Teaching writing is like cracking a code. There are no magic tricks, no simple formulas, one suggestion/solution does not work for all students at any point. Finding your ability to write is a weird, twisted, and strange journey of self-discovery. I can teach paragraphing, sentence structure, thesis formation until I fall over (and I probably will!), but it takes a *click* from something (experience, professor, class, recognition) to give the student that feeling that s/he CAN write and IS a writer.
This happened to me repeatedly during my studies, and each time that *click* happened I grew stronger and more confident as a writer.
Of course, I still have days when I think I can’t write for shit, days when that D+ paper in high school Honors English creeps in or the moment when my literature professor insisted on me using The Writing Center because she “didn’t understand” how I had made it that far writing like I did. Oh, the scars we carry for writing from school. Adam recently reported that upon telling his coworkers that I wrote “stuff,” they cringed and shrieked in agony at the mere thought of writing. I get that. I still feel that sometimes. But then I’ll have a good post or article or get some love from someone because of words that I have put down that *click* happens all over again and makes me want to write more and more and more.
My Arts class produced some amazing writing this semester with their Art Synthesis Essays. In these essays, the students had to synthesize what we had seen in class that week, what we had discussed, what we had read, and our class trip/experience for that week. I structured the essays for the students, suggesting a format and paragraph topics; I wondered if that was too much structure, but it didn’t limit them. I am not sure how much the structure helped, or if it was the class content itself, or maybe the experiential component, but the Synthesis Essays were lovely. Just lovely. Reading them was pure joy. In these essays, the students beautifully wove together their experiences, their personal stories, work from class, and other ideas. I told them explicitly how much I enjoyed their writing and why. We talked about it in class. They seemed to get it.
And then came the research paper. And their writing went back to being choppy, boring, lacking in voice or transitions…Agony to read. Painful, as in full of PAIN.
What’s up with that?
I have so many ideas and no real answers. I need to really study their work, but I am curious. Some of my best writers obviously went into robot mode for the research paper. I had actually never seen them write with such emptiness. It was sad! I felt like I had seen the real them through their real writing, and then they shut down. It felt very personal in a strange way. Like a friend who had opened up to you suddenly shut back down.
How can I keep them doing real writing?