Recovering Writing

Today is the fifth day of the new semester, and in a couple of hours, my students and I will be embarking on our third class meeting in which we will be tackling our first documentary (The Thin Blue Line for anybody who happens to be curious). I’m always, always excited to teach, but I’m especially excited to teach on days in which we’re discussing film and/or television shows because that is my jam. That’s what I do in my own work, and I love being able to open that up to students who often don’t know  (like I didn’t know when I was an undergrad) that this is something that has value, something that they can build a life on. In fact, we spent part of class during our second meeting discussing the importance of pop culture in our lives. On the short list of things that I’d like them to take away from this class (ok the list isn’t really that short, but still), I want them to understand how pop culture is intrinsically intertwined with our culture more broadly.

The other significant focus of our second class meeting was discussing writing. Though my class is one that is centered on documentaries, it is also a second year writing course. Throughout the semester, my students will be composing several different writing assignments, and I thought it necessary to both remind them of that component of the class and to see where their heads were at about writing.

When I asked how many people enjoyed writing, the raised hands were unsurprisingly few and far between. I’m not the first to say this (in fact, John Warner was tweeting about this yesterday:, but I think school often does ruin writing for students. It makes writing something that is wholly unenjoyable and uninspired, which is something that I intend to try to work against in my class. One of my colleagues mentioned a few days ago that one of his students said they had a teacher who dock them for the very particular way the essay was stapled.

For. The. Way. It. Was. Stapled. Y’all.


This is why, when I asked my students to write down something that they knew or believed about writing (inspired by this post:, I wasn’t surprised by answers like “Writing is tedious and time-consuming.” At some point, writing, particularly “academic writing,” all too easily becomes a series of hoops to jump through and requirements to check off without being emphasized as a valuable process, a useful means of expression, a creative outlet (yes, even the academic stuff), etc. So one of my goals this semester? Counter that. Counter it aggressively. Wish me luck, eh?

(And if you have any handy tips or suggestions, feel free to send them my way)



  1. Hi Jacinta – I’m glad to hear that the activity was useful in your class! It’s interesting to see where and how folks try it out. I find that in my own classes, the replies represent a fairly mixed bag in terms of how students see (and feel about) writing, and I’m usually surprised by how many have positive associations. I’d be curious to know how that changes from first to second year of college writing courses. Food for thought! (Your course sounds great, by the way – how do your students react to Morris’ work?)


    • Hi!

      Trying to think about to that point in the semester, I think most of the responses were typically either fairly neutral or on the negative side. But the students generally didn’t express many complaints about writing in the course (and, at least at my institution, second year writing requires no less than 20 pages of writing throughout the course of the semester, so I had actually been anticipating some complaints). I’ve taught several first year writing classes, but this was my first time with a second year class. At least with this group, they collectively seemed less anxious about their actual writing than what I’ve experienced with some first year classes. And they definitely expressed being more comfortable with writing essays that with the final creative project (which was to make a mini-documentary) haha.

      I got the sense that they really enjoyed Thin Blue Line, and certainly when we talked about the background, ending, and follow up, it really served its purpose of establishing how we’d be engaging with documentaries throughout the semester.


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