The Power of Conversing While Writing

Photo retrieved from the International Centre for Creativity and Imagination

International Centre for Creativity and Imagination

My cumulative planning time for the Spring 2014 semester for First-Year Composition (FYC) is estimated at about 2 hours, total. The class has been meeting three times a week for 50 minutes each, but I’ve done little to no planning for each class session. Instead, students read and planned class discussions on pre-selected topics. My planning time included creating the syllabus, class schedule, and Google forms for mid-term and end-of-term self-evaluations. Outside of these few administrative tasks, I walked into class and enjoyed the conversations of my students, often sitting back and letting them form the direction of the course. Dialogue can do that – create a route of discovery – but so often we overlook conversations as a powerful form of knowledge creation. 

The Power of Conversing While Writing

Freire’s work reminds us that engaging in dialogue is one of the most powerful and effective ways to recognize that all knowledge – including print-based information – is ultimately socially constructed. If we want to teach writing as a social and organic process, then it’s crucial that we emphasize informal, thought-provoking conversations as a pivotal action in the classroom. Conversation shouldn’t be mistaken for what is presumably already taking place in most writing classrooms, including peer reviews, writing workshops, and discussions on writing passages. And I hope that conversation isn’t viewed as student responses to an instructor’s lecture. Instead, a more informal and free flow of conversation should become a part of the classroom because the same is modeled while we invent and revise print-based text.

During each class session, strive to give students the opportunity to talk about their writing. Allow them to talk during topic generation. Open the floor to students who want to share a powerful sentence they just drafted. Chat about the struggles of maintaining flow. Don’t simply elicit opportunities for conversations at the end of the writing process, but instead converse throughout.

Instructional Strategies for Conversing While Writing

We want students to join writing groups, share their work to be published, and write to be heard, yet we limit their conversations in the classroom. Teachers must come to value conversation as a technique for invention and revision, and the more we can get students involved in the conversation, the more their writing will improve. Here are a few suggestions for instructional strategies for conversing in the writing classroom:

  • Form student groups to collaborate on topic generating for a writing prompt.
  • Encourage students to pitch their ideas on a paper to the class (think elevator speech style).
  • Revise in chunks, collaboratively. Ask each student to read one paragraph of their writing then revise as a class.
  • Ask students to keep individual blogs where they note out-of-class conversations that continue as a result of in-class conversations.
  • Request brief informal oral presentations on a paper’s draft.
  • Allow students to continue conversations beyond structured class times.

Key Points

By participating in conversations, students will learn actively about how they engage in the writing process, a skill (creating one’s narrative identity) that is much more important than lecturing them incessantly on proper grammar use. Also, they will learn from each other and form adaptive writing techniques that would otherwise go unheard and unseen.

Removing the structure of the writing classroom removes the planning time required from an instructor, and what better way to engage in informal learning than simple conversations with your students. Provide students with opportunities to talk, then sit back and enjoy the learning unfold as they instinctively learn from each other. Their conversations become your instructional strategy, no pre-planning required.


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5 replies

  1. Molly, I also teach a First Year writing course and by nature of the Seminar-style we have many discussions that serve to engage students with a potential audience and with ideas. I’ve recently written a critical thesis in support of my MFA degree that examines the research on this approach to teaching writing. My findings confirm the suggestions here. I also use group peer editing strategies as you do. I enjoy my new found friends on Twitter (having only just begun to tweet!). You are among those I find most informative and applicable to my work. Hope we can continue to share pedagogy on teaching writing! Marie

  2. My absolute favorite times in class are the topic generation discussions! I, too, have my students do this in groups, and the buzz of conversation is so energizing. Thank you, Molly, for this insightful piece on classroom conversation. You should submit it to the Faculty Focus Newsletter. They print practical, rather than theoretical, articles on issues of pedagogy.

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