joy to the written word on the first day of #uiwp2012

This morning marks the first day of my experience in the University of Illinois Writing Project and probably of a new vision for writing instruction in my career.  We opened with an activity where we drew out a visualization of a recent writing process that we experienced on a sheet of transparency “paper”.  My collage more or less tracked the process of writing responses to application questions — writing that, for me, became associated with the emotional roller coaster that is job searching the past couple years.  I don’t remember a time that writing hit an all-time-low for me in my life.  Sad, I thought, that this was really the memory of one of the last big pieces of writing that I wrote, revised, revised again and then finally submitted.  But, while this blog stands as the depository for many of my reflective thoughts over the course my career, it is not a work that I am measured by.  I’ve been proud of posts I’ve had here, etc, but I am still apparently healing from some of the trauma of trying so hard to put best foot first (so the saying goes) and being blind to how, where or when my career would start to bloom.  These application responses betrayed much of of the enjoyment of my high school or college writing and soured the writing process that led me to become a teacher in the first place.

After presenting the visualizations, our discussions revolved around the common themes of our interpretations of the writing process.  Indeed, we all saw how emotionally-charged the writing experience can be.  With so many stages and so much thought, writing is quite an investment.  Many of us agreed that, over the years, writing has also become so much more social.  Of course, no discussion in a room full of teachers would not be complete without our sidebars of what’s missing in curriculum, textbooks and even students’ perceptions of this so necessary skill in our 21st century world.

What’s been most impressive so far has been that many of our discussions come back to very personal experiences by either us as writers or our students as writers.  You know you’re in a writing-friendly environment when your discussion comes back to a call by many of us to re-ignite the joy in writing.  [Insert graphics of fellow nodding heads…]  Joy, as a single word, seemed to captivate us and encapsulate so much of what probably drew me and my colleagues here to the UIWP.  Joy can communicate how we feel as teachers when valuable one-one-one feedback meetings result in growth in future student writing.  Or joy can communicate that sense of adventure when a short story takes a turn the writer didn’t see coming.  Or, or joy can communicate that student work, that, thought it doesn’t directly address a prompt, would tug at any reader’s heart, whether it be for its deep personal connections or for its growth into a whole new meaning to the assignment itself.  Or, or, or joy can communicate that final act of submission or making the deadline. Or, or, or, or…

As an adult, I do have a lot more power than some of my students to reflect and take control of my thoughts.  So, I’m glad that I can and have now re-oriented my feelings toward writing back to where they should be — in the joy.  But, as I move into the future of my career, I need to stay focused on the joy of writing (and really of learning in general) being my central driving force.  Otherwise, what’s left in the quality of my work?

I’m obviously in the midst of some very passionate teachers, many of whom are not English teachers by focus.  No doubt, then, that we will have a strong culture from which to expand our knowledge, improve our craft and ultimately deepen literacy for our school communities.

6 thoughts on “joy to the written word on the first day of #uiwp2012

  1. I think you'll get a lot out of the next four weeks, Adam. Though never explicitly stated, in my mind the four week institute is focused on four main areas: thinking, organizing, production and presentation. Even coming into the institute with an excellent grasp of technology, I think you'll find a number of things that you'll grasp onto and pursue. I look forward to our conversations over the next few weeks!

    1. Dave, you’ve been more than welcoming this past almost-month-now, and I forgot to thank you for the first personal welcome… so thanks!

  2. It is a pleasure to have you with us this summer, Adam. After reading your post, I am left pondering how different my writing process is when I write for pleasure, socially, or as part of an assignment. I would have three different images if I were to illustrate them. I wonder why I am always drawn to illustrate my process for formal writing assignments– such as a paper for class, presentation, or part of an application.

  3. I think we get too caught up in all the academic writing and all the school writing that we do that the writing we do for pleasure gets pushed aside and all but forgotten. I am reminded of the joy I have rediscovered as I reconnect with writing for pleasure. I also have revisited writing that I have done in the past and it is like finding an old friend. I love when I live like a writer. Ideas come to me as I am walking or just watching TV and I have to reach for something to scribble down the idea before it is lost and I don’t get a chance to try to capture my thoughts. I am wondering if you have thought about how you will keep the “writing for pleasure” alive after you leave the workshop? How will you ignite the idea of writing for pleasure with your students?

    1. Stacey, only as I face the last week do I realize I didn’t even remember to try writing out some of the more creative writing assignments that I assigned as projects for my students. I think I may venture into script-writing, soon, since one of my most popular projects this year had students writing their own crime dramas (Law & Order, CSI…). I do remember now that I stressed to kids how much more fun it is to use similes and metaphors than actual insults (which, for them, involved many more curse words than some might find appropriate). Thanks for the query… I hope it keeps me focused during next week’s writing time and then beyond!

  4. I think JOY will become a theme and mantra for our Summer Institute. Thank goodness we have so many elementary educators with us. The rest of us seem to have eliminated joy from our professional vocabularies! Maybe that’s a role for technology–making writing and school fun for a change.

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