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Borrowing Techniques from Writing & Rhetoric

At Brigham Young University, freshmen are required to take Writing and Rhetoric, a class taught most often by enthusiastic graduate students (like me). The focus is on teaching students that they are already writers, despite what some may have told them otherwise in the past. We use a text called Mindful Writing written by Brian Jackson. In the first chapter, Brian makes two important points that are important for young students to realize. The first is that they are already writers. Many of my students have struggled with this, they tell me they’ve never gotten good grades on essays in the past so they are worried that the same pattern will continue. Others simply don’t care. For both of these types of students, and others, I like to emphasize Brian’s second point, which is that writers get better at writing by writing. Or in other words, writing is iterative, it takes practice. I think these principles, and others taught in Writing and Rhetoric, can be applied to effectively teaching reflective outdoor writing to students.

Reflective writing is a specific type of text, a genre, that the more students practice it and become familiar with it, the more comfortable they will be in it. Reflective writing incorporates journaling about experience, which as taught in previous posts, requires some know-how that can be supplied by a teacher or facilitator in a group setting for prompts and ideas. This is where another set of principles from Mindful Writing can help in student’s preparation for being effective reflective writers.

  1. Planning. Brian emphasizes making goals about what students need to write and how they’ll get it done, and this is achieved through analyzing the task and situation (Mindful Writing 6). What teachers can help students of reflective outdoor writing understand is the purpose of their writing, which is also where students can make goals about what they want to get out of the activity. It could be capturing their feelings about being outdoors, recording an experience, drawing something they see, or making field notes to look back to about an area or landscape.
  2. Practicing. Learning effective principles of the genre of reflective writing is putting them into practice in outdoor settings, perhaps alone, or perhaps in a group with the help of a teacher (MW 6). Students should be encouraged to write drafts and work through them, giving and receiving criticism as feedback to enhance their writing and skills, which is also a crucial part of the writing process.
  3. Revising. It’s okay to fail. It’s okay if a draft doesn’t come out the way you want it to. This is a great stage in writing to learn to make adjustments and implement feedback, or ask for direction in order to get where you want to go.
  4. Reflecting. Obviously reflective writing is all about reflecting, but this step in the genre requires some meta-cognition. The great part is that it works both directions for the student—they learn to assess their process of reflection, and they get better at reflecting when writing in the first place. Brian describes it as learning to explain decisions students make as they write, a step in the process of constructing one’s own writing identity.

Teaching students to be mindful writers is actually teaching them to be more aware of their own processes as they write within a unique genre. In doing so, students are learning to be more reflective on a level that will increase their skill and application of principles unique to reflective outdoor writing. Meta-cognitively approaching reflective writing is important for students to feel more in control and more excited about the process of capturing what they want out of outdoor experiences.

Jackson, Brian. Mindful Writing for Writing 150. Plymouth: Hayden-McNeil, 2016. Print.