If I'm going to make Problem-Based Writing the centerpiece of my curriculum, I have to remember that many students are neither familiar nor comfortable with this type of learning. Lots of students want a structure that entails a "correct" answer, a linear "one and done" type of response. Thus, my pedagogical goals may be at odds with the norms, experiences, and desires of my students. To be effective, then, I'll need to explain the following: in my class, we are mainly learning how to pose thoughtful questions, how to engage in authentic inquiry around meaningful problems. We do all of this through active reading, text-centered class discussions, and process-based writing.
Now, of course, just explaining the aims of the course will not solve the fact that some students want to move quickly (if perfunctorily) from point A to point B. And yet, making sure my students know what to expect counts for a lot.
Here's the thing: students often come to their college composition class with a chip on their shoulder. They already know how to write, so they feel like the course is an arbitary enforcement of dreary rules and meaningless standards. Teachers, by focusing almost exclusively on "error" (mechanical, conventional, grammatical), often do little but confirm the students' sense of déjà vu, the feeling that they're enrolled in the same pointless class they've been forced to endure since 8th grade
So what I try to do, and what I want to do more of, is create a class focused around thinking—that is, a class where we use writing as a means to critically engage with ideas, issues, questions. The goal isn't to showcase that we've memorized the answer (the product), but rather that we're asking ever better questions on the road to the solution (the process). In short, my class is not a grammar garage; rather, it's a lab for discovery, for problem-posing, for inquiry.
In my next post, I want to explore some concrete ways students can develop these "habits of mind."