Informal writing

Of course. It would be a great mistake to assume that the only worthwhile form of student writing possible was finished formal papers.  And much informal writing – by which we mean writing mainly for developing or sorting out one’s ideas rather than for communicating an idea to an audience – doesn’t call for teacher response, or at least not for response of the same sort you’d likely give to students’ formal work.  Generally speaking, informal writing is for writers, not for readers or evaluators.  (This makes it especially useful for writing-to-learn courses, we should note, where class sizes may make it difficult to assign as many formal papers as you’d like to.)

So what’s informal writing look like? 

It’s increasingly common for instructors to ask students to reflect on required readings or class discussions in course journals, for example, which if done well are often the sites of very significant thinking.  Students frequently find in their journals the seeds of ideas they want to expand on later, in response to formal assignments.  Course blogs or wikis help pave the way for discussion before class meetings and sometimes serve to develop online exchanges as an alternative where class size inhibits face-to-face exchange in course meetings.  Various forms of written interaction between faculty and students do something similar:  asking students in the last five minutes of class to write a response to an open question about how things are going or what they haven’t understood gives them an important opportunity to articulate some idea they’ve been working through.  Many instructors, too, ask students to engage in more focused forms of free-writing to great effect:  apply concept X to the current discussion of Y, or tell me the first time you ever noticed Z, even though you didn’t likely call it that at the time.   

These are important forms of writing to learn, moments when students are called to give their thoughts definition by articulating them, even though they won’t likely call for a response from you or turn up in your grade book. 

Informal writing, of course, is no substitute for the sort of finished, carefully revised written work to which instructors should offer thorough and formative response, whether in early drafts, final drafts, or both.  It doesn’t make a course writing-intensive to ask students to free-write in class frequently.  But informal writing serves a very important purpose – indeed, it’s one of the places writing does the most intellectual work for students (and for the rest of us, too!) – and we strongly encourage some use of it in all WAC courses.

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