Monday, November 05, 2007


Day 42, Monday, November 05, 2007

Recently I’ve had the students writing essays “on demand” during class, and I’ve been pleased with the results. As I’ve often discovered over the years, many students actually do their best writing when they’re working under some pressure in a controlled environment. When I give the students 30 minutes to do an explicit type of writing on a specific topic, many do quite well. Somehow their ideas seem to flow out fluently and methodically when the extra stress of a time limit and complete silence is imposed upon them. Interestingly, the same students who do well on these high-pressure essays often are significantly less successful on essays done at home. It’s actually not hard to see why. I can picture the students at home after dinner, surrounded by all kinds of distractions, trying to formulate ideas for an essay assignment while growing weary at the end of the day. Without the constraints of an in-class, timed essay under my supervision, I’m sure their ideas (brilliant through they may be) are often diverted, at home, into tributaries and small streams until they finally die out in a fairly disorderly and dull essay. The water analogy is actually a good one. To write well, we must find a way to get our thoughts flowing in a smooth, steady stream, and high-pressure, supervised assignments seem to do that for some kids. For 30 minutes, the students must let the “water” race full-blast, instead of having it ooze out in dribs and drabs over several hours at home.

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