Writing As Learning

typewriter

I’m going to let folks in on a little secret: we don’t write these blog posts for fun; we write them because they’re a project that has been assigned to us. And sometimes (read: most of the time), that makes this task really hard and a little painful. I imagine every student has probably felt that way too (at least once) when asked to complete an assignment. The biggest challenge for me, either with these blog posts or with many assignments I completed during my undergrad, is answering the question, “What’s the point?” Because, really, what’s the point?

When it comes to school, well, the point (for me) is simple: it’s the articulation of learning. It’s saying, “This is what I’ve taken from what’s been provided and this is what I know now.” And that’s important (although it doesn’t always mean I like it)! How else is your professor going to know what you’re getting from the course? Notes and readings and lectures are helpful, but if there’s no opportunity to practice and apply and demonstrate what I’m walking away with, then do I even really know what I’m walking away with?

It feels harder sometimes to justify it with work. My job, when trimmed down to the essentials, is to support first generation students and increase co-curricular involvement through the Record of Student Development (RSD). Supporting first generation students is generally done through programming and making referrals to support services available at the university or in the community; increasing co-curricular involvement is done through promotion of the RSD and working with teammates to support students as they seek to finish the program. So where does writing a blog post come into this whole thing? What good is me rambling on about something (usually self-indulgent) to those students I aim to support? I think as a team, that’s a question that we ask ourselves as we sit down to write.

Well, I’d say to start, I don’t think my posts are actually all that ramble-y. I write the way I talk because talking is how I sort my thoughts, and that’s what these posts are supposed to be: organized, reflective thought. So when it comes to trying to articulate through writing the process that I am going through, I find it helpful to simply write it all out, almost stream of consciousness. And I also write this way because I hope that it’ll take readers through my reflective experience, and I think that’s helpful for them in learning how to do so for themselves. So that’s usually reassuring when I get three-quarters through a post and fight the urge to hit “delete” repeatedly until I have a blank slate again.

But, ignoring the style of my posts, why do I write at all? I say I’m writing for the students and for my colleagues (and for my boss because, y’know, it’s a job requirement), and that’s half-true. But more than anything, I write for me. I write to articulate the growth that has taken place or the failures that have happened because it allows me to really grapple with it and pick it apart. After an event, I can easily discern the strengths and weaknesses and the successes and move forward from there. But reflecting on long-term growth is so much more challenging. There’s too much to process to stand there and say, “Well, this was good and this wasn’t. Cool, moving on.” I don’t think there’s any real learning taking place if that’s as far as I dive in. And I’m here to learn and I’m here to grow and I want to be the best I can be for my students.

It’s the process of articulating experiences that allows me to sort through the real feelings—to measure my growth (or lack thereof), process what I’m feeling and why I’m feeling it, and figure out the way forward. Writing isn’t regurgitating and these blogs aren’t summaries; they’re learning. And if I’m working in a department with Learning in its name, well, I’m sort of obligated to commit to continued learning, am I not? (Yes. The answer is “yes,” just so we’re clear.) So while writing these posts is often a gruelling experience, I’m okay with it. I’ll groan and I’ll complain and I’ll delete my work over and over, but I’ll do it. And whether you’re a student or a staff member or a whatever reading this post, I hope you’ll think about the ways you measure your own growth and how you articulate it.