In thinking about ways to help students become comfortable with their own writing/thinking process, I often refer to my own process and the different “spaces” I use to write about what I’m doing (which gives me the chance to think about and learn from what I’m doing).
I’m currently out of the classroom while I make some adjustments to other parts of my life, but I plan to return. However, if I were in the classroom right now, and had students with consistent Internet access, I think I’d ask them to keep a few different writing spaces: a private journal, a public journal, a blog “notebook” or two, and a personal wiki.
What follows is a brief explanation of how I use each of these spaces and a few ideas for student use. I hope you’ll add other possible explanations and ideas for their use in the comments.
This is a little notebook I take everywhere, and it’s not meant for anyone but me. In it, I copy snippets of dialogue, jot ideas for future writings, record passing thoughts, ideas, or private reflections, draw maps of places I’m visiting, etc.
I would strongly suggest that students keep one, and would provide ideas for how by sharing a few examples from my own journal to prove I’m serious and citing the journal-keeping habits of others (musicians, artists, actors, writers, etc.) to prove I’m not making it up. I would also stress that a private journal can, of course, be used in any way one can imagine.
I think it’s good to keep a place to reflect on things generally, and with some sense of audience in mind. Being forced to explain to others what’s going on in my head and the meaning I’m extracting from my experiences helps me to clarify some things for myself and to make some connections among all the sometimes-disjointed things in my life, whether anyone else is actually paying attention or not. But I need to believe that someone might be paying attention, or the trick doesn’t seem to work as well.
In my case, I keep this journal focused on professional/creative activities. It’s not a “diary” or a personal journal (see above).
For students, I would ask them to do the same in terms of their learning and other public pursuits (e.g., art, sports, job, etc.). This is also one opportunity to help students think more carefully about the public/private divide.
I would also build in some class time for making entries in this public space, because I believe the chance to make connections among the various aspects of a student’s life is well worth the time investment.
I divide any current areas of research into separate “blog notebooks” to help me keep my thoughts organized (and to allow anyone who might be interested to follow only the areas they find appealing). These are places to collect brief writings based on readings, research, and experiences.
What distinguishes a blog “notebook” from any other type of blog is that the point is to collect, over time, reflections on a focused subject, based on the readings, research, and other pursuits that surround that subject. In this sense, it’s not concerned with “timeliness” or with “polemics.” There’s not persuading going on yet, and limited conclusions, only gathering and questioning.
For students, asking them to keep a separate blog notebook for a given project allows them to track their progress, make connections among their own posts, and make connections with other students through RSS feeds and comments. It also allows the teacher to watch their thinking progress and provide helpful comments along the way to motivate, provide additional resources, or help them to refocus.
This is a place to attempt to bring things together and draw some conclusions, and may be the launch pad for a final presentation on an area of research. The benefit here is synthesis. Over time, students can build different “chapters” in their personal textbook–a continually expanding demonstration of their own thinking. And from there, the chances to make further connections and reflect on that learning grows exponentially.
A Few Additional Thoughts
In the best scenario, I’d work with other teachers in the building so that much of the students’ work could pull from, or at least start with, these spaces. I would also model these spaces for students, demonstrating how I use these kinds of spaces in my actual, outside-of-school life. However, their first assignment would be to start thinking about other ways to use these spaces–ways that best fit their purposes.
These are, admittedly, academic and self-reflective pursuits. Some of the content that is generated in these spaces will be interesting or useful to others, but much of it won’t. That’s OK–that’s not the goal. All of these are, essentially, ways to approach writing metacognitively. There’s definitely a place for persuasion and presentation, but students must first be given skills and tools to help them understand their thinking, how they learn, and what they value before they can realistically be asked to assert or present that thinking.
With each of these spaces, choice is essential. Beyond guidelines like “suitable for public consumption” and “approached with a certain level of rigor, attention to sources, etc.,” students should be able to direct their own pursuits.
For me, this could form the basis of the writing, research, and critical analysis work for a course. I would probably add a thematic focus, with selected literature, a few writings developed to publication level, and a healthy compost heap of discussions topped with occasional collaborative works and presentations.
It would demand a lot of time on my part to know exactly what each student was pursuing–a lot of reading, coaching one-on-one, and individual critiques–which would require that I know my students well and become invested in the success and struggles of their pursuits.
Also, it might not fit well in the bubble-sheets.
You can visit Eric’s website and read more of his writing spaces at HIS WEBSITE.