Jul 11 2008

From Writing to Teaching

How technology turned a 10-year-old into a published writer.

“If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster.”
— Isaac Asimov

While I, as a 10-year-old, (hopefully) have many long years to live instead of just six minutes, this quotation perfectly captures the way I feel about writing. To me, writing is a necessary part of life — almost as necessary as eating. In fact, I probably write more times a day than I eat.

You might be wondering how a 10-year-old got so interested in writing. If I were telling you about the beginning of my writing career, it might sound something like a thriller. “Adora Svitak was just another normal 4-year-old girl who was learning how to write. She never imagined her writing would change her life. But little did she know what would happen next. ...” However, unlike your average thriller, what happened next wasn’t ominous or diabolical. I simply got a notebook PC.

What’s so exciting about getting a notebook? Well, I’ll need to start you off with some background. When I was 6, I wasn’t the greatest speller in the universe — basically, I was a bad speller. My notebook had spell-check. I enjoyed the independence of being able to look words up instead of having to harass my parents every single time I was dubious about a word’s spelling. It was less embarrassing, and less tedious. Spell-check in itself wasn’t enjoyable, so I didn’t get lazy and let it do all the work. I always attempted to memorize each word’s correct spelling in order to minimize spell-check time on the next story. Constantly looking at written examples of correct spelling improved my spelling dramatically. And suddenly, I didn’t have to worry that my story was a misspelled travesty.

But working on a computer provided a much more important benefit. Before I got my notebook, writing was frustrating because I was able to think more quickly than I was able to write. I was always getting ahead of myself. My notebook allowed me to write exponentially faster, creating more elaborate visions and ideas. I enjoyed watching my ideas unfurl on the page. Instead of endlessly erasing and rewriting, I was able to effortlessly move entire paragraphs, and I could go back and add missing details at my leisure.

Because I was so excited about my notebook, I got really excited about writing; so excited that I even published my first book, Flying Fingers, when I was 7. Local and national media were intrigued by my story, and I appeared on various TV shows. Periodicals and radio shows also started interviewing me. Schools invited me to give presentations to their students. Companies invited me to appear at events. I traveled internationally to countries that I had only dreamed of going to before: England, France, Italy, China and Canada.

International Stories

Meanwhile, my technology journey didn’t end with learning how to type and spell. I liked stories about castles and knights, and as I got older, I wanted to make my settings as realistic as possible. I began looking up information on the web. It was great because if I had a specific question — such as, “What kind of food did they eat in Italy in the Middle Ages?” — I could easily get specific answers. This allowed me to add rich details to my stories, and I discovered fascinating facts and pictures that ignited my love of history.

Soon I was setting stories in ancient Egypt, ancient Greece and Victorian-era London. Recently, I wrote an odd little piece in which the ghosts of three dead U.S. presidents interacted. I incorporated some entertaining facts I knew about each president into my writing. It made my teacher laugh, and it helped me remember the different presidents better.

I eventually went from being a web reader to a web writer. I’ve had my blog for a few years now, and I do a lot of blog-based projects in class. We’ve used our class blog to explore and process history, current events and literature. Watching other kids get excited about writing and research through blogging has reinforced my understanding of the role technology can play in the creative process.

Today I teach students around the world via videoconferencing. I think my own technology journey gives me a good idea of the types of projects and activities that get children excited about writing and learning. I teach a program on blogging, and I encourage my students to see the technology as not only a source of information, but a source of inspiration. It has been for me.