The Writing Connection
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
At the end of every semester, I extract critiques of my composition classes from my students, usually while I am plying them with a homemade cake. With extreme clarity, they tell me that they are grateful for having had a voice – a way to express themselves and stand in their truths. It is a far cry from the first day, when their nervous shuffling through the syllabus belies their insecurities about participation. I write on the board: “How will I know what I think until I see what I’ve written?” This quote from E.M. Forster is my mantra and cause for even more shuffling and avoidance of eye contact. Yet, 16 weeks later, they have assimilated this concept into their growing collective consciousness. Sixteen weeks later, their voices are loud and overlapping and full of connection, and I know I have followed through with a tenet of community college education: Thou shalt teach analytical skills.
Extracting the ability to analytically think is always part of the college conversation. To this end, there is an extreme value in the concept of freewriting when it comes to this skill. In my classes, students are asked to start each class by writing what they think about a particular subject that I have pulled from current events, commentary, fictional literature or sociological aspects. The freedom to write nonstop without grammar and punctuation restrictions gives students the ability to have an uninhibited voice that reflects their sense of self. Ideas and reactions spill out onto binder pages, and in the process, students discover a piece of the analytical puzzle. Writing down one’s thoughts fosters expansion of those thoughts. We often discover where we stand, and therefore, who we are, by writing what we think. It gives us a form of “voice.”
In similar fashion, reading anything and everything lends a sense of language cadence and elevated vocabulary to our voice. Reading helps us recognize other points of view, learn terminology beyond that in our text messages (LOL is NOT a word!) and exposes us to other interests. I once had a student tell me she loved to read so much that she found herself reading the ingredients on the back of the shampoo bottle while in the shower. Though I can honestly say that being able to pronounce “cocamidopropyl betaine” is not necessarily noteworthy, the hunger for reading is. Our internal voice reads someone else’s words, and without consciousness, those words become part of our language. Voices build on one another, diverge, reconnect in new forms and help to create a sense of individuality.
The internal web created from writing and reading expands our ability to form relationships with others. We are dynamically communicating, and, in the process, we discover written and verbal articulation. We discover ourselves. Students simply want to be heard, to have a voice, and community college is the venue ripe for an environment in which to do so. To quote E.M. Forster’s epigraph in the novel “Howard’s End”: “only connect.”
Denise Moss teaches English and developmental education courses for Colorado Mountain College.
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