Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Writing Wednesday: The Paperless Writing Class

I wonder how this type of writing class would fly at the high school level:
A new approach to English creative writing has sparked an interest in many students at Western Michigan University, according to Jason Olsen, a graduate teaching assistant for experimental writing in WMU’s English department.

Over the course of this semester, a class of 33 students has been divided into two groups to devise writing projects based on the exploration of innovative forms of publication, Olsen said.

Instead of writing on traditional 8-1/2-inch-by-11-inch sheets of paper, he said students are encouraged to write on other various objects.

“The class is designed to let the students explore the relationship between art and writing, and between innovation and writing,” said Olsen, who is also a doctoral student in the creative writing program.

One of the groups has been working on a project which involves forming the phrase “Drink Responsibly” with bottle caps on a piece of board. The other group will be writing messages on foam boards called “speech bubbles.”

Olsen said students intend to hang their projects from trees to create the effect that the trees are speaking the messages.

The experimental writing class will begin displaying their work at four to five different locations around campus, said Tiffany Welch, one of the students in the class.

Welch, a freshman majoring in family and consumer science, said she joined the class based on a last-minute decision.

She said that even though she had never heard of the class, she is excited about the course and the project.

“We had a lot of ideas bouncing around our fairly large group in the initial stage of the project,” she said. “But we have recently decided that conserving the beauty of the campus — mainly trees — is closest to our hearts as Western Michigan University students.”

“With such a diverse group, it was difficult to get everyone to feel challenged or satisfied with one type of writing,” Welch said. “So we have all been given the freedom to create our own poem, find a statistic or two, or just to speak for the trees on campus.”

This semester, Olsen is also working with elementary students as a visiting poet at Kalamazoo’s Washington Writers’ Academy and uses a similar paperless writing approach.

He said the experimental writing class has invited two classes of fifth graders over from the writers’ academy to give a poetry reading, scheduled for Feb. 22.

This is the first time that a class like this has been taught, Olsen said, adding that he designed and proposed the course last spring.

Although he is uncertain if he will be asked to teach the course again, or if another instructor will teach a variation of it, he said the response to the course has been one of enthusiasm.
For some reason, I'm resisting a strong urge to grab some trail-mix, put on a tie-dyed T-shirt, slip into some Birkenstocks, and protest something.
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