Sometimes I forget that my students cannot (yet) read my mind during instruction. Not to say I haven’t often imagined a future where the classroom happened in a virtual reality space, much like Neo of The Matrix. Imagine it: just as Neo spars with Orpheus to learn judo, so could students visual project their paper outlines as teachers move their claims into sound 3-D structures. Building the better paper, literally. We’re not far away, especially when you consider that a virtual reality pen app already exists. Until then, I am perpetually on the prowl for different ways students can visualize the writing process and ways they can embrace the inevitable messiness of it all.
The latter can be particularly difficult for many of my students. They see their outlines and thesis as a fixed thing: once complete, it remains unchanged and untouched. Last year, I mandated a “no delete” code in OneNote. Every outline could be covered in the strike-through function but nothing ever gets deleted. While it did help them feel less married to a structure and liberated some ideas in favor of better ones, their thesis remained a point of contention. How would I get them to see a thesis as a changing, breathable thing if it was “the driving claim of my [their] paper?” How could I get them past “but if I don’t know my thesis, how will I start” and less surprised when I confess that I often write my own introductory paragraphs last?
Full disclosure: I don’t have the perfect solution.
I did, however, have a small revelation. I am an odd person with some odd night-time rituals. For example, my ablution supplies share nightstand space with a pack of post it notes and a pen. I am also a list fanatic. At the end of many a day, I still have them in my head- lists of books I want to read, lists of new apps someone shared, lists of family members I still need to call, bills yet to be paid, short essays topics I should write- and sleep is a lot easier if I just write them out of my head. It was in moving these notes to their designated window (this method, while a bit ludicrous, is much more cost effective than a curtain) that it dawns on me. Sometimes, the analog method is just as effective; sometimes, a post it note can be as trans-formative as a digital notebook.
This last round of essays, I had each student write their first attempt at a thesis in a post it note and then claim a window pane in the classroom windows (I’m blessed with many windows). The second transcription was a brief glance at their working outline. Each time a thesis was re-drafted, an outline modified, new post-it notes went on glass. Many students would come the next day with last night’s progress, ready to
update their progress. After a week of workshops, feedback, conferences, and rough drafts, every student re-wrote their final thesis before turning in a rough draft. I wasn’t surprised that many of them expressed contempt for their original pieces; I was shocked to find that many of them would often return to their window panes to modify not just their thesis but parts of their outline that no longer matched. I had one student who choose to do a post-it per claim, allowing her to physically see how a different structure might feel to the reader. Many times, a simple walk to the window yielded wonderful, impromptu conversations about paper structures, syntax solutions, and peer feedback. My classroom became a hive of activity, the good kind. The simply act of moving the pieces as opposed to typing was crucial in changing the paradigm.
I’m looking forward to see how this works in other modules. And I’m taking stock in Post Its.