W6: Writing is easy – you just stare at a blank piece of paper till your eyeballs bleed!

Agenda:

  1. Writing Workshop #1
  2. Presentations: what, why, how
  3. Positive thinking in the academic environment
  4. Peer mentors – and getting Poster Presentations ready.

 

The Writing workshop

Structure:

  • Writing activity
  • Reflecting on the activity
  • What we can do …
  • Next steps
  • Useful resources. 

We started the interactive workshop with a question: What are your hopes and fears about University level writing? And there seemed to be a general disquiet about the thought of finally committing words to paper – for assessment. So this gentle unease launched us into an activity designed to get us all experiencing the hopes and fears and pain – and pleasure (?) – of University writing. 

Free writing

Each person was asked to have in front of them:

  • Two sheets of paper:
  • One, ‘Writing’ – blank, to write upon,
  • Two, ‘Commentary’ – to note reasons for not writing
  • Pens or pencils. 

When asked, we turned to our ‘Writing’ page to write for ten minutes without pause on the extremely difficult and challenging question we were then presented with! If we did stop writing for any reason, we had to write that reason, no matter how trivial or insignificant on the ‘Commentary’ sheet. 

The Question: 

Winnicott  (1971) argued that play is necessary to counteract the implicit threat that occurs when we are in transitional spaces – between worlds, between classes, in alien educational settings.  Discuss in relation either to becoming a successful student or becoming a successful teacher

Once we had struggled through what was perhaps the longest ten minutes of our lives – we were lead through three reflections on the process itself: 

Reflection (1)  What was your reaction to that writing?

Most of us were slightly horrified by the question. There was fear and anger – and perhaps even despair in the room! Obviously it became clear that we were not supposed to stay in that fearful state. We were urged to try and realise that the biggest writing block that most people have is their own lack of belief in themselves. (This refers back to Bandura and the self-efficacy point raised some weeks ago.) Whilst some tutors and many students worry about ‘problems’ like spelling, punctuation and grammar – the biggest problem for most people is just starting to write. Just to write anything. Just to get words down. Just. To. Get. Anything. Down. On. Paper. Once we have some words down, we can change them. Till then – we stare at that blank piece of paper till our eyeballs bleed. 

We also discussed the question itself. It was noted that the question was describing our activity. We are in the transitional state of becoming educationalists, of becoming academics – and of becoming academic writers. This activity was asking us to play with writing as a way of tackling our fear of writing… and our fear of being in this transitional space. Education sadly instead of encouraging us to learn by trial and error – punishes mistakes. So, we fear failure; we fear that we will pay a bigger price for ‘failure’ than others; we fear changing; we fear being judged; we fear losing contact with our friends and families… We feared not knowing who Winnicott was. We feared that this looked like a statement and not a question! Was this a trick? A couple of reassurances followed. Assignments are often called questions – no matter how they are written. We did not have to know that Winnicott was a psychologist who argued that it is only when we play that we are wholly, fiercely truly alive and ourselves (tutor); because we could leave the lecture theatre and look that up. We were encouraged to change. To let go of our instinctive fear of failure and give ourselves to the activity… and to keep trying that. 

Reflection (2)  Why did you stop writing?

We then moved on to discussing our reasons for not writing:

  • Thinking
  • Searching for a word, spelling, tense
  • Uncomfortable
  • Couldn’t see the point
  • Distracted
  • Don’t know enough yet. 

And considered some solutions:

  • Get into a good physical & mental space:

             Be comfortable – your way

             Accept the task – or fake it!

  • Brainstorm & plan before you write
  • Once you start – go with the flow
  • Don’t stop!
  • Free write: Do not search for the right word – re-draft and improve later
  • Leave gaps – read more after writing. 

Here there was much emphasis again placed on writing and writing and writing – and not stopping to re-read and revise and improve. We need to write till we drain all our ideas and thoughts and random mental flashes on to the paper. This sort of writing is described as free writing – and as a ‘brain dump’ and can be a really good way of just getting ideas out and on the page – for study and development. 

The Paragraph Questions as free writing

Another more formal free writing and that was mentioned in the seminars was to use the Paragraph Questions to help shape our ideas – to draw our thinking out. Remembering when doing so to write BLAH BLAH or NEED AN IDEA HERE or NEED ANOTHER REFERENCE… So that again the writing flows – and the assignment can be developed later. 

The questions are as follows – and we are invited to write as though answering those questions:

  1. What is this paragraph about then? Introduce your topic
  2. And what exactly is that? Define or clarify
  3. Tell me more – give me an argument… Make a case
  4. What is the evidence for your argument – and what does it mean? Offer and discuss evidence (refer to a source – discuss a practical example)
  5. So what – who cares? Make a point. Take the paragraph back to the Question. 

The big tip of the day was to write these out on to an index card and stick that to the front of your PC. 

Reflection (3) What do you like about your own academic writing practices?

Despite all the pep talks that went before – there was still not much joy on show about the thought of academic writing – so the session moved on… 

This is what staff tend to say about their writing:

  • I discover what I’m thinking
  • I never quite know where it’s going
  • I puzzle out my ideas
  • It’s an exploration
  • It’s exciting
  • I am concise and effective
  • I try to be helpful and useful
  • It’s teasing out my thinking
  • I’m incredibly organised
  • I just plunge in and see where it goes 

And this is what students say – even those who have got really good degrees:

  • I am still not sure if my work is considered academic, I still don’t know what makes one of my essays better than another. 
  • I have been humiliated in ways that I would never have put up with anywhere else! 
  • Academic language, the kind of language that doesn’t readily flow off my tongue: the type of language I rarely use when speaking to my peers. The type of language that I don’t readily understand and the type of language that means spending hours at a computer turning something quite simple into something that sounds moderately impressive with elitist results. 

We discussed the reasons behind the different statements – and how hard it can be to hear formative feedback in the positive light in which it may be offered. Typically when tutors feedback to us, the intention is that we improve… If you fail to score a goal you do not leave the pitch and never play football again – you can shrug and carry on. We need to learn some of these normal survival tactics in our studies. 

To start to feel more positive we could try to:

  • Treat writing more like a sport or driving or cooking… We will get better if we practise.
  • See writing as a process not just a product.
  • Develop the craft of writing – rather than expect to pour out perfect essays first go.
  • Make ‘safe’ spaces to write – at home – and with friends.
  • Practise, practise, practise…
  • Write for half an hour every day! 

Write – Read – Think! Tips:

Try CORNELL notes: http://coe.jmu.edu/learningtoolbox/cornellnotes.html

Try a blog: http://thesiswhisperer.com/2012/12/12/turn-your-notes-into-writing-using-the-cornell-method/

Try Binge writing:

http://patthomson.wordpress.com/2013/01/03/dr-jekyll-writes-binge-writing-as-a-pathological-academic-condition/

Try something really creative:

http://www.arts.ac.uk/cetl/visual-directions/

Try being a diver writer: http://learning.londonmet.ac.uk/epacks/studyhub/introduction.html 

Writing resources:

EXCELLENT site for linking phrases and for WRITING:
http://www.phrasebank.manchester.ac.uk/

Ten steps: http://prezi.com/cbaj9e5kised/copy-of-ten-stages-of-assignment-success/

Academic writing month: http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2012/nov/01/academic-writing-month-acwrimo-research

The writing pages on the Study Hub – with PACKS!: http://learning.londonmet.ac.uk/epacks/studyhub/introduction.html

750 Words: it does what it says on the tin:
http://750words.com/

Written Kitten – new kitten every 100 words! 
http://writtenkitten.net/

Essay planning animation – Portsmouth:

http://ondemand.port.ac.uk/central/One_way_to_write_an_essay.wmv

Our writing mini-site:

http://learning.londonmet.ac.uk/TLTC/connorj/WritingGroups/

 Essay/report quiz:
http://learning.londonmet.ac.uk/LMBS/study/reports_essays/

Our Preventing Plagiarism course (also in WebLearn):

http://learning.londonmet.ac.uk/TLTC/learnhigher/Plagiarism/ 

In the seminar

We took on the notion of becoming writers – and becoming successful students. This week we also explored successful presentation strategies (http://learning.londonmet.ac.uk/epacks/studyhub/presentations.html) and how to harness positive thinking in the academic environment (http://learning.londonmet.ac.uk/epacks/studyhub/positive.html) – all to facilitate the design and delivery of our Poster Presentations (on our field research) – for next week… and this continued with our Peer Mentors in the fourth hour. 

In the process of discussing just what sort of presentation we might like to develop – and what the differences might be between presentations and teaching – we also returned to Freire and we explored the ideas of Carl Rogers … and we discussed ways of being creative in a presentation to help people engage and concentrate – and just to be more interesting…

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7 thoughts on “W6: Writing is easy – you just stare at a blank piece of paper till your eyeballs bleed!

    • It really is Mo – and it is a strategy that is really useful to adopt in any thinking situation. Read the question – possibly highlight key words and phrases – and then just free write to get ideas out… And remember the other big tip – write for half an hour every day about your studies – and you will be amazed at how your thinking develops….

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  2. When someone writes an paragraph he/she maintains the idea of a user in his/her brain that how a user
    can understand it. So that’s why this paragraph
    is outstdanding. Thanks!

  3. First of all I want to say terrific blog! I had a quick question hat I’d like to assk if you
    don’t mind. I was curious to find out how you center
    yourself and clear your mind prior to writing. I hav had a tough time clearing mmy thoughts in gettting
    my thoughts out there. I truly do enjoy writing but it just seems like tthe first 10 to 15 minutes are wasted simply just trying to figure out how to begin.
    Any suggestions or hints? Thank you!

    • Thanks for the Comment!
      I have several different ways to clear my mind for writing – the trick is to A) Pick the right one and B) Not to use the techniques as more ways to put off writing!
      I bet you knew that already…
      So here goes:
      1) Using a writing habit: Get up at a reasonable time – have something light to eat – do ten minutes of yoga – start writing! Do not stop writing until hit word target (which is often 2000 words a day if I am writing a book)
      2) Trick myself into writing: walk past my writing space – say to myself – go on – just sit there and have a go… Start writing – try not to stop.
      3) Start with a meditation: Get to work – take out drawing pad, water colours and pot of water. Do a quick one-minute drawing of anything… Colour it in. Once this is over I tend to feel more centred and de-stressed – ready to work/write.
      Good luck!

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