August 23, 2023
I write to think. I told my brother-in-law about Bard College’s Institute of Writing and Thinking (IWT). He quipped, “Shouldn’t that be the other way around?” I know, that seems logical. That’s not the point, though, of the IWT or the process. I can try to work things out in my head, but the process becomes much simpler when I vomit words onto paper or screen, sort them out, and align my thoughts.
The IWT, based at Bard’s campus in New York’s Hudson Valley, was founded over 40 years ago by its then- and current-president, Leon Botstein, as a “philosophy and practice center on the principle that writing is not merely a record of completed thought, but also an exploratory process that deepens learning across disciplines” [italics added].
I first participated in the IWT over 25 years ago, and since then, I’ve attended workshops on writing to think, writing to learn, grammar revolution, STEM writing, work/author-focused sessions, and once, a creative writing retreat. How and why I teach directly relate to the IWT.
This semester, I’m teaching two introductory courses — the first-year writing course and the introductory course for our graduate program. Both courses have similarities. The former teaches first-year undergraduates how to do college and strategies for writing in college courses; the latter teaches first-year graduate students how to do grad school and how to write and think like a graduate student. They will read this piece because they, too, are writing their 500 words-a-day on Medium. They are exploring writing to think, their own writing processes, and how we relate writing to “something else.” We haven’t talked about this exercise yet. I know some are really frustrated since there are no prompts. I won’t give the “why” yet. At least not here. [Smiley emoji.] When we meet tomorrow night for the first class, we will talk about volcanos. This is a lesson I stole from the IWT. All teachers copy; good teachers steal.
Bard’s IWT isn’t just for teachers. It brings all first-year students to campus for three weeks before the term begins and puts them through writing and thinking bootcamp. The web site notes: “Working in small, dynamic discussion groups, students learn to read and listen more thoughtfully, articulate ideas more clearly, and review their own work critically.” I’m grateful I’ve had the experience of Bard because it made me the teacher I am, and this is how I have taught for over 30 years. Write. Discuss. Read. Listen. Think. Articulate. Review. Think again. Write more. Read, discuss, listen. It works. And it will continue to work despite all the AI efforts to the contrary!
My first-year students will read this, too. One of their first assignments is to write 400 to 500 words on “Why I Write.” I will learn many things about them from this assignment, and I hope they’ll learn some about me. At the very least, they’ll understand why I write.
Write and think and rewrite and rethink. Then write and think again.