Don’t think about it….

Just do it. Of course, you recognize the Nike ad. I read recently the best way to overcome inertia is not to look for ways to become more motivated. Instead, start.

Ok.  But I get it. I am a great reader of “how to’s.” How to clear your mind in three easy steps. How to eat to avoid skin cancer. Overcoming fear. Ways to motivate yourself.

This morning, after three nights of not sleeping well (and that’s another blog post), I faced a decision about whether to run. Usually I mentally struggle, looking for a sign. Do I have enough energy? Will I be able to make it? Should I sleep for another hour? Instead, I got up, put on my shoes, and headed out the door.


More Conversations Needed

I struggle, as most writing teachers do, with the tension between wanting to help young people become confident, strong writers and the necessity of helping them produce the required school stuff.

I am not implying that learning how to organize an analytical, focused essay is unnecessary. My concern is that we tend to ask students to do this before they have acquired writing habits, before they have developed an awareness of the importance of writing to communicate, reflect, and learn. And before they have recognized that good writing is a kind of storytelling.

So when I read Troy Hicks’ post on digital writing today, I found myself nodding in agreement:

Buffy raises the key issue here about digital writing that could be said for much of the history of writing instruction; this is the tension we feel between allowing students the freedom to choose topics, genres, and assessments that they find personally meaningful and will help them grow as writers in contrast and/or competition to what we feel we should or must do as teachers of writing.

These are not just problems with writing, or with digital writing; these are problems with what my colleague Anne Whitney calls the “schooliness” of school. Writing is normally very “schooly” and, when it isn’t, it’s too “touchy/feely.” We are caught in a trap of either living up to a formulaic model or praising students for their efforts without any substantive feedback.

We want our kids to think of writing as a way to think, share, organize, and reflect–using whatever tool meets the need. Narrowing an assignment to an academic essay does our students a disservice. But more than that–they will have followed the rules to produce a product rather than creating a piece of writing out of a complex thought process.  In our quest to “prepare students for college,” we do the very thing that limits them–teach formulaic writing.

This essay, written several years ago, talks about the disconnect high school teachers and college teachers have about writing. I’ll copy one paragraph here, but the essay should be read in its entirety:

One study surveyed writing teachers at the University of California and local high schools about their priorities.1 A number of the high school teachers preparing students for college emphasized reading and interpreting literature, considered writing as a way of expressing a pre-formed meaning, suggested formulas for structuring essays, and taught students that the use of the first-person I would not be acceptable in college (cited in Hjortshoj 28–29). High school teachers comment that their assumptions about how to prepare students for college are often based largely on their own undergraduate classroom experiences (Gardner 101). The authority a teacher gains from being able to say to a high school student “you will need to know this in college” is a powerful motivator (Stump, personal interview, 2005). In the University of California study cited above, however, a number of the college teachers reported different priorities: using a range of reading materials, emphasizing writing for discovering and exploring meaning, discouraging formulas for essay structures, and considering the use of I to be appropriate (qtd. in Hjortshoj 28–29).

To go back to Troy’s post:

In the simplest terms, it boils down to whether or not we prepare students to write five paragraph essays and to be able to respond to prompts on the test, or whether we want them to be real writers.

I’ll opt for real writing every time.  But clearly teachers from all levels must continue to talk about this.