I’m facilitating four 1-credit English classes this semester. These are meant to be workshop times, a space for students to bring their writing in and get peer feedback, with a slightly more trained supervisory peer (me) keeping track of attendance and offering clarification along with the general class discussion.
Which means that when students are determined to remain taciturn, I struggle a little for something to fill our 50 minute sessions.
It doesn’t seem that hard to me to talk about writing for 50 minutes, but I recognize that not everyone is quite as
obsessed enthusiastic with words as I am.
So I usually end up doodling on the board.
At the beginning of the summer, I bought a pack of Expo markers specifically for these classes. I keep them separate from my workplace’s other, dried-up, capless, mismatched markers. I encourage my students to write on the board, to color code, to use more visual representations of their ideas if words aren’t working for them.
“I don’t know about you guys,” I say, “but writing on whiteboards always gives me a feeling of power.” They nod, smile a little, and sometimes it works. Sometimes they write one word and then sit back down, but sometimes it works.
And sometimes I end up just writing on the board so they’ll see the fruits of their discussion, the growth of the list, the effects of the edits we recommend to each other.
Or I just doodle while they read. (I’m a speed reader.) And I end up with things like this:
If I’m lucky, this leads to even more discussion, with everyone swapping organizational ideas and sharing how they get from prompt to polished paper.
Or, “Can we play Hangman?”
But even when I think class hasn’t been terribly productive, one of the students will toss out an absolute gem of a sentence, or just a quiet, “Thank you,” as they walk out the door. That, even more than the chance to write on a whiteboard, makes it worth it.