Friday, March 23, 2012

Timed Writing Prompts: Should the instructor write, too?

Underside of the Bean in Chicago: 
Does writing with students distort the view? 

Like most writing instructors, I give timed writing prompts in my (in-person) workshops. Sometimes I write with the students and sometimes I don’t. I’m never 100% sure what’s the best thing to do.

Some pedagogy books suggest that instructors should model every activity by participating with the students. If I write alongside the students, then they know the assignment is something to be taken seriously. This action helps to form community and trust between all of the members in the class. Other books suggest that it is best to remain in the clear role of the instructor by not participating. Perhaps by writing with the students, it suggests that I still need instruction, too. I transform into a peer who can’t be trusted as much as an instructor.

If I’m not writing with the students, I’ll walk around the classroom while the students are writing. This gives them a chance to raise their hand and ask a question more privately. I can also use the time to quickly review materials that we’ll be discussing next. This approach distances me, the instructor, from the students, and gives them a chance to do their work. It also means that I won’t be invited to read my writing, which could be embarrassing or model a sample with expectations that are too low or high.

I recently wrote alongside my memoir writing students at a workshop held at Politics & Prose Bookstore. The energy was really great, the students had brought up some interesting questions, and, in fact, the in-class writing led me to a draft that later prompted an idea for a new poem. After a few students shared their work, I was invited to read my sample. I was a little embarrassed to read something that was more personal that I would usually share at such an early stage. I quickly chose the most appropriate section, and the students had some interesting feedback.

Students, especially in memoir, are asked to share not only their writing, but their lives with the class. In this recent case, I did the same. The end result, in this adult class, was gained trust and intimacy (I hope, at least.)

What do you think? If you teach, do you write alongside your students? If you are a student, what do you think when your instructor writes – and perhaps reads when invited – with you?


Ken said...

I usually write with them. It helps me sense the timing and maybe even the difficulty. But I do find that I need to be careful with some groups that may feel that my writing is the model that they should be trying to achieve. When you write, do you share it?

Chloe Yelena Miller said...

If I do write with them and they request that I share it, then I will.