Wednesday, 23 November 2011


56 minutes ago, during a trip to the men's can, I got an idea for the class I was heading to. In the classroom, I asked about half the class to step outside. Be with you in a minute, I said. I asked those remaining to respond in writing to What have you done that's risky? while, I explained, their classmates would be watching them write.

I left the room to speak to the others. Instructions: observe the writers without interfering in what they're doing. What are they doing? What body language, what expression, what other behaviours, perhaps symptomatic of what internal processes? Then we all went inside and stood around the room, watching . After 5 minutes or so we switched, the former writers leaving the room while I told the former observors to address this question: What do men/women/boys/ girls/males/females [pick one] want? The new observors came in. This time, after 3 minutes or so, I signalled for them to move around among the writers (who, in this classroom, sit at one of 7 clusters of chairs and tables).

During discussion afterwards, someone asked why I had wanted to do this. To help you think about your last essay, I said. (The last assignment asks them to compose an informal essay reflecting on their own reading and writing practices.)

I don't know if it was a help or not, but I did like the discussion of how we create mini caves with our writing posture, curled over the page. And how we're voyeurs when we watch someone write. (I've always said watching a room of students writing is a beautiful thing. Tender, even. Like watching someone sleep.)

As for the reading side, we've already gone through the "difficult poem" notion and how it forces us to confront how we read. (See Charles Bernstein, for one, on this.)

Anyway, it's fun. Keeps the students guessing.


Brenda Schmidt said...

Did you tell them exactly where you got your idea?

Kathleen Wall said...

I love this exercise. Did students realize that what they observed about others actually taught them something about themselves?

Gerald Hill said...

Good question, Brenda. I don't think I did. But hey, no shame in going to the can before class.

Gerald Hill said...

Sure hope so, Kathleen. Maybe most fun was talking about how people grip their pens when writing. One childhood trauma came up . . .