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One of the things my first-year experience students are struggling with when it comes to writing is that they've been taught you must have a thesis before you start writing, essentially, you must know what you want to say before you start saying it.
The things I'm asking them to write are far too complicated to know what you're going to say before starting the drafting process. They need an idea, a notion, but that notion is the initial element upon which the thesis will ultimately be built, idea by idea.
Getting them to trust that a notion is enough has proven difficult, I believe, because they've had limited to no practice with writing as "thinking." Writing for school has not allowed them enough latitude to develop their ideas through the act of writing.
So when I ask them to do a "discovery draft" where they explore and develop their ideas, it becomes something of a novel experience. The anxiety they have over making sure they have an "acceptable" (for grade purposes) answer hangs one the work, even when I've ungraded.
I could be fooled by observer bias, but I see an intensification of the issues that I cover in Why They Can't Write. The disconnect between writing as an act of thinking and discovery v. something in which you perform a kind of student-ness is evident and profound.
Because this isn't a first-year writing class I haven't had a chance to build up their writing practices through some of the early experience I would do in that kind of class and it shows in where students draw the line on what they think they're capable of in their writing.
It's going to be fine, the purpose is to discover things, and I'm not worried about the quality of their writing, but it's going to be a semester-long (or longer) process to orient the students around writing as a tool of thinking and discovery.
These experiences are reinforcing another notion from Why They Can't Write, schooling is simultaneously too punishing and not nearly rigorous enough. Students are anxious about writing rooted in fear of violating a "rule," but they have rarely been deeply challenged by writing.
If you're looking for writing experiences that get students thinking and writing, let me suggest The Writer's Practice. If students do the experiences in the book, they'll learn how to transfer what they're learning about writing from occasion to occasion penguinrandomhouse.com/books/566892/t…
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