Day three. Get up and go to pub.
Day four. By now, people in the pub should be continually getting on your nerves. Write things about them on the backs of beer mats.
Day five. Go to pub… by now guilt, drunkeness, the people in the pub and the fact you are one of them should combine to enable you to write out of sheer vexation.
Day six. If possible, stay home and write. If not, go to pub.

In a way, this is how I write. Without the drunkeness these days, but with a lot of time spent thinking, the odd scribble on the back of an envelope, and then a flurry of activity during which I bash out the entire piece on a keyboard with two fingers. That, usually, is pretty much my first and final paper draft. The other drafts are done in my head. Jack Kerouac, apparently, used to use huge rolls of newsprint which he hooked up to his modified typewriter so he could keep going until the amphetamines wore off.

I think it’s important to allow students a similar opportunity (minus the drugs and alcohol). I usually spend the first part of a writing class on ‘free writing’. There are a number of ways to approach this, but I think the key points are the following.

  1. Writers must not stop writing, use an eraser, or use a dictionary.
  2. Whatever is written is not shown to the teacher, or to any other student.
  3. Writers should not pay any attention to grammar, punctuation, handwriting, neatness, style or cohesion.

I usually give the students a few discussion questions to get them warmed up, then give them ten minutes to write about the topics they have discussed. True free writing should be about whatever the writer feels like writing about, but I like to give a loose theme to help them get started. Afterwards, the students get together to talk about what they have written. Some of them choose to read their work aloud, others give a precis, or talk about ideas which occurred to them as they were writing, but it is important that they know they are under no pressure to reveal what they actually wrote. It is essentially private. The whole process takes less than half an hour, with about ten minutes of that is the writing itself. The only thing I see is the word count they give me at the end of the semester, to show how many words they wrote each week. Of course, this increases. And after we have finished our free writing, we take out our writing homework, swap it around and start pulling it apart!

How do you write? And how do you balance fluency and accuracy work when teaching writing classes?

(If you are not familiar with Mark E. Smith, he has been the lead vocalist and only constant member of ‘The Fall‘ for more than thirty years. People often say ‘You either love them or hate them’ about bands, but I think this truly applies to ‘The Fall’… they inspire almost unmatched devotion but to many will sound like a drunk man mumbling through a megaphone while a bath full of copper piping is tipped down a staircase onto a synthesizer. Which to be fair is basically what they are.)

“..standardisation is a reasonable way of maintaining minimal standards, not the best way of ensuring the highest possible ones. Establishing minimally acceptable standards and imposing them on everybody, even on those who can exceed them, can create a powerful but stultifying myth about what constitutes ‘good’ teaching. Creativity in teaching is then stifled in favour of conformity to the set model”

(p. 35)

Allwright , D. & Hanks, J. (2010). The Developing Language Learner. Basingtoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan

An Interview with Kaz Hagiwara from darren elliott on Vimeo.

Kaz Hagiwara is a teacher of Japanese working in Australia, and a leading exponent of (de) suggestopedia. It’s a method you have probably heard of, but in seeing Kaz’s presentations and spending some time talking to him I realised that there was more to it than I had imagined….

We may be living in a ‘post methods era’ but it is still worth looking at teaching theories developed in the past. I recommend a look at these links if you are interested in exploring further. Thanks to Kaz for giving up his time at the JALT conference 2010.