June and I presented and facilitated discussions at 2 conferences in February: ICT Summit and the Aboriginal Learning Knowledge Centre conference. The conversations about the First Nations Pedagogy for Online Learning project were very inspiring. We left with some clear ideas about what is unique about Aboriginal learners, and what we want to achieve, but there was little time to get into the details about how to design and implement specific instructional strategies.
One topic that emerged through our discussions and that has been swirling around in my head ever since is the notion that the writing process comes more from within, and is more circular than linear. It starts in the centre, and works its way out. June can explain this so eloquently :-)
Also, the structure that is so common in our post-secondary system:
write -> submit to instructor -> get a grade (hopefully some feedback) -> move on to next assignment
does not support a tradition of learning through iterative feedback and prompting, a practice that is encouraged and valued by Elders.
How do we support this writing process?
We need to find provide more experiences that are informal and exploratory. Rather than impose formal evaluation criteria that focuses on the quality of the writing assignment, we need to focus on process.
This got me thinking about a workshop I attended a couple years ago at Simon Fraser University, led by Kathryn Alexander and Nadeane Trowse. They talked about "low stake" writing activities, which builds on the work of Peter Elbow (ref below). Basically, low stake writing refers to activities that
- fit into the regular flow of the class,
- can be used to foster dialogue, and
- don't fit into the standard notion of an assignment.
I especially like one strategy we tried out in the workshop called "quick writes". We experienced first hand how removing the restrictions and expectations on what you write can allow it to flow very easily. A quick write is just as it sounds -- here's a topic or question, now write for x minutes. There's no introduction, no conclusion, just go at it. Here are a few reflections I jotted down on the quick write process:
- I wouldn't necessarily want to make public what I wrote on my piece paper. That would be too laden with expectations!
- I thought I would have nothing to say on the topic, but discovered I was wrong!
- We were advised to keep all quick writes -- like a personal journal.
- Allowing for writing time in a group setting is a great way to focus a discussion. It gets everyone into the same topic space.
The writing could be done in a private journal/ blog, always with the choice of making it public, of course. Or simply with paper and pen.