Posts Tagged ‘Emotional side of writing

09
Jun
12

Encouraging collaboration & effective brainstorming

Photo credit: Flickr user KatieTT

Having written about brainstorming and group work in three of the more recent posts here, you can imagine I was alarmed to see the blurb, “Brainstorming Doesn’t Really Work,” promoting Jonah Lehrer’s article Group Think: The Brainstorming Myth. After reading the article, I see there’s a lot to learn in thinking through setting up effective collaborations.

The blurb in question focuses on a very specific type of brainstorming that has been proven empirically to provide less creative ideas. When groups are told to throw out ideas without criticism, they tend to come up with a lot of ideas, but those ideas are more predictable, less varied, and ultimately less successful than groups that are free to criticize each other’s ideas. The criticism leads to a reconsideration of ideas, which ultimately makes them better.

Lehrer’s asssertion that this type brainstorming doesn’t work does not mean that groups cannot be creative. In fact, he introduces several studies that show that they can be more creative than individuals under the right conditions. The most compelling parts of the article are those that consider what those right conditions look like. Continue reading ‘Encouraging collaboration & effective brainstorming’

27
Jan
12

Overcoming the stress and anxiety of the writing process

January is a popular time for resolving to change their lives. Many of those resolutions will fail. That’s partly because most people make New Year’s resolutions in the same way. They promise themselves to do something they’ve wanted to do for a while but haven’t; they make their resolution without treating whatever caused them to procrastinate previously; they forget their resolution before the calendar turns to February.

A lot of writers go through this same cycle. Blind optimism leads to setting unreasonable goals, which leads to disappointment and stress, which leads to procrastination, feelings of failure, disappointment, and a feeling that you should really get around to writing that paper, novel, letter, etc. Before long the to do list is pitched and the project gets tabled only to be taken up again whenever you have the most optimism to face it; say, maybe, next December 31.

The way out of that cycle starts at discovering why you’ve not been writing. Continue reading ‘Overcoming the stress and anxiety of the writing process’

02
Jun
11

Deliberate practice, motivation, and “The Dan Plan”

I’ve been paying a lot of attention recently to “The Dan Plan“. Anyone interested in getting better at anything should too.

Here’s how Dan describes his plan: “Through 10,000 hours of ‘deliberate practice,’ Dan, who currently has minimal golf experience, plans on becoming a professional golfer.” Becoming a professional golfer after getting to your 30′s without having taken up the game is ridiculously ambitious. However, deliberately practicing for 10,000 hours is just as ambitious, and Dan seems to be taking that in stride. Because of that, it’s worth thinking more deeply about the design of The Dan Plan. Continue reading ‘Deliberate practice, motivation, and “The Dan Plan”’

18
May
11

The hidden value of writing every day

Last fall, I began working with a student who was so committed to improving that she came in multiple times for for each paper she wrote. However, by late spring, she’d not improved much. Then something changed that made me think about how to approach these situations in the future.

I wanted to share her story here because it shows a truth about writing that often goes overlooked: if you want to get better at writing, practice, but if you want to get better at practicing writing,  write everyday.

Continue reading ‘The hidden value of writing every day’

26
Jan
11

The Girl Who Was Bad At Semicolons

Lisbeth walked into my office claiming she wanted to get better at grammar. “We can help with that,” I said and ushered her over to a conference table. “What part of grammar would you like to work on first?”

“I’m not sure,” she said, casting her gaze downwards as if she might find the answer scrawled into the black surface of the table. I remained silent, knowing that she’d get more out of this if she set the agenda. When she finally figured out I wasn’t going to fill the silence, she began speaking “Well…I’m really bad at semicolons. Could we work on those?”

Her answer surprised me. I answered, “Certainly we can go over that.” But I was too curious to stop there. “But first, let me ask you a question. What makes you say you’re ‘bad at semicolons’?”

“I don’t know. I am just really bad at them. I’ve never got them.”

Her answer fascinated me for two reasons. First, understanding semicolons means understanding two rules, neither of which is very complicated. Second, Lisbeth was no stranger to using the Writing Studio. She’d been in on a handful of occasions. Yet, she never asked for anyone to teach her the rules for semicolons, nor did she bother to notice the spot on our wall where we display a brilliant comic, which provides the clearest and most creative explanations of semicolons I’ve ever read.

Lisbeth is a bright student. On top of that, she’s got enough courage to walk in and ask for help on a topic that’s challenged her sense of own intelligence. That’s admirable. However, it’s precisely these traits that make her situation so puzzling. That leads me to think that the most important question in education is this:

Why do bright, competent students make the same simple mistakes over and over again even when a teacher points out these mistakes and provides plenty of resources to help? Continue reading ‘The Girl Who Was Bad At Semicolons’

16
Dec
10

Motivating students – when “giving a sh*t” meets the “oh sh*t” moment

Think about the students you have the most difficult time dealing with. Plagiarists. The back row slouchers. The grade grubbers who complain their A- is not an A. In-class texters. The sleepers who are dead to the world. Know-it-alls who insult other students with in-class comments and then don’t listen to the rest of the class. The smart kid who won’t say a peep in class but then complains about their class participation. The student who wants you to tell you exactly how you want the paper. The student who writes that you are impossible to please on the end-of-class evaluations. We all have them. Some educators take the approach of taking pleasure in these students’ failures, saying that these students deserve to fail. And maybe they do. But sometimes they need motivation. Or more importantly, a way to tap into their own motivation and keep it charged. Continue reading ‘Motivating students – when “giving a sh*t” meets the “oh sh*t” moment’

05
Dec
10

On trying and failing: blogging without a net

Of the all the pride-inspiring things about this project, I’m most proud that I have gotten as far as the second post of the blog without mentioning the fear of failure. However, since the fear of failure undermines almost every stage of the writing process of all writers, now is as good a time as any to talk about it, especially as it not only gives insight into the reasons students don’t write effectively, but also explains the cookie cutter look and feel of this blog.

The idea of putting my ideas on writing online in blog form has been percolating for a long time. Out of that brew comes grand aspirations: in a perfect world, this blog will become a place where many different writers will share their ideas. And the possibility of hearing positive feedback (or at least constructive criticism/healthy debate) on ideas that I thought up is flattering. But starting a blog is fraught with complications, not least of which being that I could try and fail, leaving my handful of posts relegated to float in the ether of millions of other ghost blogs out there.

Failure and I don’t get along so well. He tends to stick with me for longer than he should whenever he brings his ugly mug around. Continue reading ‘On trying and failing: blogging without a net’




Good Writer, Bad Writer

Good writer, bad writer reflects the philosophy behind the first writing lesson I attempt to teach students. Too many of them come into college believing that their writing abilities are set in stone. The bad writers continue to struggle, and the good writers don't take enough risks in their writing, figuring that any misstep will throw them back into the "bad writer" category.

Good writer, bad writer is my attempt to break the power of that dichotomy. On here, I share the lessons and attitudes that I teach, but I also talk about the attitudes I have towards my own writing since many of those have informed my own teaching. Thanks for visiting.


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