactly why that is the case.

I couldn’t help wondering, since the study showed the durability of first impressions and the positive response to the written words of Autistics, with all visual and auditory cues removed, could we mitigate childhood bullying in any way by having a class of students meet first online, in text, and form their first impressions of one another in that format before ever meeting face-to-face?

Getting online was revolutionary and may have saved my life.

But when I got online, no one could see (or smell) that about me. All they could see was my words and ideas, and that was what people judged me by. For the first time in my life, I was not found lacking. I made friends of all ages. I was respected and liked. The difference between offline and online communication could not have been more dramatic.

Source: THINKING PERSON’S GUIDE TO AUTISM: Autism and the Burden of Social Reciprocity

Plain Text and Markdown

A big part of the problem is that we’re often using the wrong default tool to create our words. When ready to write, the majority of computer users will open a word processor like Microsoft Word or Apple’s Pages rather than a text editor like Notepad on Windows or Text Edit on the Mac. We do this even if we’re simply drafting an email or jotting down notes to ourselves. The problem actually lies in the name. A word processor, while capable of being used for the creation of words, is actually optimized for formatting text in order to be printed or read. Whereas a text editor is more focused the creation and editing of your words.

Source: A Plain Text Primer

Where a graphical Word processor might boast that “what you see is what you get,” a text editor can boast “what you see is what is there.” Nothing is hidden.

For this reason, plain text documents are much more stable and sustainable through the process of composition and revision than word processor documents. That doesn’t mean there’s something inherently wrong with word processors. What it does mean is that word processors are the right tools for the job when the job is formatting and processing complex documents, and not necessarily the right tools for the job when the job is writing.

The basic idea behind a plain-text workflow is that you do your composing with a text editor in a sustainable, universal format, and then, only when your text is ready to send somewhere–say, to a journal for publication–do you worry about formatting.

Text editors are tiny pieces of software compared to word processors, so they start instantaneously, load documents almost instantly, and run like lightning even on old hardware. Nothing gets between you and your words.

Source: Writing in Plain Text: A Tutorial for the Non-Techy Writer | surfingedges

Plain text writing (and marking up text elements for later formatting) is simple. If you’ve been socialized in Word (like me), you may disagree at first. But I believe that if you try plain text writing, you’re likely to change your mind and come to enjoy its purity and simplicity. As for myself, I think now that text processors are actually cumbersome, and many writers just got so used to this fact that they don’t question it anymore.

So writing plain text means to separate writing from formatting for the sake of productivity. The essential structural elements of a text are marked up while writing: You can write headings of various levels, add emphasis, add lists and more. What you can’t do: Tweak margins, or choose your first order headings to be 24 pt, and red-colored. All the layout tasks that have nothing to do with the content you’re trying to compose. Take care of layout later. This first instance should be about writing, and writing only.

If you want to publish your text more than once, but in different formats, plain text is very effective – thanks to the use of markup, you can easily convert it. Ulysses, as an example, can use one and the same text to create a formatted PDF, an e-book or standard HTML – with just a few clicks.

Source: Why Plain Text Will Boost Your Productivity as a Writer | Ulysses Blog

Once you start working with plain text documents, you realize the power of their infinite portability and compatibility. You can edit them anywhere, on just about any device, and never break anything. It’s addicting.

The popular Markdown syntax is valuable for text editing because it allows you to add formatting while maintaining this portability and compatibility. You might think that formatting text by typing special characters is nerdy and distracting. Nerdy maybe, but in practice it’s quite the opposite of distracting. Markdown keeps your hands on the keys. It keeps you typing. Screenwriters know the value of this. It’s the butt in the chair that gets the words on the page.

Source: Fountain FAQ – Fountain | A markup language for screenwriting.

Unlike cumbersome word processing applications, text written in Markdown can be easily shared between computers, mobile phones, and people. It’s quickly becoming the writing standard for academics, scientists, writers, and many more. Websites like GitHub and reddit use Markdown to style their comments.

Formatting text in Markdown has a very gentle learning curve. It doesn’t do anything fancy like change the font size, color, or type. All you have control over is the display of the text-stuff like making things bold, creating headers, and organizing lists.

If you have ten minutes, you can learn Markdown!

Source: Markdown Tutorial | Lesson 1

Plain text doesn’t change. Fifty years from now, you’ll still be able to open a plain text file. Until we all have squiggly tentacles on our faces and communicate telepathically, plain text will be a thing.

What about conversion software? Let’s say a tiny black hole swallows up every Markdown converter on the planet. You still have nice, clean plain text.

Source: Why I Use Markdown, & You Should Too – Portent

With Markdown, you don’t entrust your writing to 50,000 corporate shareholders, the companies they control and whatever features they “sunset” or add.

You control your destiny because, yes, you guessed it: It’s plain text.

Source: Why I Use Markdown, & You Should Too – Portent

Walk into a room of coders and ask what the best tools of their trade are—keyboards, text editing software, etc,—and you’re bound to start a war.

But in a world where programmers are fanatically divided, advocating fiercely for their favorite window managers and text editors, there’s one thing many engineers agree on. It’s called Solarized, and for four years, it’s reigned supreme as the color scheme of choice for many coders and the text they have to stare at all day.

After all, coders have, well, rather extreme thoughts about things like color schemes and text editors.

“This is close to people’s hearts,” Yale Spector, a senior developer for WeWork, told the Observer. “People take this shit real seriously.”

At this point, you’re probably asking yourself, “Why, why do these people care so much about the most minute details?” It’s because coders, who are also just very particular in nature, have no other tools of their trade but their computer and their mind.

“Text editors are where we live, where we spend so many hours in our day,” Mr. Spector said. “It’s so personal to us, it’s our home. When you get a house, you spend time making it comfortable, because you’re going to be there a long time.”

And, as Mr. Brocken puts it, it’s not just hot rodding—or tricking out your equipment for the sake of ostentatiousness. No, this is about building the perfect tool.

Developers may be overly opinionated, but they are also, by virtue of their work, obsessed with efficiency. For programmers who are building programs and designs right from their imagination, every additional advantage in their work environment is one less barrier between their mind and the machine.

“It may looks ridiculous to the outside observer, but it’s about eliminating that invisible barrier between you and the tool that you’re using,” Mr. Schoonover said. “It’s the carpenter making his own work bench.”

Source: Meet the Man Behind ‘Solarized,’ the Most Important Color Scheme in Computer History

Briefly, plain text is a great format to use because (1) it can be read by any computer or device; (2) it’s future proof, since computers will always be able to read it; (3) it can be synced to all your devices; (4) it can be converted to virtually any format.

Source: Markdown: The Syntax You (Probably) Already Know – ProfHacker – Blogs – The Chronicle of Higher Education

Plain text is ubiquitous. It works on every operating system, and on every mobile device, regardless of who makes it. A wide variety of apps can read it. You’ll never run into file compatibility errors. You can take what you write from one app to another without a thought.

This matters because the tech industry likes to remind us that nothing lasts forever. We see apps shut down all the time. They add in a subscription fee. They lock that one feature you want behind a paywall. It’s annoying, and if you’re invested in an app, whether it’s a notes app or a to-do app, you’re often forced to pay out the nose for a bunch of features you don’t want. Plain text doesn’t suffer this problem because it’s universally readable across platforms, not to mention a bedrock of well, computing as we know it.

Likewise, plain text will never change. Where an app might get updated with new features and a new user interface, plain text is pretty much always plain text. I will never open up an app to find a new design that I hate, or a new user experience I have to learn. Text editors may change, but there’ll always be another, and they’ll never all go subscription-only. This is really important to me. I use plain text every single day for simple tasks. I don’t need anything getting in the way of me capturing text as quickly as possible.

Source: I Still Use Plain Text for Everything, and I Love It

I love that with plain text the focus is on the words, not the formatting. I love that it’s portable and can be used anywhere and everywhere, in any piece of software that edits or displays words. I love how easy it is to create beautifully formatted documents when needed. Most of all, I love how fast it is. I simply work more efficiently since switching to plain text.

Source: Removing the Word shackles: getting started with plain text

Authors and writers of all stripes can learn a lot about creating and managing words from computer programmers, beginning with an appreciation for the simple, durable efficiencies of plain text. Anybody running Unix, Linux, or BSD already knows all about text, because it’s the third prong of the Unix Tools Philosophy:

  1. Write programs that do one thing and do it well;
  2. Write programs that work together;
  3. Write programs to handle text streams, because that is a universal interface.

The geeks who made Unix nearly 40 years ago made plain text the universal interface because they believed in economy, simplicity, and reliability.

If Unix is the geek Gilgamesh epic, it’s a tale told in plain text.

Source: Plain Text For Authors & Writers – Richard Dooling

Since its introduction in 2004, Markdown has enjoyed remarkable success. Markdown works for users for three key reasons. First, the markup instructions (in text) look similar to the markup that they represent; therefore, the cognitive burden to learn the syntax is low. Second, the primary arbiter of the syntax’s success is running code. The tool that converts the Markdown to a presentable format, and not a series of formal pronouncements by a standards body, is the basis for whether syntactic elements matter. Third, Markdown has become something of an Internet meme, in that Markdown gets received, reinterpreted, and reworked as additional communities encounter it. There are communities that are using Markdown for scholarly writing, for screenplays, and even for mathematical formulae. Clearly, a screenwriter has no use for specialized Markdown syntax for mathematicians; likewise, mathematicians do not need to identify characters or props in common ways. The overall gist is that all of these communities can take the common elements of Markdown (which are rooted in the common elements of HTML circa 2004) and build on them in ways that best fit their needs.”

Source: RFC 7764 – Guidance on Markdown: Design Philosophies, Stability Strategies, and Select Registrations

Find Your Flow

I like and advocate plain text, but choose the tools that fit your flow. Many of my favorite authors use word processors.

Others prefer Scrivener.

George R.R. Martin famously uses WordStar 4.0 on DOS.

The important part is writing. Find your flow.