I wrote too hurridly–not giving full space to Mary (and I hope John Bean isn’t reading this blog). I’m going to cite Mary’s reply (I think this is all right, because she posted it in a comment):

“Ouch Irv! I think you have indeed either misunderstood or taken my comments too much out of context. When I referred to a bad workout, I meant that sometimes even those things we enjoy involve difficulty. And I think it’s important to talk with students about how it’s perfectly natural to experience these moments (same goes for practicing a musical instrument). It doesn’t mean we stop. It doesn’t mean we still can’t enjoy the broader experience of the activity. In the context of writing, I tell my students all the time that writing is thinking and sometimes thinking can be messy! But if they stick with it and get feedback, they can work through to clarity and deeper thinking. This is true for all meaningful writing, including what you refer to as naturalistic research (which I find quite interesting and valuable!).”

I know that sometimes writing is a struggle and that maybe we have to teach students how to push through the struggle. What Mary is doing is foregrounding for students the nature of the struggle and making it an object of inquiry. I know of course that Mary is helping her students discover ways of coping with the frequently difficult writing situations students face in academic and professional environments. I think Dewey has an interesting passage in Experience and Education in which he compares education (as opposed to mis-education) to game; once in the game, the players play almost for the sake and pleasure of being in the game, the rules and moves almost hardwired into who they are. As a game freak and biker, I understand what Mary’s getting at–the struggle becomes part of and a pleasure in the game. We know if we’re doing the right thing with our students in this game of writing if we get reports from them about the pleasure, struggle notwithstanding, of the game.

A key indicator: can they hardly wait to get back into the game, or do they put it off until the last minute the way teachers put off reading the results of their play (reader’s block). If we see eagerness, in spite of the fact that it may involve struggle, to both write and read, we’ll know we’re doing the right thing.

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