Monday, September 14, 2009

Putting my Saturday Insight into Practice

Maybe you remember the insight I had on Saturday morning?

We spent the full class hour today working on brainstorming, focusing, and bubble-mapping the short response essay due on Wednesday. I hope they found it useful.

The thing is, it's sort of fun, working through how to write a response paper.

We started by listing. I had them list on their own paper, then we put a big list on the board.

Then I asked them to choose one thing from the list and freewrite.

Then we went back and expanded the list a bit, and I talked about how important starting over can be.

And then I asked them to choose something else from the list and freewrite, to just put aside their inner editor (or inner English professor) and get ideas down on paper.

We talked again about how important it is to start off exploring and thinking freely.

Then I asked them to freewrite about why one of the things they wrote about already is important, or what they learned from that aspect of the project.

Then I asked for a volunteer to tell us what s/he'd written about, and the person who volunteered gave us basically the topic and thesis. I had the class freewrite for a bit about the topic and thesis, and then we bubblemapped the essay together. (And I said that no one other than the volunteer is allowed to use that bubblemap for his/her paper.)

I know it's hard when you're a college student to take the time to freewrite and list and list and freewrite and bubblemap, but I hope that at least some of them left class with a couple really good ideas from the freewriting and a strategy for organizing those ideas and using examples. If they left with that, then I did a good job.

Of course, it's difficult to judge. If a student turns in a fabulous paper, then it's unlikely that it's my doing in a big way in that one class hour. And if a student turns in a poor paper, it doesn't mean s/he didn't get something helpful from the practice we did in class. It might be that a given student isn't quite ready to click with that aspect of the writing process. Or maybe that poor paper is a huge improvement over what the student would have turned in.

Students aren't widgets.


  1. "Students aren't widgets."

    Preach it sister. Sigh.

  2. I love that you're doing this, Bardiac. Students making the transition to college often have only limited strategies for getting writing started. I've met some students who've never had to develop their own topics ever. Others have a very rigid sense of the writing process starting with outlines (which always suggests to me that the brainstorming happens in one's head instead of on the page, since how can you outline something if you're still exploring?).

    I'm a writing teacher -- and I'm grateful that a teacher in a content field (a term I hate, but that's all I can think of for now) teaches the writing that is appropriate for that class. (Writing teachers can't prepare students for all writing -- from the biology lab report to the literary analysis.)

  3. "Students aren't widgets."

    May be the smartest thing I've read all day -- and I've been reading some smart folks.

  4. These are important skills: getting them to write, getting them to think about what they're doing as they write (but not so much that they freeze up) and getting them to take another kick at the can. You've given them a chance to improve and learn with this workshop: good for being brave enough to stop and change the approach of the course to accommodate this.