On How the Sharing of Incomplete Work Makes Learners Powerful

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Lately, I’ve been thinking about the ways that revision, and particularly collaborative, public revision, makes me feel more capable and powerful as a thinker, writer, researcher and teacher. A decade ago, I would have seen revision as part of my own writing and teaching processes. I would not, however, have embraced collaborative, public revision in the way I do now. Before, I would have worried about public scrutiny — now (and maybe it’s because of my age!) I’m less concerned about judgment and more concerned about using other people’s ideas to improve on my own. The shift is also due, in part, to my doctoral training — peer review, after all, is a central tenet of academic life. Plus, I’ve worked hard enough and long enough to know that everything is a draft anyway. I’ve never written anything that is perfect and never will. I mean, I still try to do good work, but perfection is no longer my goal or ambition. I’m only concerned about improving.

I also have to say that the shift is due, in part, to the ways that technologies have enabled me to think along side colleagues, and students in shared documents on the cloud. Even Twitter serves as a point of access to ideas — many of them in draft form. Through these protracted interactions with colleagues, I’ve learned the importance of thinking with others to refine my half-baked notions.

A student emailed me this week. In it, she expressed worry at the expectation to share draft work in her digital portfolio (a blog).  Here’s what I wrote in response to her concerns:

In the syllabus, we address the issue of sharing work publicly. It can feel a bit odd to have “unfinished” or “draft” work visible to others. And yet, there is much to be gained from making your thinking visible to others. Yes, sharing incomplete work can make us feel vulnerable, but it can also make us powerful. To own our learning process, and to share that process openly demonstrates to others that we’re deeply engaged in the hard work of learning, reading, writing. That work, by definition requires revision. Nobody who is good, and thoughtful and serious about learning can EVER do their best work in a single draft.

In MAET, we really want our students to embrace the power of shared and collaborative learning spaces where “process” is the focus, not product. In truth, everything is a draft. We ask only that you take this leap of faith as part of your work in CEP 813 — to make your thinking visible to others so that they can see how you think, grapple with ideas, and reconcile the hard decisions that writers have to make.

The student, a classroom teacher, wrote back saying that she asks her own elementary-aged students to revise their work for these same reasons — and that for some reason, she had not been applying these ideals to her work as a graduate student. It’s so hard isn’t it — to take the risks we ask of others? And yet, I’ve come to understand that it is   through the taking of these risks, the giving and receiving of feedback from peers, and an openness to change, that we, as writers, improve our craft.
Feedback welcome 🙂

[Photo: M.S. Hagerman, work produced by MAET students J. Kurleto, S. Blemaster, S. Smydra, in July 2014]

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