In class last week, I asked students to begin drafting the introduction to the large complex writing project we have been working on for the past two weeks. I reminded them of what needed to happen in the introduction and told them to write for 20 minutes and then share out to the class.
When the timer went off, they followed our usual procedure and wrote “. . .” and circled up for reading their timed writings out loud. I asked for a volunteer to start the process. That person read their draft and then we moved clockwise around the circle.
After everyone was finished we talked about the different strategies we noticed people were using to structure their ideas and cope with the constraints of the assignment. I made some suggestions for other things they might try as they created more formal and developed introduction drafts. Questions clarifying the nature of this part of the assignment also emerged in this discussion. Overall, I thought it was a productive session.
Then I commented that it seemed to me they were doing well with the project so far. Perhaps evaluative comments are always a mistake in this context because one of my students blurted out, almost like a confession, “I’m sorry, but truthfully, I just pulled this out of my a**!” Others around the student nodded, and I was a bit nonplussed. Without thinking it through much I said “What does it mean when you say you ‘pulled it out of your a**?’” I must have smiled enough to seem reassuring because they did try to explain it to me. I then told them I was confused because back in my day “pulling it out of one’s a**” meant one had not studied for the test and had just tried making stuff up.
In contrast, before we had come to this in-class writing assignment, students had read and summarized multiple recent news magazine articles about the nature of the opioid/heroin/overdose crisis, watched a documentary film about the history of the war on drugs in America from Nixon’s time through the meth crisis, and had read and coded multiple news articles about a musician who had recently died from an overdose. We had also had several class discussions reacting to and synthesizing ideas and issues from all of these sources.
This was the day that I wanted them to start constructing the angle they were going to take on the material. I asked them to begin drafting an introduction that would give the context readers would need to understand their project’s purpose. All I could gather from their explanations of “pulling it out of their a**” was that putting together their own interpretation was somehow an act of deception. Back in my day, offering an interpretation of a set of events and facts was called thinking.