Think with Ink

During a recent Engchat discussion about student writing I contributed a comment about an activity I do with students which I call Think with Ink. There were several questions so I thought I would expound on the process.

     The idea of Think with Ink originated in a professional development session held at my school close to 20 years ago. Please note that I am almost completely avoiding a snarky comment about actually learning something constructive from a professional development session conducted by an "outsider." While I believe that most of the time the best PD does come from within because the PD leader knows the audience, MUCH can be learned from "outsiders" on a continuous basis through Twitter, hashtag chats, and webinars. That outside voice has become essential for my growth and constant learning.

     At its core, Think with Ink (my name for it) is a simple exercise. Students are given an open-ended topic (i.e. Good - "We are about to read an example of a Western story. What are your expectations about the characters, plot elements, and settings of a Western?" Not good - "What color was the bad guy's hat?") and they do three minutes of non-stop writing. Students MUST write the entire time. If the student does not know what to write then he writes the word "stuck" over and over until something related to the topic comes to mind. I tell students not to worry or correct spelling, grammar, or handwriting. Just write.

     That's it! I say "go" and they write while I verbally refocus anyone who stops to stare and "think" without writing. After a few sessions I am usually able to write with them but that only comes after a little training of the students. After I have them stop I ask several students "at random" to verbally decipher the good stuff from what they wrote. In other words, I don't want them to read it word for word but just add their new ideas to the discussion.

     Think with Ink (or Use Your Head with Lead as one of my students came up with because he was using a pencil and I think was feeling slighted) allows me to hear from everyone, even those who are usually reluctant to raise their hands. It forces them to think for THREE WHOLE MINUTES (snarkiness intended) about something and so it is a very rare occasion that a student doesn't have at least one thing to add. I allow students an out every once in a while ("All I came up with were 47 'stucks' and what Joe already said about chickens.") but they soon realize that they can't do that every time so they work to get it right. 

     The process does work and even this post helped me realize that once again. The entire "side note" about outsider PD only happened as I began writing and thinking about how much I learn from outsiders each day even as I was typing that outside professional development was a waste. I was literally contradicting myself while I typed which turned this quick post into something that has me typing (and thinking) far longer than three minutes.

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