If you see a whole thing - it seems that it's always beautiful. Planets, lives... But up close a world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. - Ursula K. LeGuin

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Writing Group

Last year I started a writing group with my doctoral students.  It is primarily a support/accountability group.  We meet every two weeks for coffee and to update each other on where we are with a current project or product.  Attendance was spotty the first year but by the end we had a small core group that volunteered to keep the group going during the summer.

We had a meeting today and many of my regulars from last year had to miss it.  However we have had an influx of new members this year, including 4 first year students who showed up for the first time today.  The first years were very excited to be invited to the group and some of them took notes.

Standard advice is that these types of groups should not combine faculty and students.  I believe the thinking is that (a) faculty can be intimidating (making students less likely to be open and honest and making it harder for students to get the support that they need) and (b) it can become an instructional group, with students looking to faculty members for instructions on writing.  I don't feel that this is happening with my group but my original intention was to get it started and then back out.
Today we had a discussion about the composition of the group: whether more faculty should be invited or whether it should be faculty-free.  The group was quite clear that they didn't want it changed from its present configuration.  We share problems that arise in the process of writing and I do give more "tips" than any other member.  I find myself fluctuating between mentor and group member and I haven't been completely comfortable with it.  Today I was told that the mentor role is critical for them and they don't want to lose it.  

Last year progress on completing writing products were slow for many group members. I felt like the accountability part of the group was not working.  Today however I was pleasantly surprised with the progress that people have been making (myself included).  It finally feels like it is coming together.                                                               


Joan Kane Nichols said...

FYI: Back in the 70s when I was a graduate student at Columbia we had a similar faculty/student group and it was great. It was also an all-women group-this was the 70s-and we felt we bonded over that. Even so, I remember feeling that having faculty members there, people who had been there, did that, and could offer good advice, was tremendously helpful.

In other words, your presence may be more beneficial than you know.

Annie said...

I'm glad it's coming together. I hate to say it, but in my new job, I feel like part of my role is mentoring the younger staff members. So, even though I am their supervisor, my primary role, as I see it, is to help them benefit from my experience, along with appreciating what I have to learn from them. It comes with age, I think. I'm more concerned with helping them, than evaluating them- and I see the upcoming formal evaluations as an extension of that role. I will rate their qualities fairly, with appropriate praise, and leave most "constructive criticism" off the page, so the positives will appear in writing, and the negatives will be phrased in terms of goals. I think it's great your students expressed their appreciation, and the value of the group. They've also validated your role, and let you know they trust you.