How to care when you write every day

By Profs. Myles Bartlett (Design) and Robyn Read (Writing & Publishing)

Our students are novice writers even though they are writing all the time. They post on social media, they email and text — even when we want them to look up from their screens and communicate in person, in class. But while they correspond constantly, the quality of their writing does not necessarily evolve or improve; they fail to realize that if they do not refine their communication skills, when they write longer pieces — beyond 140 characters — their stories, pitches, and job applications will not stand out, be seen, and advance their careers.

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Prof. Myles Bartlett

We realized that developing pedagogical approaches to improving the comprehension and appreciation of the benefits of storytelling was relevant to two different cohorts of Sheridan students: degree students taking Introduction to Creative Writing (CWRT15389GD) as a breadth course; and students in the York/Sheridan Program in Design taking Professional Aspects of Design (YSDN4104). In the Fall 2015 semester, we piloted a two-hour workshop, “Alice: Make Stories Everyday,” led by Robyn and facilitated by Myles, during one afternoon class of Professional Aspects of Design. The workshop introduced students to the fundamentals of a narrative arc and the memorability of what we write (and read). The workshop included storytelling exemplars, writing prompts, and in-class exercises and activities.

Before and after the workshop, the students responded to surveys through MasteryConnect Socrative that provided us with immediate feedback. The entry survey asked about their writing confidence, while the exit survey inquired whether they felt the workshop had been useful in preparation for an upcoming assignment that asked them to produce a Personal Narrative and Approach to Design using tools from the workshop.

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Prof. Robyn Read, mid-workshop. Photo: Myles Bartlett

Based on the findings, we realized the students required more narrative from us, communicating the immediate connection to them; despite a consistent, recurring theme in the presentation of the workshop, not all students seemed to absorb that storytelling had a long-term relevance to their future careers. In addition, several students expressed a desire for more examples and exercises — which Introduction to Creative Writing provides, and which Myles could facilitate with subsequent storytelling seminars.

Currently, we’re in the subsequent stage of developing how we communicate the immediate and long-term relevance of strong storytelling skills to students. Myles will gain further insight into the results of the workshop when evaluating his students’ assignments on Personal Narrative and Approach to Design this semester (Professional Aspects is a year-long course), and by conducting a follow-up narrative seminar on March 22nd; and Robyn has been incorporating exemplars and exercises piloted or practiced in the workshop into Introduction to Creative Writing this winter.

We’re going forward with encouraging feedback from our initial surveys: Students state that they gain an appreciation for personal narratives from our workshop exercises, and we’re learning how to fine-tune the specific form of feedback we solicit from our students on an ongoing basis. Our challenge going forward is to balance the clarity of the information transfer of the relevance of storytelling with the amount of time students have in class for practicing and getting feedback on their writing skills.

We welcome feedback, input, or questions! Please feel free to get in touch with us through Robyn: robyn.read[at]sheridancollege.ca.

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