A. Michelini

(more to say)

“I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know”

In continuing my reading of Bean’s Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom I’ve realized how extraordinarily practical the book is throughout. Not only does Bean cover topics that are beneficial to a composition classroom, but he also covers specific examples of how to design writing assignments in a variety of disciplines. In his chapter “Informal, Exploratory Writing Assignments” I felt encouraged as a new teacher that some of my assignments fit into his suggestions. For example, I open each class of English I with a question on the board that I call a “writing warm up.” It is typically something that requires some thought and the students are required to write for five minutes on it. If they don’t feel like they have anything to say, I tell them to just write “I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know” until something comes to them.

Since I naturally value creative writing, open space to think, and time to write freely, I love assigning exploratory writing. As a student I enjoyed it and as a teacher I love reading them. However, it is also helpful to know that not all of my students feel the same way. Reading the “common objections” section enabled me to think ahead to avoid these pitfalls and address student needs in the best way possible. Maybe I can acknowledge their discomfort or fear, as someone saying something often distills it.

At the end of my reading, I was left wondering: with a finite amount of assignments, how much is too much exploratory writing at the college level?


  1. I tend to see any writing as good writing. But I do typically try to focus the exploratory writing somewhat with specific prompts, problems, or projects. But there’s obviously a long tradition of free writing, expressive writing, or exploratory writing with benefits that have been documented – especially in the first year or basic writing class.

  2. Darius Cureton

    June 6, 2017 at 1:53 am

    I have to agree with Dr. Vetter. I don’t think that there is too much exploration within writing. I think that where you may get into overkill is if it is the SAME type of writing or the same genre. Let the students explore but keep them within a particular boundary (type of writing) so that you don’t repeatedly read the same work or the students don’t get bored with writing the same work. Try altering the assignments just a bit in an effort to produce a different level of thinking/creativity. Instead of analyzing the Principles of Versification within a poem, have them create another stanza to the same poem and explain the theme/focus of the added stanza, what verbal or thematic “cues” in the poem lead them to write in that direction, and what it means in relation to the whole poem.

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