As an English teacher, one of the job’s biggest challenges is motivating students to write. Until they master the fundamentals, most students lack the stamina necessary to write at length-and until they log a multitude of pages, they’ll never build that stamina. Thus the rub: in order to write well, you have to write something. In fact, it’s like the old adage, “You can’t steer a parked car.”
In order to get my students moving, I employ a strategy to bring forward a variety of writing tools from which students can choose. I have never seen a student (or adult for that matter) demonstrate an affection for Microsoft Word. To be fair, most word processors are less than sexy, but in this day and age, there are other tools that yield a user experience that goes beyond the form and function of a bloated digital typewriter.
Yarny is one of the strongest contenders. It’s liberating that I don’t have to clear the app with the IT staff, waiting for them to install it on all the computers in the lab. And unlike the standard go-to, Yarny’s user experience practically draws the words out of your finger tips. Most importantly, my students’ work is available to them on any internet connected device they have in their hands.
There are plenty of word-processing choices in a “Post Microsoft Word” world, but not all of them incite and provoke a writer the way Yarny does. Starting with the page metaphor and lovely typewriter inspired typography, I’m instantly comfortable even before any writing takes place. Continuing on, I am challenged to set a word count writing goal even before the first keystroke-a goal that I find much more motivating than the less-rewarding page count quota. These two features alone trump any garden variety word processor. Then the magic happens.
With the grace of a cinematic fade-to-black, everything else falls away but my words. When I start writing in Yarny and the sidebars dissolve away, the subtle message is this:
THE ONLY THING THAT MATTERS IS WHAT I HAVE TO SAY.
This is a boon for writing teachers. It communicates to your burgeoning writers that their opinion, their perspective, their thoughts matter. This creates momentum and subtly encourages students towards an affect that their writing is meaningful. It is as though Yarny is sincerely listening to their thinking, encouraging the student to share even more.
One of Yarny’s key features lies in the ability to think like a novelist and see one’s work as a curated collection of chapters or stories. Yarny encourages writers to rearrange your various “snippets” in the sidebar. This allows the young writer a chance to be reflective on their work by evaluating pieces overall. They can rearrange their work in order of completion, quality or some other value and through recurring self-evaluation, return to lesser pieces and attempt to strengthen them from lessons and skills cultivated on later assignments. They can assign a color-coding to their snippets for better organizing a larger cumulative piece or portfolio. The equivalent activity in a standard word processor would mean leaving the writing environment and rearranging files in the file browser. But with Yarny, you never take off the writer’s hat. The user stays embedded and up against their own work.
Those teachers who have migrated to the Common Core State Standards know that online editing and publishing are now required skills to impart to students. Yarny makes that easy. You can select a snippet and “share” it. This publishes the snippet using a gorgeously rendered custom website replete with a woodgrain background and an authentic paper texture. The writer can then post the shortened URL in her favorite social network.
For a more involved project, the writer can use Yarny’s recent partnership with Publification.com, an online publishing platform that lets the writer add illustrations and other layout options, all before publishing in an e-book format complete with the ability to sell their work. You can’t get much more “21st Century Skills” than that.
Once you factor in Yarny’s other values like a version history, and the ability to export your work for use in other apps, you might just entirely leave behind your trusty digital typewriter of yore. Your students will gladly thank you for doing so.
Eric Nentrup is an Englinsh teacher and genius on using technology in the classroom. He teaches at Metropolitan High School, a tuition-free charter high school in downtown Indianapolis that is funded by Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana.