Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Institute for Writing and Thinking, Bard College

In designing some of the workbook prompts, I have drawn deeply on the philosophy and practices of the Institute for Writing and Thinking at Bard College. As a Faculty Associate of the Institute since 1993, I have had the opportunity to learn via immersion an approach to learning that prizes the promise of intellectual community and recognizes intellectual significance in a much broader range of human experiences and expressions that is typical.  In other words, the approach we take, and offer the students and teachers with whom we work, refuses easy divisions between personal and public meanings and between academic, experimental, and probative ways of knowing and representing knowledge.  At base, the Institute’s approach to writing to learn is based on the premise articulated by Paul Connolly (the Institute’s Director between 1982 and 1998) that to think is to make language choices. From this premise follows the belief that learning to think is nourished by ongoing opportunities to write informally and in community, on both to practice one’s own choosing and to engage with others’ language in settings both formal and exploratory.

With the metaphor of breaking, I mean to emphasize the centrality and vitality of revision -- its sharp edges and the illuminations they occasion -- in the process of writing and thinking. This book aims to give writers and teachers an approach to making meaning that seeks to open prior formulations and determinations to further thought and dialogue, new fragments and new [re]compositions. The texts themselves and the prompts following each are written to explore and invite breaking in the service of re-writing, re-thinking, and renewal. In the Institute and in my own practice, for me this translates as valuing surprise in the experience of teaching and learning. Thus, the prompts I have crafted to follow each text are deliberately odd-angled, disarming, and playful.  They are supposed to be surprising and to yield surprising ways forward.

The prompts following each selection are presented in six categories: Writing to Read; Prompts for Collaborative Learning; Process Writing; Writing Back; Writing More; and Breaking Media. The purposes of each of this are as follows:

Writing to Read: These prompts are designed to invite readers, in class and outside, to use informal, focused freewritings to engage with the text. A focused freewriting takes about 8 minutes and is undertaken in a spirit of generativity, rather than precision.  Classmates frequently respond through the simple yet profound act of giving full attention without commentary or evaluation. Such focused freewritings can be used as the basis for further writing and/or discussion.

Process Writing: These prompts are designed to stimulate reflection, metacognition, and consideration of language. Typical process writing prompts include: What can you notice about the language choices you made and how they further your thinking? What are your questions now? Process writing is also a way to make sense of group learning experience: What did you learn from others in your group? How might you change your role in the group in order to learn more?

Prompts for Collaborative Learning: Usually written as sequences of 3-4 questions, these prompts are means to stimulate brief, focused freewritings, of about 5 minutes each, that learners then share in groups of 3-4, seeking to discern what about their responses and interpretations they can agree to believe in common and what must remain in doubt. Process writing about the experience of sharing responses to the questions in a group may follow and lead into whole-class discussion.

Writing More: These prompts invite readers to try out a move made by the text’s author by isolating a structural or thematic element in the text and inviting the reader to compose in a parallel way. They extend the creative energy of the text and apply it to new writing.

Writing Back: These prompts are designed to foster more formal, analytic, and critical engagement with the text at hand. Writers may draw on these as well as on focused freewritings to begin creating direction and material for essay writing.

Breaking Media: These prompts enable readers to respond to the text through media other than writing.  Through drawing, collage, and constructions, and working with images that will introduce each chapter (as the proposal as a whole is now introduced with Magda Wojtyra’s work), readers will be able to pursue thinking in an embodied way, and then use the artifacts they fashion as stimuli for further writing.