I’m sitting in an empty classroom as the cleaning lady drags her mop bucket across the floor, waiting for the rain to let up so I can bike home and start my weekend. But, such as things are in The Netherlands (forgive me while I cliche), the rain won’t seem to stop and just seems to pound harder each time I go to pack my bag and leave.
I’ve done a lot of things with my students this week, but one thread seems to follow through all of the classes and cross year and subject boundaries (I teach English and technology). Helping students find an idea or topic that excites them – one that they own – that the teacher didn’t let them choose from a list – one that emerged from the depths of their own interests and ideas that maybe they didn’t even realize they had…that is one of my favorite parts of teaching.
It is much easier to create a list of topics and let your students choose from that list. It feels like you’re giving them choices and like you’re progressive because you aren’t controlling everything like some teachers you know. I understand why teachers do this. It’s easier and, more importantly, it’s faster. Give them the topics so they can get on with the real assignment, right?
Generating ideas in an effort to find that magical one that sparks interest and motivation is pretty time consuming. I know because I often underestimate how long it will take students to find “the one.” I push a little, but not much. I want them to experience that “lost in the middle of the desert” feeling that so many writers or designers or learners experience. I want them to know the false starts and the red herrings that seem like they might be “the one,” but that turn out to be nothing more than empty pursuits. Forgive my cheesy metaphor, but it’s the journey, the being tricked cruelly by the mirages, that makes the real thing that much sweeter. It’s still an uphill battle, no matter the task, but having a topic you enjoy working with makes the climb worth it.
You can’t get that from a list of prescribed topics. You never will.
As a disclaimer, I will say the only time I’ve ever issued a list of topics is in the case of timed writing tasks with my older students. I think it’s important for them to see what they might encounter in higher education and on Diploma Programme exams. I will say their experience with brainstorming and the patience to do so in the face of a ticking clock was a big enough pay off for me to keep spending the time on it in class. It’s important and they understand that enough to sketch out some spider maps or outlines before they start scribbling their pens across the page.
Tags: brainstorming, generating ideas, ideas, mind-mapping, philosophy, pre-writing, writing, writing topics 2 Comments »