writing expectations for the class

This is pretty meta: posting on the blog the description of blogging I’m asking my students do this semester which I figured out by…posting on the blog. Still, beauty’s where you find it- and I stand by the pedagogy.

Teacher friends: anyone else doing this kind of work?

What writing matters most to our learning in a seminar like this?

First off, I don’t think it’s research papers. I agree with this (wonderfully snarky) author: Everybody in college hates papers. But I disagree with her when she says that writing is not a crucial part of learning. (I have tried to use traditional exams in this class, like she calls for: that doesn’t work either.)

I have come to understand that students benefit most in this class from reflective writing. But not the free-write, whatever-comes–to-mind kind of reflective writing. I mean the kind where you try to freeze all the lightning-fast associations and insights that your brain is always firing off when you are engaged with an idea or an insight and get them down on paper, maybe reading them back to yourself now and then to find out what you think. I mean the kind where you realize that something you are reading for a class somehow helps you understand something that happened to your brother back in grade school, and at the same time gets you thinking about a short story you read for another class, and for some reason puts a song in your head that you can’t get out for the rest of the day.

The best I can figure, this is what learning actually looks and feels like: the alignments of new insights with old ones, the constant effort of our minds to shape a coherent understanding of the world’s thorniest dilemmas out of EVERYTHING we have read and seen and experienced. In fact, I don’t think we don’t really have an “experience” in class until we do this part of threading what we are reading and discussing back into everything else we have gone through. (Not my idea BTW, as you’ll see when we read Dewey.)

Writing that invites us to witness that process and engage in it and try to share it – THAT’S helpful to learning. And that’s the kind of writing we’ll do here.

We will write blog posts. I have found that keeping a blog is a powerful adjunct to my own learning, and so I’ll invite you to do the same while you are in class. We’ll use ASULearn to maintain the blog, in ways that will become clear as we learn about that site’s functionality through the semester.

You’ll be required to write THREE blog posts for this class, by the end of each Friday of the semester (take one week off). Length will vary, but I can’t imagine anything shorter than about 800-1000 words really getting the work done.

I think my best blog posts usually include three elements:

  1. Reference to some text I have come across that has got me thinking – an essay, a song, a movie, even an overheard conversation;
  2. Reference to some personal connection or experience that it got me thinking about;
  3. Reference to some other text(s) that come to mind while I am writing that seem relevant, which I try to use to think about the other two things.

For our purposes, I assume that usually (1) will be something we have read or discussed together in class. (2) and (3) – that’s all you.

At the bottom I’ll include links to some of my own blogging that I think shows what I mean. Please notice that this writing is first-person and informal – it is emphatically not “a paper” – and note that I link to whatever sources I can through hyperlinks to other web sites.

Also note that this writing is an invitation for others to read and respond. Not many do, to mine – although more do on Facebook, where I push all my blog posts to the collection of dear friends I’ve been fortunate to collect over the years. That’s the best possible audience to write for, by the way: a little interested in what I am thinking about, maybe, but always supportive because, well, they’re my friends. In this class, assume your classmates will read and may respond to your work as well. Note that this means you are writing to be read by others, not just yourself – but for SUPPORTIVE and INTERESTED others, not critical ones. That’s the magic crease you need to hit in this kind of writing: attentive enough to require you to be clear, but kind enough not to stress you out.

Also note that this writing is interesting. At least it should be: I was feverishly interested in what I was writing about as I was writing, and that energy should come across in the reading. It’s also personal – it frequently tells stories, and stories are inherently interesting to humans. The energy of GENUINE INTEREST is, I am convinced, the most powerful element in all teaching and learning. I was genuinely interested in the things I was writing. No one was making me care about it: I actually DID.

My dearest wish is that this assignment and the experiences it invites you to have will give you a taste of actually finding the relevance of our work together to everything else you have learned, and your own experience: that you’ll have that amazing moment when what the curriculum “wants” you to think about and what you ACTUALLY want to think about become almost the same thing. When school works, it’s because it’s allowing those moments to happen.

Those moments can change you forever. I hope you have some this semester.

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