Using focused free-writing as a pedagogical ?multi-tool? to overcome barriers, empower student writers and access the student voice

15 Jun 2017

Free-writing is ?stream-of-consciousness? writing that has a long history, but was popularised in the 1970s by Peter Elbow for students in higher education as an effective way of improving writing (Elbow, 1973). In essence, free-writing means writing without stopping to think, self-censor or edit. Li (2007) describes free-writing as ?an empowering learning tool?. Somerville and Cr?me (2005) report from their research that free-writing gives ?students a space to articulate and explore their tentative first thoughts in an unthreatening and supportive way in work they could use as a basis for their course essays?. Hinkle and Hinkle (1990) have shown that an advantage of focussed free-writing is enhancing students? comprehension of course content. This paper reports on a year-long classroom-research project on the use of focussed freewriting as a unique pedagogical ?multi-tool? in a first-year Information Literacy course in an Extended Curriculum Programme at a University of Technology. In particular, it looks at using free-writing as a means for a higher education teacher to access the students? voice, thinking, prior knowledge and strengths. The paper will explore how focussed free-writing is not only an access point to academic writing, but is also a means of learning how to become a reflective learner and critical thinker. During the academic year the class of students kept a private free-writing journal that was only shared with the Information Literacy teacher and only used in the classroom for free-writing on specific topics set by the teacher. This paper will explore some anonymous examples of the student free-writing taken from these journals to illustrate the effectiveness of focussed free-writing as a pedagogical tool. The theoretical framework within which this paper is situated is that of the New Literacies Studies.