Catching the moments of brilliance

Once I attended a workshop for teachers sponsored by the theater department at U Penn in conjunction with Mary Zimmerman’s production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream.  One of the workshops was an improv group. The leader took us through a series of exercises designed to induce us to show emotion in actions, not words. My brother had recently died of cancer, and the memory of his death led me to a display of sorrow that my fellow participants judged as brilliant. But it wasn’t acting brilliance at all. It was me being me. That’s what writing is for me. It’s putting on paper what and who I am. For me, that’s enough, but for the reader, it may not be enough. Writing with the reader in mind is hard work—harder than teaching and harder than parenting even. Responding to a writer is equally hard. As responders to our students’ writing, we both encourage the writer and seek to move that writer forward. Responding can be a tightrope walk—a balancing act that we pray will not result in injury!

Being a writer and a responder to the writing of others is an act of faith. Like improvisational acting, it requires versatility, a willingness to listen, and empathy. Writing teachers who write (and should there be any other kind of writing teacher?) realize the process and the pitfalls. Recognize the moments of brilliance; gently nudge forward; appreciate the effort. Maybe the writer being responded to is like me—writing for herself, writing to make sense of her life. Sometimes that’s enough.



5 thoughts on “Catching the moments of brilliance

  1. Oh, I love this! Diane, we need to find a place in our new book where we can add this in – it is o perfect! I love the way you bring the anecdote of the improv experience and tie it with the act of writing and responding. I think this piece could be final thoughts in our chapter about conferring or even in the afterword – but it should go somewhere!


  2. In terms of responding, I completely understand what you are saying. I held a professional development session on reflective writing last year and as part of the criteria I was to provide a rubric to assess the participants’ writing. Well, I didn’t go there. The thought of someone attaching a rubric to my blog completely appalled me. We write from the heart and who am I to evaluate what the writer feels. We focused on conferring instead of evaluating. Thanks for sharing this, Diane!


  3. What a fitting comparison. Writing is personal and when responding to someone’s writing it is a balancing act, moving the person forward yet note stifling their voice.


  4. This is so true and so important. I do believe teachers of writing need to write – and write for response. There is a difference, to me, to writing for me and writing for me and going public. We always ask kids to go public – with us and with each other. It is so important we know how that feels. I do think it makes us better responders, teachers and writers.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s