I had writer’s block this weekend. In the summer during Kean’s Writing Project, I had already read and blogged about Donald Murray’s “Teaching Writing as a Process Not a Product.” So, I had to reread Murray’s essay to glean new insights. What I found interesting about Murray’s essay is that he divides writing into “three stages: prewriting, writing and rewriting” and claims that prewriting takes up “85% of a writer’s time.” Yes, prewriting takes the majority of my time. Maybe, 75% of my time. Before drafting, I read the essays, think about what I want to say, think of a unifying theme. Then I ask, How are these essays connected? What fresh ideas can I provide? Then, the next stage is drafting, which Murray believes takes “only 1% of a writer’s time.” Not necessarily. During the drafting stage, I find myself simultaneously writing and rewriting so drafting takes up more than 1% of my time. (Please see a screenshot of my Revision History.) When drafting, I am also rereading, rewording, and rearranging sentences and paragraphs. A writer can approach writing in stages as Murray describes; a writer can also weave back and forth from drafting to revising as Nancy Sommers argues in “Revision Strategies for Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers.” So, in a way writing is both linear and recursive.
Eventually, I overcame my bout of writer’s block with a cup of tea and a dose of something to say. Writing is a form of discovery. Writing allows me to clarify and articulate my beliefs and values about writing, teaching, and myself. I am not too concerned about the grade nor impressing my audience, nor do not have the pressure of” publish or perish.” Unlike Geoffrey Carter (an assistant professor of English) who may be under pressure to publish. Carter churns out an illuminating essay on writer’s block by providing us with historical information on the term. He concludes his essay by advising writers to remedy writer’s block by “researching things before starting writing”; “playing with names such as Bergler-Burglar; or creating puns and anagrams.” Toward the end of his essay, Carter provides a remedy for treating writer’s block. He says, “When faced with the process of creating something, rather than just giving up, writing about anything that comes to mind — even if it is just fooling around with words — can sometimes motivate real work.” Dear writers, do not give up. Just start writing. Write anything that comes to mind. Fool around with words. Research words. Define words. He provides some good ideas on starting on drafts.
From this quotation, one can extrapolate that low-stakes writing like blogging may eventually lead us to “some real work in the future” — perhaps an M.A. thesis statement. One day when rereading my blog posts, I hope to discover a topic I would like to write about extensively. From my first drafts, I hope to stumble upon greater discoveries. This quotation also reinforces the idea of low-stakes writing in the classroom. Let students journal, write, doodle, draw. Let them create. And as Murray reminds us, “Shut up. When you are taking, he is not writing.” How true. At times, I need to remind myself to stop talking and allow the students to write.
Most teachers are successful students. Most graduate students are successful students. Failure was not an option for them. They did not have to go to summer school, nor did they have to repeat a grade. They never experienced years of academic failure. That is a problem: perpetual academic failure. I am not referring to an occasional failure here or there, but years of failure. In my 10th grade English class, failure is not an option. Last year, none of my students failed English; none of my students attended summer school. Therefore, teachers must provide numerous opportunities for students to experience sweet success by giving them opportunities to rewrite, to provide extensions, and to provide unconditional encouragement and support. Therefore, I concur with Allison Carr’s perspective on failure. In her essay “Failure is Not an Option,” Carr urges teachers to “normalize failure” and to provide an “alternative view” of failure. She wants us to see failure as a conduit “to more creative, risk-taking, and an opportunity to explore a new direction,” especially when it comes to writing. I strongly believe that writing teachers are teaching process-writing rather than product-writing. By guiding students through the writing process, the students are more likely to take more risks and be more creative. By giving students opportunities to rewrite their essays, it will encourage a growth mindset. By giving quality rubrics before writing, it will communicate the teacher’s expectations to the students so that students are not second-guessing the teacher’s expectations. This approach will help in preventing failure, which could be a misunderstanding of the teacher’s expectations. So, Crystal Sands’ conclusion in “Rubrics Oversimplify the Writing Process” is spot-on: We must provide specific rubrics along with quality feedback. Rubrics should not be merely an assessment tool.
Now, it is time for another cup of tea…