Saturday, September 01, 2012

A little WTL

It's Labor Day weekend, and I'm getting a good start on it by responding to my HON 179 students' latest reflections. The prompt for these reflections (ostensibly in response to Chapters 7-9 of Tutu's No Future Without Forgiveness) asked the students to "think about an incident in your past in which actual, literal verbalization of some kind (monologue, dialogue, or multilogue) helped you achieve resolution. What was it about the act of verbalization itself that proved therapeutic? Can you describe how it made you feel, and why it made you feel that way?" I made sure they knew I wasn't trying to pry; I let them know they need not describe the precipitating incident itself, but only the means by which it was resolved.

I'm only halfway through reading these reflections, and already I've made two crucial observations.

1. The students inherently understand the idea behind writing-to-learn (or at least communicating-to-learn), whether or not they're able to put it in those terms. "I actually have to stop and think to figure out exactly what is making me so mad so that I can explain it" says one student about talking things out, "I was able to organize my thoughts on the matter better" says another, and "making your complaints or confessions intelligible allows a more efficient and complete resolution" says a third. Though they've all phrased it in different ways, they've all hit on the fundamental basis of writing-to-learn. As I wrote back to these students, when writing we have to be able to put our thoughts into words and sort those words into meaningful sentences and paragraphs. This very act helps us to explore our thoughts. You don’t just use writing as a means of communication; you use it also as a means of exploration and discovery.

2. The students' writing is dramatically better when they're writing about something deeply personal and not simply academic. Without exception so far, every student's paper has been equal or superior to her or his previous reflections. This observation is nothing new: no doubt the personal stake the students feel in this piece motivates them to perform more ably. It's clearer than at any earlier point this term that I've got some great writers in this class.

On to the second half...

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