Writing comes easy to me, but sharing it does not. I’ve made this point several times throughout class this semester, and reading John Bean’s Writing Comments on Student’s Papers reminded me of the immense weight of the vulnerability that comes with showing my work to those whose opinions I trust and asking for constructive feedback. I can see myself sitting in a chair, wrapped in the sinking feeling that comes with the lingering anxious thoughts that buzz through my head, constant, stinging, anxious bees. 

The year I taught English in school, I let myself be driven by that anxious feeling, and the idea that there were some students that felt just as I do when sharing my work. Bean brings up the idea that we might not always approach the work of our students with the same sensitivity that we may approach a colleague. If I were to give myself any kind of credit for that one year of fumbling through teaching sophomores and juniors English, it is that I was as sensitive towards them to a similar length that I am bitter towards my own writing. While holding myself to such high standards, I’ve learned the significance of being compassionate towards those students who don’t have the experience I have. I can only imagine being harsh on somebody else who is naturally as self-conscious as I am, and the blow I could deal by providing feedback the wrong way. 

When I approached the writing of my students I could tell who took themselves seriously, those who understood that my class was a form of deconstruction and reconstruction. I always found the things worth praising in the work of my students the things that made their works stand out as individual pieces of artistry, sometimes that can be something as small as one well-crafted metaphor, in other instances, it would be eloquent points written in a coherent, linear format that made it clear just what the author intended. Bean points out that one of the things often ignored by a teacher is the “personal dimensions of writing,” but, to me, that is exactly the thing we should be looking for and expanding upon. 

Sommers brought up something that I wished I had recognized as a teacher, in that I am not there to instruct or guide through the craft of writing, but I am also there to represent the greater audience. It’s a different lens entirely, even if the goal may be the same, I tried to open my students to the ideas of perspective, open-ended thoughts, but at the same time I only ever did that through how I define the concept and perhaps not how other’s would. I now question whether or not I should have elicited some additional perspectives over the course of the year, if for no other reason than to actually provide those additional perspectives and truly give my students the experience of writing for an audience beyond that of one individual. 

Should my opinion have been the end all be all in my classroom? I don’t know. Sommers brings up excellent points regarding the appropriation of a paper during the drafting process. When a teacher provides feedback on a draft, this can lead to students only correcting the particular errors that a teacher has pointed out without expanding on or editing the actual thoughts that they had at the start of the paper. Growth may not come this way, as the perspective those students hold is not being challenged or pushed back upon. 

After reading through the two articles this week, I feel stepping back from teaching in order to sort out my views on much of this may have been the correct call. 

Remembering How We Learned to Write

I am still thinking about the early ground we have covered in “Writing Theory & Practice” class, since it lays such an important foundation for our continuing discussion throughout the course of our semester together.

The free writing exercises that asked you to “mine your memory” for how you learned to write yielded very revealing responses.  And in many ways, some shared themes emerged.  Many of you remember linking your early experiments in writing to a sense of the emerging self (i.e. tracing the letters of your name, or early diary entries that helped you reflect on aspects of your young life).  The sense of self discovery that is connected with the act of writing definitely came though in your personal accounts. Writing can be a touchstone for knowing oneself a little bit better.  Some of you also described the feeling of being “boxed in” in school, or being forced into mandatory or standardized approaches, and feeling uninspired as a result.  And these moments were also impactful – leading to an understanding that maybe writing wasn’t something for you.  On the other hand, when we thought more deeply about how you REALLY learned to write, stories of “coming into voice” or empowerment pointed to certain transformation. With those stories, identifying as a capable writer often involved the care of a teacher (or parent) that paid closer attention and employed thoughtful strategies. And sometimes the transformation to a more “writerly self” happened due to certain self-driven interest, and particular individual passion.

Our class slides: 

Remembering your resources

I am glad we took a moment to think about the academic resources at your fingertips. The Kean University Learning Commons (better known as the library) is a treasure trove of support – offering daily workshops, special spaces for writing and studying, and of course a knowledgable staff who are there to guide you on your information and learning quests. Please remember to “lean in” and explore the Learning Commons – in person, and online.

Janice Lauer’s Rhetoric & Composition: An overview of the field

I am glad we started our reading series with Janice Lauer’s overview of the field of Writing Studies, so we could apprehend some of the shifts in emphasis and approach over the years.  Here are the notes that reflect some of the main threads of Lauer’s argument. As we proceed with class and consider strategies for “becoming a writer” – we can also consider the moment we find ourselves in now, and what is at stake in theorizing the art and craft of writing.

Rhetoric and writing are at the heart of how the world is shaped, and in many ways these activities are the critical engine that fuels our perceptions of what is possible.  We must grapple with the fact that rhetoric in civic discourse is now, more than ever, an amplified influence due to new technologies for writing.  And so we must take our analysis beyond just individual concerns (skills and voice) and also consider implications in the social context (power and the shaping of ideologies & systems of thought).

A reminder regarding the preparation for your upcoming presentations:

You to-do list:

  • Blog #3 due before 10/2/23- Please blog your reflection on Valerie’s reading selection for us – the Bean & Sommers readings.

**Please note: Next class will include our first “presentation night” with Valerie taking the lead for us. Remember we will meet in our Zoom Room, and I will be sending you an email with our link before 4:30pm on the day of class. )

See you in October!