Reading & Reacting: How We Write

Image: Surf Meditation

Surf Meditation – cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo by Beedie Savage

By Dr. Lee Skallerup Bessette @ Inside Higher Ed’s College Ready Writing blog

Thanks to Dr. Deanna Mascle for tipping me off to Dr. Skallerup, which ultimately lead me to this piece. This is a fascinating post that takes an uncommon angle on writing preparation, one that includes brief mediation.

I experimented doing this with my students, challenging them to write, distraction free (no phone, no internet, nothing) and just write for approximately 40 minutes after about a 5 minute guided meditation focusing on breathing and focusing on the task in front of them. They were skeptical to say the least – one student couldn’t imagine writing for that long, while another admitted it was impossible to stay off his phone for that long. It was funny, but as I was explaining what we were going to do, I busted about half of them for not being able to get off the Internet or their phones.

In many ways this is a piece that very much found me more than I found it. In fact, I have been stumbling upon a number of articles about mindfulness and mediation lately. So much so that I have become a bit fascinated by how beneficial both can be. I am beginning to wonder why mediation is not a staple of wellness classes at all levels.

This episode reminded me of an experience I had during my National Writing Project Invitational Summer Institute, where a Teacher Consultant lead a group of through a brief meditative routine that served mostly as a visualization exercise. It too was effective, although I hadn’t readily thought of using it with students, figuring they would be less likely to go for it. Skallerup addresses this, however.

The five minutes of breathing and guided meditation was by far the hardest thing for them. But it was just long enough that eventually I saw them all give in and at least try it. They all already had drafts of their introductions to start with, so they could dive into the assignment. And, to most of their surprise and delight, they did a complete(ish) first draft. In a straw poll taken at the end of each class, almost every single student admitted to never having been this productive in their writing. Ever.

I mentioned reading this to a colleague who teaches psychology and is a strong advocate of mindfulness and mediation as a healthy practice. After reading this piece and chatting with him, I am convinced to try this with my own students. It may go terribly awry, but I am curious how they will respond and if they recognize a difference.

Of course, I’ll share the results afterwards too.

Image: iPad

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