Posts Tagged ‘writing

03
Feb
15

Writings on firstgenerationstudent.com

I have had two guest blog posts go up recently on firstgenerationstudent.com. Check them out if you are interested:

Rethinking what it means to be smart talks about the attitude I think students can use to achieve the most success in their educational endeavours.

How to uses professor’s feedback talks about how to construct a comprehensive plan for improvement based on the comments you get on your papers.

 

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08
Jul
14

Writing with A.D.D.

Writing and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) don’t get along very well. If you invited them both to a cocktail party, they’d stand on opposite sides of the room and the tension in the room would still be unbearable. However, plenty of writers, some very good, have ADD. For them, ADD can be a blessing and a curse. Because of the way it affects the brain, ADD can lead to more creative insights and perspectives, and it can help writers avoid cliché. At the same time, ADD can make it extraordinarily difficult to get those ideas down onto the page, which can lead to years of frustration, underachievement, and a belief that it is just not possible to write well with ADD.

From Flickr user dgarkauskas

From Flickr user dgarkauskas

Writing with ADD is difficult, but not impossible. I have ADD, and I’ve worked with many student writers who have it. By sharing what I’ve learned about ADD through my own experiences, I hope I can provide some sense of an understanding about what it is like to write with ADD and tips on how to mitigate some of the symptoms as they apply to writing.

ADD and the writer’s brain
To understand why writing with ADD is difficult, we need to know a little more about it on the neurological level. Writers need to use many different parts of their brains, constantly orchestrating the systems that control memory, language, and logic. The task puts a great burden on the executive functions in the brain, those systems that help control focus and concentration. ADD hinders these systems most acutely. To put it another way, if your brain were the island of Manhattan, your brain while writing would look like rush hour traffic. If you have ADD, your brain while writing looks like rush hour traffic with stoplights that don’t work like they are supposed to. The whole effect is that writing with ADD often feels like a 30-car pile up in a bad section of town.

Continue reading ‘Writing with A.D.D.’

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’

31
May
12

Workshopping peer workshops

I was at a conference last year where the idea of using writing workshops in class came up in conversation. A teacher from an education department commented, “I used to do workshops, but both my students and I thought they were a waste of time.” I brought up the fact that several studies support the idea that peer workshops work to produce better writers, and she shrugged her shoulders unconvinced. That experience made it pretty clear to me: workshops need a better PR department. They’ve become one of the most maligned forms of writing instruction, which is sad because they also have the potential to be the among the most productive.

I’m sympathetic to those teachers and students who deplore workshops. When I started teaching writing, I’d get student evaluations that said they found the process unhelpful in fixing their papers, and after reading their drafts, I could see the truth in those statements. Only later did I realize that we were both missing the point of workshops. A closer look at the structure of workshops shows us that focusing the goals of a workshop on the quality of papers produced invites these feelings of failure. Workshops can show us a lot of the weak points in our own papers and a lot of points that we need to work hard to fix, but they can’t solve those problems. Only the original writer can. But workshops do create better writers when they are assessed over time. Even though that’s cold comfort to someone wanting immediate improvement, a dedicated approach to workshops will help your writers improve, and there are several things we can do to help us tweak our approach to workshops that can allow that to happen. Continue reading ‘Workshopping peer workshops’

23
May
12

The Mythbuster Philosophy of Education: Failure is always an option.

Pop culture does teachers few favors. Most teachers on television are either boring busybodies who lecture ad nauseum (think Ben Stein’s character in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) or energetic zealots who inspire students to learn through sheer force of charisma (Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society.) Perhaps I’m naive, but I think a lot of new teachers go through a stage where they feel like developing their own teaching style consists of finding a way to lecture without putting students to sleep and inspire without telling students to ritually sacrifice the introductions of their text books. I say this because in the beginning of my teaching career, I felt like I was navigating this dilemma: how do I deliver content while still being interesting?

The longer I teach, the more I realize that neither of these models is anything to emulate. Lecturing as the sole means for delivering content is a bit like trying to build a sandcastle by tossing mud at a pile of dirt at twenty paces: some of it sticks, some misses the target, but most washes away in the next tide. Charisma is nice to have and can certainly be a tool, but it only gets you so far; without a solid structure to the lesson being taught, you’re not maximizing your assets.

That’s why the best teachers on television are on the show Mythbusters, and if you’re looking for a philosophy of education to emulate, they offer a lot.

Image source: tvclash.com

Continue reading ‘The Mythbuster Philosophy of Education: Failure is always an option.’

12
Apr
12

Writing is like magic: only not in the way you expect

A few months ago, I overheard one of our peer consultant, Chris, speaking excitedly about the end stages of a paper. “I just love that moment when it all comes together,” he said. “It’s like magic.”

I agreed that those end stages of a paper can feel magical. When connections between

Image Source: Flicker user Christophe Verdier

different ideas appear and the work you put into research and writing starts to pay off, it can feel exhilarating. I recall Seamus Heaney noting these feelings at a reading some years ago. An audience member asked Heaney what his favorite part of writing a poem was and Heaney said that it was when the poem could get up on its own two legs, move around, and surprise him, showing him ideas or meanings he hadn’t thought of before.

When I tell that Heaney story to classes, some students struggle with the idea that any piece of writing could surprise them. For these writers, that magical moment seems impossible. The end stages of a paper seem at best a relief of stress and frustration. At worst, they confirm the writer’s feelings of self doubt and failure. In these cases, the idea that there is a magic to writing can have a negative effect. If writing is magic, then those writers who don’t feel that mystical exhilaration may give up too soon, imagining that they just can’t cut it.

For all, writing can be like magic, but it won’t be the kind of magic that appears in fairy tales. The magic in writing shares much more in common with the magic you might see on stage at a Vegas nightclub. It may look slick, as if it defies the laws of physics, but it’s all a well practiced illusion. As writers, understanding the basis of these illusions provides us with a lot that we can steal to improve on our own texts. Continue reading ‘Writing is like magic: only not in the way you expect’

09
Feb
12

Gamers of the World Unite: ThatCamp Games 2012

A few weekends ago, I had the opportunity to attend the ThatCamp Games conference in College Park, Md. I was excited to attend for many reasons, not the least of which was the opportunity to present some of my ideas on the areas where writing overlaps with games (some of which can be found in my post on video games and assignment design.) I came away from the experience with a renewed interest in games and a bunch of ideas on new applications for bringing them into education. Continue reading ‘Gamers of the World Unite: ThatCamp Games 2012’




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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