National Writing Project

E-Anthology Feedback Inspires Classroom Practice

By: Lisa Bottone
Date: January 22, 2010

Summary: Lisa Bottone, a teacher-consultant with New Jersey's Kean University Writing Project, reflects on how sharing her writing and receiving feedback through the E-Anthology has influenced her teaching. She plans to use the experience in her work with colleagues.

 

Since I'm not one who easily responds to "you must," my initial reaction to one of the criteria set before me as a fellow at this year's summer institute was discomfort.

Sure, I was excited at the thought of having time to write, read, research, converse, and contribute to a network of like-minded professionals. The nub of the angst was my gut response to these words: "You must contribute to the E-Anthology, in which others will have a chance to provide feedback on a process piece."

Translation: I felt forced to be vulnerable. Not only did I need to share my writing, I could not hide behind a pen name. RIP Sistah Poet. Take center stage Lisa Bottone!

This is my dramatic interpretation of the trepidation that crept into my mind. There really was no use in fighting it. So, not one to cower even to my own internal roaring, I took the challenge head on.

I wanted to step up and not fear full disclosure to complete strangers.

Writing to Share

Since I had just visited California, I set out to reveal a personal encounter that mattered to me and that I did not want to forget—a serendipitous meeting at a burger joint near Ocean Beach with a "loud, bossy, and hyper" girl, as I wrote in my piece, who shared my love of the Smiths and Morrisey.

I wanted to paint a picture in my mind, as well as in the mind of the reader, of two loons belting out every single word to every single song into the cool ocean air. I loved that place. I was moved by my experiences there. What better way to preserve that feeling than with a written piece? I wanted to step up and not fear full disclosure to complete strangers.

Posting to E-Anthology offered me the choice of just how far I would invite those strangers into my little world. Per the response guidelines, I could ask readers to "bless"—read and encourage—or "press"—offer a deeper critique to guide revision. Considering my full-on desire to share my work and get feedback, I chose "press."

Wonderful responses followed, ranging from pointing out spelling errors to questions that forced me to rethink what I was really trying to say in choosing to write about what was, at first glance, a frivolous night on the town.

"I can see this little spot of counterculture well through your writing, especially in phrases like 'They smelled like patchuli, had dreads, lacked footwear, and had a penchant for tye-dye,'" wrote one responder.

Another needed more details: "Where did you meet Shelley? Where is this jukebox? Not in the hostel. If this is a different setting, you might provide a bit of description of where you met Shelley."

I began to see that this E-Anthology was a great place to get feedback. I did not know these people, but more importantly, they did not know me. They were "judging" my work, not me. I needed that. I needed to know if the reader could follow the narrative. I wanted to know if what I wrote mattered. Did it make them laugh, cry, think, feel? I felt not that I evoked emotion in the reader, but that the piece did. It had taken on a life of its own. I had separated myself from my writing.

That was a good thing. No, that was a great thing!

Taking It Back to School

I had been preaching to my writing students to "release the piece." This, I insisted, would enable conversation with constructive criticism that would move the piece they were writing ahead.

However, my students are people, not robots. They turn on their emotions to develop a creative piece. They pour endless energy into academic essays, and their writing can be a mirror into their souls and a product of their very best effort. How realistic is it to expect that the minute the pencil is back in the pencil case, they have no personal investment in it? Like me, they find it hard to accept having their personal creation on a chopping block.

After my NWP writing experience, I've returned with a deeper appreciation for the writer/writing connection. I've experienced the "release the piece" theory in reality, so I can better help my students with that often difficult process—especially during the portfolio review periods, when my students have a chance not to only self-reflect but then to present a self-selected piece to the class from the "author's chair."

I am fortunate enough to work in a district that believes in the model of teachers teaching teachers. We are encouraged to propose workshops that allow us to share experiences and ideas for our colleagues to take back into their classrooms. Upon my return to school, I could think of nothing else but sharing my experiences of the E-Anthology, not only with my fellow language arts teachers, but with any teacher who expects his or her student to write.

Our district offers a schedule with a weekly lesson-planning time during which I can share my newly coined term "release the piece" and clarify how and when the portfolio review and author's chair will fit and make sense within our current scope and sequence of skills.

My hope is that sharing my E-Anthology experience will provide an object lesson in moving theory into practice. As workshop participants become involved in the larger community of writers, the possibilities are endless for how this will push them as people, writers, and teachers.

The E-Anthology can become the door to many opportunities. For me as an educator, the real impact is immeasurable. For every teacher who moves to a different place as a writer, countless students become the benefactors. I am thankful for my E-Anthology experience and look forward to sharing it with my colleagues.

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