— This is the ninth essay in my series: How I Teach College-Level Writing The entire series is here: amount of feedback for students to take away, mull over, and incorporate into their revision plans.
When a workshop goes well, students get valuable practice in evaluating other writers’ work, and seeing what works and what does not.
So there was surely no thrill of discovery for my teacher, no chance to stretch his abilities. But the best opportunities to teach, surely, involve real songs, and teaching essay writing in a classroom often feels like teaching not quite “real” words. Many classrooms do try to inject a level of public writing into their curricula.
Probably the situation was an embarrassment to both the school and the teacher. And yet many students are unwilling (wisely) to subject their writing to actual public scrutiny. (Perhaps the best solution to this problem — that I know of — is my colleague Erin Elizabeth Smith’s, who sets one of her classes the challenge of raising money for local charities and non-profits.
The professor grades it on the basis of how its imagined readership, whether scholarly or public, would respond to its claims, structure, and voice. — A quick story about my childhood, and my training with swords. Everyone in the world should have the opportunity to be unhappy in a school that good. One of the benefits of going to that expensive school in London: pupils had the choice of continuing to study PE (physical education, gym class etc) — or take fencing classes.
In reality, however, there is no public, and there is no engine, because the essay is probably only going to be read once. When I was a small boy, my parents sent me to an expensive school not far from our house. That school, at least when I attended it, was not ideal. A fencing instructor visited every week and gave lessons in foil, epeé, and saber. But for an entire year, I was the only student who did.Generally speaking, the workshopee remains silent during the feedback session, merely taking notes on what she hears.The teacher lets the students lead the session, perhaps picking one person to speak after another, perhaps checking anyone who steps too far out of line — but the students talk the most.This is a luxury denied almost everyone in the world, and I can confirm that it was a very valuable one. And so, for what felt like an incredible period of time, perhaps an ice age or Egyptian dynasty, I alone retrieved my helmet and weapon from the fencing equipment cupboard, and entered the room to the side of the main gym, and began my solo class.It only now occurs to me, writing this post, how immensely unrewarding these sessions must have been for the instructor. I have always been terrible at anything involving hand-eye coordination.In a class like this, students are able to hand in and be workshopped two or three times each.However, in an essay-writing or professional-skills course, such an approach is probably not practical.I know that for myself, writing workshops have been immensely valuable.They have helped me build an imagined reader in my mind.It’s extremely powerful to experience a room full of people attempting to come to common ground on what needs to improved about one’s work.Workshops tend to be a lot of fun, too, for the writer, even if they are not easy on the nerves.