Tag Archives: mindfulness

Supporting Writing

On Friday October 20th we celebrated National Day on Writing on campus. This NCTE supported day draws attention to writing, who writes and why I write (with #WhyIWrite). While I love the Twitter encouragement, the sticky notes and white board discussions, what else encourages writing?

At the celebration of writing, I worked with the George Street Press to host a table of origami, blackout poetry, collage poetry/writing, prompt writing, and coloring. During the crafting event I was asked by a writing studies colleague how collage making, coloring, and origami supported writing. A very fair question. For me, this resonates with ideas of mindfulness. Deliberately approaching thinking, thinking about thinking, and relaxing in thinking to support idea development and writing.

So, how did origami help me write:

I found out i’m not very good at origami when following vague directions (I’ve made a few ninja throwing stars for my son so this is NOT a new revelation). I do need guidance, and for someone to let me work, but also add intervention when helpful. While I started my crafting at National Day on Writing at this table, I really thought about revision while working through origami. When students wanted to work on their own pieces, I moved on to other tables, but was able and willing to return and revisit and revise my approaches to paper folding. As I read and talk to students about how tied they are to one-shot writing I see the need for this revisiting in spaces where students can develop comfort with the practice so they can develop connections to their writing practices.

Collage Poetry:

I next went to collage poetry. The students at this table wanted to talk extensively about writing, writing and their classes, writing and their majors, writing in general. Collage making is an activity that requires focus and planning (again solid practices for writing) but doesn’t always require complete focus (like black-out poetry). The space for discussion, for students to converse freely outside of class about writing concerns was amazing. I think the balance of attention, materials, physical interaction with objects, and ability to discuss with peers was the most appealing, important part of this activity. Writers need to talk about their ideas, they need to work through how they understand their process in meaningful ways so they can deploy their process effectively to suit their needs. As I observed this table off and on during the two hours, I saw so much productive conversation (even when it didn’t relate to writing). I’m really exploring all the ways this can be used in the classroom to support discussions about writing, as a major part of writing practices development.

Coloring:

This was by far the most popular table. As a Digital Media professor I try really hard to be aware of my digital choices, so I found open source coloring pages posted by various museums. This also meant that the coloring pages were really random. But, students seemed to really enjoy selecting and coloring the various flowers, images, and weird animals I found. Again, this is an activity that can support engaged discussion on any number of topics. During my summer grad writing class I used coloring activities while we discussed theories from the course textbook. At Day on Writing attendees could discuss whatever they wanted. With a little more direction, this could better support discussion of writing practices and writing theory. But, the mindfulness and relaxation should be considered in support of writing practices generally. Taking time to just color can be very beneficial for any number of reasons.

While none of this is backed with anything more than anecdotal evidence, I was really impressed with student engagement with non-writing activities, at an event they knew was designed to support writing. I think we can be more strategic with the table, and offer more seats, to help direct student mindfulness while crafting. But, on their own, students did amazing things about writing while crafting with no directions! I call that a win!

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Mindfulness in the Grad Classroom: A book review

The Mindfulness-Informed Educator: Building acceptance and psychological flexibility in Higher Education edited by Jennifer Block-Lerner and LeeAnn Cardaciotto

I just finished teaching a graduate course “The Teacher as Writer” in which we used ideas of mindfulness to support writing productively. I’ve been interested in this idea for a while, especially when freshmen enter the composition course convinced they are terrible writers, English is their worst subject. I want to know where those ideas originated – what they feel about writing that leads to these ideas. What I’ve (non-scientifically) discovered is this leads to epic amounts of writer’s block, papers written at the last minute, less transfer of composition learning to other situations. These (again non-scientific) findings are serious – students can gain so much from a freshmen composition course taught influenced by recent composition theory like Writing about Writing, Teaching for Transfer, Writing Across the Curriculum theories and all the amazing cross-over amongst these ideas.

After working through my own ideas of mindfulness, I chose this book to support ideas in a graduate level writing classroom. Can a whole group of educators (K-12 instructors and me) come to a strong place wit mindfulness? Since productively writing educators make better teachers, can mindfulness help us (educators) with our own writing to strengthen our teaching of writing?

The good news, according to all the great studies in this book – yes. Most surprising, even informal attention to mindfulness, attention to present moment awareness to reduce stress (to reduce test anxiety, writer’s block) can have significant positive results in students. Not just in studying and test performance, but in overall reductions in depression, anxiety, etc.

While this book mentions some techniques, it doesn’t offer well developed formal discussions of the techniques studied to produce these results. The focus here is to justify inclusion of mindfulness in higher education – so the focus on scientific studies makes tons of sense. As an educator looking for ideas to modify and support student writers – this book falls short.

If you’re looking for evidence that mindfulness training in higher education leads to significant positive results, this book is fantastic. The references to specific practices students liked, textbooks used in formal training (in university 101, or first year experience 101 seminars) are excellent. When I initially selected the book – I skimmed Part II (titled Mindfulness-and Acceptance-Based Approaches in the Training of Behavioral Health Professionals) and Part III (titled Application of Mindfulness- and Acceptance-Based Approaches in Higher Education: Special Populations and Contexts) understanding these sections to provide more detail on mindfulness in higher education – tips for implementing lessons in the classroom – lessons we could modify to suit our needs in our classrooms.

So I love that this book provided significant research findings on the benefit of these programs, I had just hoped it would have higher education ideas for implementing these programs.

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