Winter Solstice: More Ends and Beginnings of Things

Once again we arrive at the cusp,an in-between-ness I’m drawn to and have written about several times.


The winter solstice is that wonderfully unsettling moment when we reach the shortest night of the year while winter itself still looms large and long, at least here in Vermont. It seems a particularly apt moment to touch upon an uneasy classroom topic, something fraught with tension: grading, perhaps. I leave the semester once again with a sense that grades–all and any–trivialize and even damage the deep learning adventure we have just experienced. No, I won’t go there today; I’ll let the solstice celebrations help me shake off bad feelings, and instead turn to a couple of points made by Harry Lewis in his “Excellence without a Soul” talk from a couple of weeks ago, and then, to excerpts from my students’ course-end narrative reflections to help me articulate beyond and in spite of grades what my students discover in climbing out of the stupor, the inertia they had fallen into in many formal learning situations–what happens when they become passionate learners in as well as out of our classrooms:

My paraphrasing of points Harry Lewis made:

People teach their subject rather than thinking holistically about what the bigger point is….
Our educational institutions are highly competitive environments which isolate us by promoting egoism over altruism, by valuing smartness over wisdom, expertise and specialization over breadth of understanding.

And the wonderful: “Kids are self-motivated and shouldn’t be treated like rats in a maze.”


And from my students’ final narrative reflections in which they retrace their journey through the seminar:

I think that the best way to thank you that I can come up with is to say that I will definitely take another creative writing class (next fall, I think) and that I’m considering giving myself a blog for my birthday, but I have to be sure that I will promise myself to write on it regularly, and that I will be able to think of something to write.

I have grown. I say that sincerely, without sarcasm, and with total confidence. I don’t think that I realized that I was growing during the semester, one rarely does, but after reviewing my work as a whole, I feel like I have made amazing progress from a girl who stumbled into this writing class to where I am today. I have grown to love the blog, and now have a better grasp on analyzing literature. My writing isn’t magnificently perfect, far from it, but I think that the difference between my first draft, and my final project attests to my growth.

After three and a half or so months of writing, of reading, of classes and workshops and blogging and journaling, of class dinners and discussions, of stress, of rough drafts and final drafts, I’ve learned a lot to say the least. But what I’ve learned the most about is myself, both as a person and as a writer.

To be honest, I’ve known for a while that I was a pretty decent writer. It hit me in the tenth grade when my teachers would hand back my essays and assignments with the words “lovely writing” and “eloquent” scrawled across the tops of the papers in hot red ink. I’m a natural observer so describing my surroundings, describing anything but myself has always been easy for me and in that area I have excelled. I didn’t expect to be challenged so deeply by this class and for the way I think about writing to change so much. The first thing I learned was that I could no longer get away with writing about my surroundings or writing about my childhood, a thing of the past quite distant from the person I am now. I had to learn to dig deep, deep into the writing and deep into myself. Writing isn’t as easy anymore and I’m not always as confident in my writing now, but when I write something good, something with meaning, I know it. I feel it.

It’s over. But it’s not finished. Because of this class, I notice things now. Words, people, images, sounds, anything. Ordinary things become extraordinary and I feel the need to write them down, to record them so I don’t forget because I may need them in the future. I don’t know if [my blog] will continue on, but the thought of simply erasing it from the internet, all the work and stress and agony of it, seems a rather depressing thought.

In conclusion, I’m supposed to assign myself a grade, something that seems so foreign and distant to this course, something small and insignificant.

This course has been so valuable to me because it has changed me. I’m going to be a different reader and a different writer and a different person for the rest of my life now. That’s scary and exciting. I’ve still got plenty of growing and changing to do, but now, with the tools I have and the knowledge of the writing I am capable of, I’m looking forward to that growth and change.

This has been the most difficult writing workshop that I have ever taken, not because there was anything about it that was intrinsically harder, but because everything about it was uncomfortable. You pushed us in five-thousand different directions all at once.

When we discussed the grading rubric for this class I was very concerned about the fact that so much of our grade is based on growth, but as I’ve gone through the final unit of this class, discussed my work with the members of my evaluation group, and written this letter to you I have truly seen my growth in tangible ways. Discovering my growth has been much like the process of commenting on the work that I read both by published authors and on other students’ blogs. It’s only as I begin to articulate my thoughts that I really know what I am trying to say. It is only in trying to articulate my life experiences that I feel as if I am starting to understand the different facets of my own identity.

In talking about the beginning, I can only think about the end. On the final day of class, we all sat in a circle as we always do. To an outsider, it would it would have seemed a lot like the first day of class, but for me it was so different. The first time fifteen of us sat in Coltrane Lounge you had us write a story in five minutes and read it to the class. That moment was my first streak of actual panic since I had arrived at college. Even watching my parents drive away and leave me in a place I barely knew didn’t make my heart pound faster than having to read something so raw and, well, originally mine, in front of a whole room of people. But on Thursday, December 6th I could not wait to be called on to read my paragraph, to share what I had written, despite whether I thought it was good or not. I think this fact alone is the greatest testament to my growth over the past semester.

The most important part of multi- media, in my opinion was the constant blogging. All of a sudden, days were planned, or at least mine were, to incorporate time to sit down and write, to sit down and reflect. At first this was really hard. The blog was swarmed with sarcastic and helpless posts on how there was nothing to post about, but soon everyone seemed to get “it.” For me, blogging was an extension of my voice that I didn’t express during class. Every comment was something I couldn’t have thought of on the spot, and I really appreciated having the forum to prove that I really do have something to say if I’m given time to just analyze and ponder. I also think that this constant out of class interaction between all of the students made us a lot closer, and that, of course, I really appreciate. It is, in fact, on the blog that I made quite a big personal breakthrough when I posted a poem. Although it wasn’t as personal as a lot of other pieces I could have posted, it was still something I wrote outside of class and voluntarily shared.

So in attempting to evaluate myself, I would have to notice the changes that I have undergone. I no longer think “normal”; I think in words and phrases, in perceived eloquence and journalistic story ambitions. I’ve entered into my own past in new ways that I would have never had considered before. While writing is a necessary element within this class, for me, it’s the changes in motivation, perception, and identity that really are valuable. So, whatever my collection of writing depicts on a written level, I don’t really care all that much about. It’s a transition collection at best, a void to be filled with time. I’ve definitely made my mistakes, had my flaws but so has everyone else. I would like to end this evaluation just at that. Grades really can’t factor into my change in self and paradigm. This then, is my real evaluation, the one that really matters to me. I’m proud of what I am, where I’ve gone, and what I’ve become. Everything else is secondary.

tension wintermagic

What a privilege it has been to be a small part of my students’ journey.

Happy Solstice. Here’s to the beauty of in-between-ness. To reflection and to passionate learning.


One Response

  1. Wow, what an amazing narrative. It’s such a great example of what real learning should be.

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