Knowing When to Speak & When to Be Quiet

“The experience of a writing act is as important–perhaps even more important than–the text produced.” (Whitney et al., 180)

“What is the process we should teach? It is the process of discovery through language. It is the process of exploration of what we know and what we feel about what we know through language. It is the process of using language to learn about our world, to evaluate what we learn about our world, to communicate what we learn about our world.” (Murray, 4)

It’s about the journey–not the destination.

Though this is a common sentiment, I don’t think its meaning is truly understood or, really, appreciated. Too often, all that matters in our society/culture is the end–the finished product. It’s what measures success. Not how much time or effort was invested in the venture but that is was accomplished. For some endeavors, outcomes definitely have more bearing and deserve more recognition.

Writing is not one of those endeavors.

Whether an educator or a student, the experience of writing/composing is invaluable and enriching. According to research by Whitney et al. in “Teacher-Writers: Then, Now, and Next”, “writing can change perspectives that shape teaching practice.” (179) More, teachers writing in their field for and about their field reauthorizes their voices and allows them to take back some of the power they are robbed by the academy’s privatization and standardization. Writing becomes a way of being, a way of advocating and of generating professional knowledge. For students, re-framing writing as process instead of product provides a means for students to explore writing as experience and as an act constructed from experience. This, Donald Murray asserts in “Teach Writing as a Process Not Product”, is how students learn to “reveal truth through language”–both to themselves and to others. In a way, both researchers conceptualize the act of writing as one of forming identity and of developing voice.

For educators, it seems most important they don’t forget that they are writers too! At least, they have a voice and they have worthwhile experience they can contribute to the conversation. More, though, for Whitney et al., the experience of writing or of reflecting is way for teachers to reclaim their own agency from the academy and for teachers to recognize their own intellectualism. Often, teachers get swallowed up and obscured by institutional standards. Teachers writing about their own experiences teaching reestablishes a sense of ownership of themselves and of their practice. It’s reaffirming.

When educators share their teaching experiences, it also allows for more issues to be explored in the community conversation. In this way, teachers can be advocates and agents of change. Whitney et al. says, “We see teacher-writers being authors in every sense: professionals who claim authority with their own words and their work.” (179) The first time I read this line I read it as professionals who claim authority with their own words over their own work. And, for me, the latter seems almost more appropriate. When teachers exercise their right to share their experiences through their writing, the field of education becomes more accessible in that it becomes one of shared experience which can be used to advocate for changes to the system. Also, I would argue, teachers expressing their voices and claiming their identities allows students the freedom to do the same. (This idea is explored through a different lens in research by Michelle Gibson, Martha Marinara, and Deborah Meem in “Bi, Butch and Bar Dyke: Pedagogical Performances of Class, Gender, and Sexuality”. You can read my post on it here!)

On the subject of students and their learning (in regards to writing, of course), Murray provided much insight. In his article, I think Murray not only emphasized some key problems with contemporary writing instruction methods but he supplied some alternative approaches that just make sense. For example, prioritizing process, yes, but in a way that seeks to provide students with the ability to incorporate and explored their own experiences through writing. Because writing is a thoughtful exercise and because our thoughts/conceptions are shaped–more, created by our experiences, it seems appropriate that writing instruction include an emphasis on process as something shaped by experience. If that makes sense?  To me, it does. It seems ridiculous to try to separate the writer from the act of writing. It’s robbing the work of both voice and of identity.

Overall, what I found most compelling about both of these articles is their focus on experience as a tool–one that can enrich the writing and the lives of both students and educators. In a way, I believe there is this idea being forwarded by these works that incorporating lived experience and embodying (actualizing?) the act of writing is authentic expression. At least, it is the practice of kind of authenticity–something that should be appreciated and celebrated.

****

~Till next time~

 

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