I remember when I was in high school, everyone dreaded 12th grade English. It was called English Comp (even the name is off-putting), and it was here that we were to learn how to do research and synthesize whatever we came up with into a research paper. If there was a thesis for your intermediate years, this was it.
It was a double edged sword because no one wanted to do, but everyone kind of did, just to get it out of the way. I was always inclined to write anyway, so it wasn’t a huge deal for me, but even those of us who were into writing and did so regularly, were a little put off by the daunting task of having to engage in a lot of research.
The topics were not chosen for us, but that was the limit to the freedom that one had in the project. The research process was as dry as a crypt, (the internet was not really in full swing as an educational tool yet, and even if it was, I doubt that our “old-school” bulldog of a teacher would have known the first thing about directing our efforts with it- this was 1996), and I seem to remember that the main thrust of what we were taught was solely and rigidly on structure. I suppose it’s not surprising, then, that most of the projects that came out of the class were stumbling attempts at giving the teacher what she wanted and doing just well enough to graduate.
Anyway, I found myself remembering that awful writing project as I was reading Solomon delineate the uses for blogging. How much more engaging the entire project would have been if it had been work-shopped on a blog. I can’t really hold that against my teacher, as there was no such thing available then, but it strikes me that the kind of collaborative approach that blogging software naturally uses is really not much different than how any successful writing team approached a project in the analogue past
If we look at any really successful writer, whether it be a novelist, a writer for a magazine or television show or movie, there has always been a team effort involved. A novel is given to editors who speak back to the author: What did you mean here? I found this chapter to be incongruous with another. How did character A accomplish this feat when you already stated different ground rules for his setting, etc, etc. Or a team of writers on a movie or comedy show have brainstorming sessions, write treatments and scenarios and then rewrite and expand on one another’s work.
I understand that the main goal of my high school was to get its students prepared for college and/or professional writing, but why did/does collaboration have to be divorced from the relatively simple task of teaching structure? More importantly, why would we relish, (because it was a largely accepted fact, even among faculty, that English comp was going to be a pain), allowing the vacuum of strict teacher-to-student feedback suck all of the creativity and joy out of the process?
There is little critical thought happening when feedback is simply a matter of cleaning up this and that, tightening grammar and sentence/paragraph structure, and focusing only inward on creating something out of nothing. It would have been so much nicer and probably a great deal more inclusive a project if the students responded to one another’s work throughout, garnering new ideas and opinions from the responses of peers. Who knows, perhaps some of us may have even been inspired to continue writing, rather than simply doing what needed to be done to make the teacher happy and put the project behind us. Perhaps that would have assuaged some of the cynical, pain-in-the-neck mentality that the faculty carried around as well.