Yes, you may

Let me just say, I didn’t realize HOW EXPLICIT I needed to be until yesterday.

My 104 students have recently been reading two articles that I had chosen not only because they offered an interesting argument to respond to (the content) but also because they provided good examples of lively, interesting writing in the genre my students would soon be producing.

We had utilized all kinds of ERWC reading strategies and had looked closely at the strategies and techniques the writer had employed. I had said things like, “So when you’re writing your essay…” and “Maybe you’d like to use a similar strategy…”

Yesterday, while we were analyzing one of the introductions, a hand went up: “So, Professor…are you saying that it’s okay if we write like this?”

I didn’t entirely realize the magnitude of this question, but when I responded, “Yes, you may. In fact, I want you to write like this,” the relief among the students was palpable. Dare I say, there was a little excitement in the room!

Looking back on that incident, I realize that my students needed explicit permission to abandon their old, familiar, constraining novice roles. It wasn’t enough to provide them with models. It wasn’t enough to point out the neat techniques that the writers were using. It wasn’t even enough to suggest that they try those techniques out. They needed explicit permission. Yes, they could say good-bye to the trusty five-paragraph essay. Yes, they were allowed to imitate the expert style of the “real” writers they were reading. Yes, they could assume the stance of a “real” writer. Yes, they could.