Over on the blog of proximal development, Konrad wrote about writing assignments for his students. For some reason, it made me think of an experience I had today in class.
My ESL students are in the process of writing an essay for their Psychology class comparing their ideas on religion to some of those of Freud. We have talked about Freud's ideas. I have asked them to think about their own ideas on the topic. We have talked about how to write a compare/contrast essay. I had done everything I thought I should have done -- until I looked at what was supposed to be their first drafts today. While they addressed the task, they were lifeless.
We talked about it and I finally realized that they were trying to answer a question, not write. They had followed the formula we had discussed for compare/contrast essays, but I quickly noticed that they had discussed Freud's ideas more completely than they had their own.
This was my fault. I should have encouraged them to explore their own beliefs more first. But even I got caught up in the task. I put too much emphasis on the task, on the form of the essay, and forgot about the content. Or I assumed it would take care of itself.
So I told them to put the psychology assignment aside for awhile. They need to explore their own beliefs, their own thoughts and ideas, before they can hope to write a decent essay.
I only hope I can remember this next time.