I want to thank you all for humoring me and our little experiment with social writing last Weds. Our discussion on Monday, based on Brandt’s “Remembering Reading, Remembering Writing,” swirled around ideas of writing as individualistic and reading as social. You lamented the fact that writing was often portrayed as something to do in isolation, and something for which students are often judged. Perhaps because many of you aspire to careers in teaching, you wanted to fix the problem.
So! We did our little experiment: what does social writing look and feel like? I set up four computers and you split up into groups of three. Each computer had a Google doc open with a question: What is literacy good for? What is the definition of literacy? What do social theories of literacy help us to understand? What open questions do you have? Each group took 10-15 min for each question. I asked that you not just make lists, but compose. That meant that you had to write, agree on sentence choices, some form of organization, etc.
Results? You said, when we wrapped up at the end, that the experiment was a success. It helped you review the theories of literacy we’ve encountered so far and ask questions about what you don’t yet understand. One of you mentioned it might have been good preparation for a test, had I been inclined to give one. (Which I am not. As I pointed out in class, professors give exams in order to get you to study and learn the material–not because they like to read or grade exams! Since you already did the work of review, an exam would be a waste of all of our time.) You had to negotiate a space of shared writing–and many of you felt anxiety about changing or deleting the work of previous groups (although that did happen!). You also noted that it made class go by faster, because it was fun and you were conferring and conversing the whole time.
I think there is a lot of smart synthesis represented in the docs you composed in class. Obviously, they’re not polished papers. But that wasn’t the point. There’s a lot I heard in your discussions that isn’t captured in the text. Interestingly, I saw each group approach the problem differently. Some groups all huddled around the computer viewing the screen together. Others had one person read or summarize the work of previous groups (which was noted in discussion afterward to be sometimes difficult to follow). Some of you got so caught up in the debate that you didn’t or couldn’t write down most of what was discussed. Others carefully composed polished sentences to sum up ideas and provocations in the readings. As we’re discovering when we share writing in class, there are many different ways to approach writing events. In this group of highly literate college juniors and seniors, there appears to be no one “right” way to write.
Here are links to the documents you produced in class (will open a Google doc for you to view, but not edit):