Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Narrating Writing Experiences: When Students Want to Know Teacher as Writer

Today, as I attempted to prep students for one-on-one conferences, I had them answer a list of questions to bring to our meeting. My last questions was "Do you have any questions for me about writing?" I expected a bunch of requests for specific instruction, such as "how do I write the perfect conclusion?" or "what are some ways I can come up with topics?", but what I got instead were several questions about my own experiences with writing. They asked me about my feelings about writing, whether I deal with constraints, the kinds of vocabulary I use when I write, why I teach writing the way I do, who my favorite authors are, and what I consider "good" writing.

I guess what this suggests to me is that I need to be more transparent about my own struggles and successes with writing. Students want to know who their teacher is as a writer. They don't seem to want to me to establish credibility and claim myself as a writer. Instead, it seems like they are genuinely curious as to what happens in the upper ranks of academia. Or perhaps, they just want to relate. This is something I did not expect when I posed the question.

Typically, I resist talking about my own writing in class. Partially, this is an attempt to avoid sharing to0 much of my personal preferences with my students. I don't want students to feel isolated or constrained if they feel like we don't share views. I also don't want them to shape their writing around my interests thinking that they'll earn higher grades. I like to see what they can come up with when those types of constraints are removed.

Not sharing the personal is only part of it. The other part is that I don't talk much about my experiences with writing because I assumed students would find it boring. Sure, sometimes I'll throw in a "yeah, I have a hard time with focusing too when I have a lot of ideas about a topic" or other little quips, but I rarely offer narratives. What these questions suggest, however, is that maybe I need to do more of this.

I'd love to know how much students want to know about their instructors' writing. Do you want the examples and narratives? I'd also love to know how much instructors are already sharing with their classes. Do you offer quick one-liners? Do you take the time to share narratives about your writing experiences? Do you have question-and-answer sessions about writing, as one fabulous colleague of mine said she has done?