The article that I found most compelling was John Maguire’s “The Secret to Good Writing…” which argues that students often need help making their writing less abstract and more concrete. This is not necessarily a contentious issue, but I imagine that it is relevant to our situations teaching both creative and expository writing at Queens College. Actually, in my own teaching, I aim to teach students some hybrid of the two: creative expository writing that demonstrates a knowledge of academic writing conventions but it also textured with stylish prose and exciting insights. I agree with Maguire that we need to teach students how to move between local, specific, descriptions and more abstract, theoretical concepts: “abstractions are what you get when you pull back from (or abstract from) concrete reality — from the world of things” (3). One exercise that worked well in my classroom was a college version of show and tell called “Demonstrate and Explicate.” Because our course is framed around theories of creativity, I had them bring in artifacts–“things you can drop on your foot” (4)–and one page typed descriptions of how their artifact exemplified creativity. In class, I had them share their artifacts and responses in groups and then come up with collective theories of creativity based on their artifacts. I designed this activity to explicitly address the problem Maguire identifies. Although this activity generated some excellent class discussion, students quickly reverted to speaking and writing in vague abstractions. In my comments on their writing, I tried to point out the excellent moments in which they transitioned from the specifics of their object to a larger theory of creativity that might apply in more than one context. Beyond this, and thinking alongside Maguire, what can we do to help students be more precise, specific, and object-oriented in their writing and thinking?
I also appreciated the emphases placed on teacher training in both Wallace-Segall’s “A Passionate, Unapologetic Plea for Creative Writing in Schools” and Fecho and Jones’ “Creativity is Not the Enemy of Good Writing.” I chose these essays because the theme of my composition course is creativity, and I’m always looking for ways to incorporate creative writing into our classes (and to get students thinking about that elusive line between creative and expository writing). Both of these essays argue that in order to teach students in a way that effectively combines self-expression and the mechanics of writing, teachers need training in the specific skill of connecting creative and fictive writing practices to rhetoric, argumentation, and grammar: “Empowering teachers to engage their professional knowledge and intellect and take charge of their teaching and learning is the revelation we see in Tyre’s article” (Fecho and Jones 2). Similarly, “If young people are not learning to write while exploring personal narratives and short fiction, it is because we as educators need more training” (Wallace-Segal 2). Beyond my unconditional endorsement of this idea, I would like to ask the less romantic and more pragmatic questions about how we are supposed to obtain the skills we need to be effective reading-writing teachers, in any way besides the “pedagogy of experimentation ” I brought up in my previous blog. Given the constraints of our schedules and the reminders we repeatedly receive to put our own work ahead of our students (the controversial idea of sacrificing your current students for your future ones): how can we learn to teach the interconnectedness of creative writing and critical thinking in a less haphazard way than the frantic self-teaching sessions that (at least for me) occur before each class?