Teaching writing by focussing on the process as a whole
Look over there. Do you see that group of students down the hall? They are just standing there, looking at their feet, sighing. They are waiting for a class where they need to write a self-reflection document.
The students nudge each other when their teacher walks by,
rolling their eyes.
‘I can’t believe we have to do this.’
‘I know man.’
‘Writing is not just “challenging,” it’s oppositional to making art,’
They nod their heads in agreement. When the teacher says it’s time to start the class, they shuffle in.
I believe that a big part of students’ resistance to writing stems from how students learn to write. One of the things I’ve noticed when it comes to teaching writing, especially non-fiction, is that often the focus is on what the end-result should be, not on how students might get there.
In her book Inspiring Writing In Art And Design Education: Taking A Line For A Write Pat Francis talks about the difference between how Art and Design students are expected to think about their process in their practice, and how they’re expected to think about it in their writing. In their practice they are encouraged to find their own way, but when it comes to writing this idea of ‘celebrating differences’ is strangely absent. Francis states: ‘They are either not introduced to possible ways of working, or are encouraged to think that the final logical structure of a written piece, read left to right, front to back, reflects the way it is evolved.’ (Francis, 2009, 29)
For me, writing is about creating, about exploring, about trying to capture thoughts and feelings in words. And this is a messy business. My workroom, when I am in the middle of a writing process, has been described as ‘that of a nutty professor’, and ‘the aftermath of a hurricane passing through.’ I need the work to be tangible. For me, writing is a physical act. I walk around the room, I read texts out loud, cut them up. I have different versions of texts lying around and my walls are filled with mind maps. Reflections are scribbled in the margins. But when you see the final version of a text, you may never expect the chaotic process that led to the polished end result.
The way Francis talks about how Art and Design students are encouraged to find their own process in their practical work made me realize: maybe students are able to use this experience to their advantage in writing? Because they are used to the messiness of a creative process, they may be more likely to understand, maybe even embrace, ‘the unorderly, but dynamic process’ of writing, as long as they can recognize it as such. (Flower and Hayes, 1977, 461) This realization led me to explore the concept of teaching writing as making.
Francis, P. (2009) Inspiring Writing In Art And Design Education: Taking A Line For A Write, Bristol: Intellect Books
Flower H, Hayes J. (1977) Problem-Solving Strategies and the Writing Process. College English 39 (4) p. 449-461
1.-3. Lesson with associative degree arts and crafts students.