Hemingway Editor Helps Students and Teachers Write for Clarity
Hemingway is a markdown editor that coaches you to write more clearly, helping you to emulate Ernest Hemingway‘s trademark sparse, journalistic style. Though I don’t use it as my main markdown editor, I’ve been thinking about ways it can be useful in a variety of learning tasks.
Once writing has become your major vice and greatest pleasure, only death can stop it. ~ Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway scans through your writing, assigning a “grade level” to your word choice. It chides you to write for a 9th grade level so you can be more clearly understood. Too often I show off my fancy vocabulary words, and Hemingway never fails to ding me for it. As a result, Hemingway highlights most of my sentences in red — a sign that they’re too hard for an average reader to comprehend. Of course I’m writing for geniuses like you, dear reader, so I have confidence that my capricious dalliances with baroque prose will be well met in your fertile minds. 😉
Uses in Education
Students could use Hemingway to provide real-time writing help, coaching them to write at a grade-appropriate level. I love the idea of students getting feedback continuously as they write — it’s one reason I am a fan of AfterTheDeadline from Automattic. The more students learn to self-monitor their writing, the more conscious they will become about their writing process.
Even though Hemingway editor discourages you from writing above a ninth-grade level, I can see students taking pride in writing at- or above- grade level.
I see this as a better tool for teachers, though — especially those of us who can’t help but write long convoluted sentences using ten-cent words. We as teachers have to balance the competing demands of modeling sophisticated use of academic language while being clearly understood to all learners. Just as Ernest Hemingway demonstrated that minimalistic writing can be powerful and effective, we must strive to find the clarity and immediacy in language our students can access. Hemingway editor can help us to do that.
In my experience with online courseware product and textbooks, they often tend to be written in highly abstract, academic language. This is arguably appropriate for highly-prepared students, but the reality is that many students entering higher education today have significant gaps in their knowledge and struggle to access overly abstract language. It can become an issue of access when we use abstract language in our instructions to students — like on the course syllabus. If students don’t understand what we’re even asking them to do, how can we expect them to do it?
Experiment — How Accessible is your Syllabus?
Try pasting your course syllabus into Hemingway and see how opaque your language is to your students. Could it be clearer?
I am talking with potential collaborators on a project where we’d be creating online learning experiences for non-traditional learners — people from developing countries who may not have full mastery of academic English. The goal of the project is to have the broadest social impact possible, so I have been writing in Hemingway to ensure that my materials are optimized for comprehension by the largest audience possible.
Also, I recently applied for a job working at a tech startup that translates news articles for students at various grade levels so they can build reading skills and awareness of current affairs at the same time. Again I thought how useful Hemingway editor would be in making sure my translations use grade-appropriate language.
How would you use it?
These are just some ideas about how you could use this tool in education. What are yours? Please let us know in the comments section below.
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