Why Hack Composition?

I was at the 3rd annual Digital Media and Learning conference in March of 2012, and I was impressed by an Ignite Talk given by Rafi Santo. His talk focused on the need to teach kids how to hack–and by “hack,” he meant not the fear-mongering use of the word, but the tinkering, taking-apart-and-putting-back-together-better-than-before mindset. Think LifeHacker. ProfHacker. GradHacker. All of these sites are designed around a notion of hacking that is healthy, inquiry-driven, and devoted to understanding community-based practices with an eye to improving on the status quo.

So as I thought about Rafi’s assertion that kids need to adopt a hacker’s outlook, I began thinking about my own work and how hacking might apply. I teach writing to future teachers at California State University, Chico, and also direct a non-profit professional community for teachers of writing, the Northern California Writing Project. A lot of my time is spent working with teachers who already know how to teach writing in interesting and innovative ways, and I’m always struck by how much I learn from colleagues. We all seem to be guided by a few principles related to why people write, why we write in particular genres, and the role communities play in the composing processes. But our specific approaches–the ways we personalize, embody, adapt, and implement those principles–seem to show the spirit of hacking that Rafi spoke about so emphatically.

Hence CompHacker.

What I hope this site becomes is a resource and community hub for all kinds of composition hacking. People like me, who teach writing, can use it to think and write about the ways that different developments in education (and beyond)–perhaps with particular attention to the role of technology–affect composition pedagogy and practices. But students, too, need to approach the writing tasks they face with a hacker’s perspective, so students from across grade and disciplinary spectrums will be welcome as well. And one of my own former students (from 20 years ago!) recently sent me a message on Facebook saying that, as his fame (perhaps notoriety!) in the field of wireless security has grown, he has found himself increasingly in need of ways to make sure he communicates effectively with clients and colleagues. So those who live and work in the business world, too, need to know how to hack composition.

So let’s get hacking!