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What Talent?! What is process?

jrlewis's picture

I have found that developing a growth mindset is essential for teaching instead of merely assessing Creative Writing.  It is deeply empowering to me to believe that my students can become better writers.  Teaching Creative Writing is also helping students improve their skills in close reading, collaboration, critical thinking, editing, rewriting, proofreading, public speaking, and more.  It is more intellectually fulfilling for me to think that I am exploring a diverse set of skills with my students, where we can find room for improvement and work together toward making that improvement during the semester.  I love discovering why my students behave the way they do through their self-reflection assignments, which also allows me to continue to learn about teaching.  The self-assessment helps students to internalize the growth mindset by seeing how much they have learned over the semester and this empowers them to learn more.  Cultivating the growth mindset in Creative Writing students is essential in order to make the Workshop work for everyone.  I believe that the Workshop is no more a place to break down untalented writers than it is a place to elevate the innately gifted. 

The Writing Workshop has the potential to give students useful information about their abilities as writers, and instead of merely reinforcing a fixed mindset, it can promote growth.  As teachers, we can fine tune the kinds of feedback students give and receive in order to develop a growth mindset.  For example, I focus my feedback on the writing and not the person and I refer specifically to the criteria of the assignment.  It is important for students to form an accurate picture of themselves as writers.  Carol Dweck writes:


“If, like those with the growth mindset, you believe you can develop yourself, then you’re open to accurate information about your current abilities, even if it’s unflattering. What’s more, if you’re oriented toward learning, as they are, you need accurate information about your current abilities in order to learn effectively. However, if everything is either good news or bad news about your precious traits—as it is with fixed-mindset people—distortion almost inevitably enters the picture. Some outcomes are magnified, others are explained away, and before you know it you don’t know yourself at all.” [1]


When students think that the writing is the subject of workshop and not their talent, then they are able to receive critical feedback with less emotion.  They can see the criticism does not threaten their identity, rather it is merely more information.  My writing workshops are designed to explore a variety of poetic forms and the accompanying technical skills in order to give students a sense of their strengths and weaknesses in writing poetry. 

It is important to me to model my own growth as a teacher and writer for my students.  When I started teaching, I was still a graduate student and so it was natural to share my own frustrations and successes with my students in order to foster a sense of belonging.  Insert rant here about how my supervisor’s latest round of feedback was infuriating and then began to make some sense a week and a second reading later.  I shared these experiences in order to normalize the emotional rollercoaster ride that writers go on every time they share their work.  Students need to know how to continue revising and writing.  My students are required to write one hundred and fifty words reflecting on the feedback they received and answering questions designed to help them think through the feedback.  Learning how to work with criticism is an important part of the workshop process and the workshop needs to be structured in ways that guide students through revision.  The small self-reflection assignments I employ are designed to help students process the information they receive in the form of feedback.  These self-reflections taken together at the end of the semester serve as source material for students writing an essay assessing themselves as writers.  I love reading my student’s self reflection essays at the end of the semester because they remind me how much progress we have made over the semester.  It is meaningful affirmation of the work my students and I have done together.  It is a shared celebration.


[1] Dweck, Carol S.. Mindset. Kindle Edition., Random House Publishing Group. 2016. p.11.